The World Series is here and we thought it would be a good time to talk about some of the numbers from 2021. Honestly, once again this has been the year of the pitcher. There are fewer hits today than in any full season since 1969 when the mound was lowered. Batting averages are the lowest since the designated hitter was implemented in 1973.
The “Doctor” is In
Certainly, teams are better than ever at positioning fielders and leveraging relievers to minimize offense but there seems to be something else going on. Many say that “something else” is the practice of “doctoring” the baseball with a foreign substance to help pitchers increase spin rate. More spin means more movement on fast balls, which means more outs.
Now you may be wondering, how common can this be? Don’t teams and umpires watch for this sort thing? Dodger ace Trevor Bauer, one of the players who is often suspected of applying sticky stuff to the baseball, said in an HBO interview, “I would guess 70 percent of the pitchers in the league use some sort of technically illegal substance on the ball.” Pitchers using pine tar aren’t exactly a secret. As Bauer points out, opposing managers won’t call it out because their pitchers are likely doing the same thing. The fact remains that according to research, spin rates are up across the league and hits are down.
How the “Sticky Stuff” Works
Over the years there have been a number of strategies to alter the baseball by scuffing it or even using Vaseline to actually reduce spin by allowing the ball to slide off the fingers. These days doctoring with pine tar is probably the most common substance.
John Eric Goff, Professor of Physics, University of Lynchburg says “If a pitcher makes the ball sticky, or if he makes his fingers sticky, he might be able to get a tighter grip and throw the ball with more spin. A fastball with more backspin would stay up longer; a curveball with more spin would have a larger break.” Surprisingly, since pine tar is already in use by hitters, many players and coaches don’t view it as cheating.
Still, many pitchers are said to use everything from surf board wax, combinations of Bull Frog sunscreen and rosin as well as “Spider Tack, a glue intended for use in World’s Strongest Man competitions and whose advertisements show someone using it to lift a cinder block with his palm. To gain an advantage while concealing these substances, hurlers commonly hide the stuff in their gloves, bill of their cap and even their jock straps. You name it, it’s probably been tried.
The fact is that pitchers have been doing this stuff for years. From a fan point of view, it may not matter much and may even add to a player’s mystique. And although the practice appears to be rampant in baseball, will it ever stop? Probably not. So, just sit back, grab a beer and enjoy the game.