Major League Baseball rules already prohibit pitchers from using foreign substances to improve their grip on the ball, but that hasn’t stopped players from flaunting that rule — to varying degrees — for decades. But starting on Monday, MLB officials say they’ll be cracking down on ball-tampering in an attempt to aid offenses throughout baseball.

MLB foreign substances
Major League Baseball announced a crackdown on pitchers using foreign substances, with enforcement set to begin on Monday. (Image: Patrick Smith/Getty)

MLB announced on Tuesday that it will enhance enforcement of the rules against applying foreign substances to baseballs, with umpires making mandatory checks of all players during games.

All pitchers face checks during games

Umpires will check all starting pitchers at least twice per game. Relievers will face at least one check at the end of the inning when they enter the game, or when they leave the game, whichever comes first.

If umpires find that a pitcher possesses a foreign substance or has applied one to baseballs, they will eject the player from the game. That pitcher will also face a 10-game suspension, albeit with pay.

“After an extensive process of repeated warnings without effect, gathering information from current and former players and others across the sport, two months of comprehensive data collection, listening to our fans, and thoughtful deliberation, I have determined that new enforcement of foreign substances is needed to level the playing field,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said. “It has become clear that the use of foreign substances has generally morphed from trying to get a better grip on the ball into something else – an unfair competitive advantage that is creating a lack of action and an uneven playing field.”

While offenses have scored runs at a solid clip this year – teams are averaging 4.4 runs per game so far – the lack of balls in play has left officials and fans worried about the entertainment value of the product on the field. Batters are hitting just .238 on the year – higher only than the 1968 season (.237), known as the Year of the Pitcher – and strikeouts are at an all-time high.

Spin rates drop as foreign substances become hot topic

Some have pointed to sticky foreign substances as the culprit. Pitchers can use these substances not only to improve their grip, but also their spin rate, making pitches move more. Combine sharper breaking balls with higher velocities than ever, and batters are facing nearly unhittable stuff on many nights.

There are signs that pitchers are already adjusting to the changes. MLB Statcast data showed that fastball spin rates averaged just above 2,300 revolutions per minute for the first two months of the season. That number was down to 2,282 during the week of June 6 – after owners discussed a potential crackdown at a meeting – and fell to 2,226 on Sunday.

Batting averages have steadily risen and strikeout rates dropped throughout the season. Both the crackdown on foreign substances and the expected offensive improvement as the weather warms toward the summer months could be contributing to that change. Unnamed pitchers told ESPN’s Jeff Passan that they have already stopped using foreign substances like Spider Tack, or switched to more accepted grip aids like pine tar.

Glasnow says ban contributed to injury

Already, one pitcher says the crackdown has created unintended consequences. Tampa Bay Rays starter Tyler Glasnow blamed the war on foreign substances after he suffered a partially torn UCL and a flexor tendon strain. Glasnow said he stopped using sunscreen ahead of the coming enforcement.

“I had to put my fastball deeper into my hand and grip it way harder. Instead of holding my curveball at the tip of my fingers, I had to dig it deeper into my hand,” Glasnow told reporters. “Do it in the offseason. Give us a chance to adjust to it. But I just threw 80 innings, then you tell me I can’t use anything in the middle of the year. I have to change everything I’ve been doing the entire season. I’m telling you I truly believe that’s why I got hurt.”

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