The MLB announced they would start cracking down on foreign substance usage, what does this mean for the game?

Dan Hogan, Sports Editor

On Wednesday, March 24, Major League Baseball sent out a memo to all 30 teams outlining the league’s new policies to help increase balls in play, per ESPN.

They are attempting to crack down on pitchers’ use of foreign substances for the upcoming season. MLB will use a third-party lab to inspect balls taken out of play, and use spin rate analysis to determine a pitcher’s spin rate increased drastically. The league will also be increasing monitoring by compliance officers in dugouts and clubhouses, according to Sports Illustrated.

What counts as a “foreign substance”?

MLB Rule 3.01 states, “No player shall intentionally discolor or damage the ball by rubbing it with soil, rosin, paraffin, licorice, sand-paper, emery-paper or other foreign substance.” Also, from Rule 6.02, a pitcher is not allowed to “deliver a ball altered in a manner prescribed by Rule 6.02(c)(2) through (5) or what is called the ‘shine’ ball, ‘spit’ ball, ‘mud’ ball or ‘emery’ ball. The pitcher is allowed to rub the ball between his bare hands.” Essentially, a pitcher is not allowed to put on the ball or have in his possession anything that would somehow enhance his pitching. The substance most frequently used is pine tar.

Pine tar is a dark, tacky substance that batters and pitchers use to enhance their grip. Batters are permitted to use pine tar, to an extent, as stated in Rule 3.02. For pitchers, it enables increased control and higher spin rate. 

In 2020, outspoken Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer claimed that “70 percent of the pitchers in the league use some sort of technically illegal substance on the ball.” Bauer said that there is using pine tar to control pitches, and there is using pine tar to enhance pitching. He pointed out that even when a pitcher is caught using foreign substances, typically, nothing is done about it. 

With the MLB finally cracking down on usage of these substances, what exactly does this mean for pitchers and the game?

For pitchers, there will be more discipline if the rules are enforced. Mike Hill, Vice President of Baseball Operations said “players are subject to discipline… regardless of whether evidence of the violation has been discovered during or following a game.” according to ESPN. Exact punishments for using substances has not yet been stated by the MLB, but they surely will have to decide them soon with the season fast-approaching.

What the MLB hopes it means for the game, is more balls in play. Foreign substance usage leads to more control and higher spin rate, causing more strikeouts and less action on the field. For years the MLB has been trying to increase its audience as they have been losing viewers due to less and less action with pitchers improving. If enforced this time, the new policies could lessen the league’s worries of decreasing audience by creating more action-packed games for viewers.