Baseball has a problem with banned substances – but it’s not what you think
Since the era of steroids ran out of juice in the mid-2000s, pitchers have resumed the game. The score in Major League Baseball has fallen from over 10.3 points per game in 2000 to 8.8 this year. . The record for total strikeouts will almost certainly be broken for the 13th (!) Consecutive full season. The big league batting average has dropped to 0.233 this season – tied for the lowest on record with 1968, the much-vaunted Year of the Pitcher.We identified the cause in a recent newsletter: Today’s pitchers are just too good. Specifically, too many guys are throwing too hard and putting too many mean moves on the ball for hitters to have a chance to make good contact on a consistent basis. And now we have a better idea of how the pitchers got so nasty.
The rules of baseball – in particular, rule 6.02 (c) – prohibit pitchers from applying a foreign substance “of any kind” to the ball. But grabbing a baseball can be tricky, especially when you’re sweating during a summer game. So pitchers have always had a little leeway here. Think about the bag of rosin they use to powder their hand to throw when it gets too wet.
At one point, however, the pitchers started to go deeper to get a hold. This coincided with the discovery and increased emphasis on the importance of rotational speed. Basically, the more turns a ball makes from the time it leaves a pitcher’s hand until it hits the plate, the more it can move. This is especially true for sliders and curved balls, but even the trajectory of a fastball can become more difficult to hit with a higher spin rate. And one proven way to increase spin speed is to improve your grip on the ball. Dodgers ace Trevor Bauer, whose average rotational speed has exceeded 2,900 rotations per minute in some games this year, estimates he can boost 400 rpm using foreign substances.
At first, pitchers turned to pine tar (legal for batters to use on their innings), then a house blend of rosin and sunscreen. Now it’s commercial grade products like Pelican Grip Dip, which is marketed to baseball players, and even Spider Tack, designed for competitive weightlifters.
Unlike steroids, these allegedly illegal substances were not used in secret. It was understood that it was in everyone’s best interests, pitchers and hitters, that today’s flamethrowers have a good grip on the ball. If they lost him, it was said, the hitters could be seriously injured. So Major League Baseball, just like it did with steroids, turned a blind eye to its own rules against these substances. And the launchers took advantage of this generosity.
But not more. Batters are tired of being embarrassed at home plate, and Major League Baseball knows those skyrocketing strikeout rates are bad for business. It was therefore finally decided to apply the rules which were already in force.
It looks like MLB will soon ask referees to control the use of foreign substances by pitchers and grant suspensions to those caught cheating. The impending crackdown already seems to be working. Bauer and Yankees ace Gerrit Cole are two of the big names who have seen their turnover rates drop recently, coinciding with reporters starting to press them on the suddenly hot topic of foreign substances and the benefits they can offer. If you want to know more about the details, I recommend this explainer from Jeff Passan of ESPN.
The Stanley Cup semi-finals are almost set. The spirited New York Islanders managed to topple Boston in six games last night and will now face defending champions Tampa Bay in the final four for the second year in a row. The other semi-final will pit Montreal against the winner of the Colorado-Vegas series. Vegas can end with a win in Game 6 tonight (9 p.m. ET on CBC TV, CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app).
It will be an unnamed women’s final at Roland Garros. You have to be a big tennis fan to get to know Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Barbora Krejcikova. They are ranked 32nd and 33rd respectively in the world, and this is the first time they have even reached the semi-finals of a Grand Slam. They will play for the women’s title on Saturday. The men’s final game will be decided tomorrow when No.5 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas takes on No.6 Alexander Zverev and Novak Djokovic takes on Rafael Nadal. Some call this confrontation, between the world n ° 1 and the 13 times champion of Roland-Garros, the “real” final. Learn more about the women’s semi-finals here.
A Canadian athlete is part of the Olympic refugee team for Tokyo. Made up of athletes who fled their home countries, the refugee team made their debut at the Rio 2016 Olympics, where they numbered 10 members. He rose to 29 (in 12 different sports) for Tokyo, and one of them is karate athlete Hamoon Derafshipour. The 28-year-old left his home country Iran in 2019 for unspecified reasons and moved to Kitchener, Ont., With his wife, who is also his coach. The Canadian Olympic Committee put them in touch with Karate Canada for training and support, and Derafshipour was among the athletes chosen by the International Olympic Committee this week to compete on the refugee team. Learn more about him here.
Robert Lewandowski is not German. In yesterday’s newsletter with a preview of the European Football Championship, I wrote that the high-scoring striker is playing for Germany. Although his club team are the German powerhouse Bayern Munich, Lewandowski is actually Polish and will adapt for them. Sorry for the mistake (especially if you are a fan of Poland) and thanks to the (many) readers who wrote about this.
Coming to CBC Sports
World Judo Championships: Watch live fights in the Women’s 78kg and Men’s 100kg Divisions Friday from 4 a.m. ET to 12:30 p.m. ET here.
Volley-ball: Watch the Canadian men’s team take on France at the Nations League event in Italy on Friday at 1:15 p.m. ET here.
You are aware. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.