Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts expressed concern that one of his star pitchers, Trevor Bauer, has been singled out in Major League Baseball’s renewed effort to curtail the illegal use of foreign substances on baseballs.
Bauer’s name surfaced in a recent report from The Athletic saying that multiple baseballs from his Wednesday outing against the Oakland Athletics were collected for inspection after they were found to contain visible markings and felt sticky. Bauer complained about the report through his Twitter account and criticized MLB for leaking information about “a supposedly confidential process.”
“My understanding is that umpires collect baseballs from all the pitchers, and balls that were in play, to collect samples,” Roberts said Friday morning before his team’s home opener. “That’s kind of what I get from it. I just hope that our player is not singled out. That’s the one thing I want to guard against.”
MLB, which has spent the last year trying to get a handle on pitchers using foreign substances in an effort to maximize spin rates and generate more swings and misses, issued a memo to teams on March 23 that outlined three new policing methods.
It included having two employees — a gameday compliance monitor and an electronics compliance officer — stationed at every ballpark partly responsible for identifying foreign-substance violations. The league also said it would review Statcast data to pinpoint alarming increases in spin rate and that it would instruct on-field personnel, including umpires and authenticators, “to submit baseballs that come out of play to the Commissioner’s Office for further inspection and documentation.”
“They will prioritize baseballs that contain potential evidence of a foreign substance,” the memo read, “but also will randomly select balls to ensure full coverage.”
Some of those balls will be outsourced to a laboratory for further inspection, but sources told ESPN that the league will spend the 2021 season mostly in information-gathering mode and that multiple baseballs from multiple pitchers have been collected from every game this season. To that point, Bauer is not currently facing potential punishment by the league. But findings from the baseballs that are inspected could be used as supportive evidence for punishment down the road.
Bauer publicly criticized the league’s original memo, posting a 23-minute video on YouTube in which he questioned MLB’s intent, said that foreign substances should be standardized and took issue with pitchers being disciplined for substances on baseballs that are collected during games.
“If I throw a pitch and it gets thrown out and tested, and then has a foreign substance on it, how do they know that it came from me and not from the catcher’s glove or the third baseman’s glove or on a foul ball?” Bauer said in his video. “What if it happened to hit the handle of a bat where a hitter has pine tar, or whatever other substance he wants — which is completely legal so long as it doesn’t go too far up the bat? How are they gonna tell that that was me and fault me for using a foreign substance when it could’ve come from any host of other places that are legal?”
Bauer has for years been by far the most outspoken athlete when it comes to MLB’s need to corral the issue of pitchers using substances like pine tar and sunblock to get a better grip on baseballs and create more spin, a direct violation of a rule — 6.02 — that has never been strictly enforced. More recently, though, there has been speculation about Bauer being a potential offender given the increases in the spin rate of his four-seam fastball during his Cy Young Award-winning season in 2020.
MLB took its first step in policing the issue last year by preventing coaches, trainers and clubhouse attendants from providing or administering foreign substances for pitchers, a new regulation that led to the controversial firing of longtime Los Angeles Angels clubhouse attendant Brian Harkins.
This year, MLB’s primary goal, sources said, is to gather information on the issue and also punish the more egregious offenders. Ultimately the league hopes to replace the traditional mud that is used to rub up baseballs with a stickier substance that would prevent pitchers from utilizing other means in order to get a better grip on a ball that is often said to feel too chalky. If the league succeeds in that — a pursuit many throughout the industry question — it hopes to police Rule 6.02 as it is written. Until then, however, that won’t necessarily be the case.
Pitchers are technically only allowed to use the rosin provided on the back of the mound, but the vast majority of pitchers are widely believed to use other substances with varying degrees of stick. In recent years, there has also been talk of teams creating their own substances to distribute to their pitchers.
Roberts, though, believes Bauer is being singled out.
“I don’t know,” Roberts said. “That’s the only name I’ve heard floated around.”