Cubs react to MLB’s ‘sticky stuff’ crackdown: ‘Guys are gonna have to start pitching’
NEW YORK — The term “sticky stuff” has been as commonplace around baseball as the term “double play” in recent months.
Entering the 2021 season, Major League Baseball said it was going to try to dampen the practice of pitchers putting sticky substances on the baseball to improve their pitches. In the first couple months of the season, the league has had some balls taken out of game action and examined for potential foreign substances.
The issue came to a head Tuesday morning when MLB sent out a memo to all teams regarding new rules and guidelines that will be put into effect June 21. The league and umpires will consistently check pitchers and any player in violation of the rules will be ejected and suspended for 10 games.
That covers substances like Spider Tack and Pelican grip but also the age-old combination of sunscreen and rosin.
Here’s a breakdown of how Spider Tack can impact a pitcher:
Pitchers have been using “sticky stuff” to jack up their rpm or spin rate to enhance their pitches but the sunscreen/rosin mixture is seen as rather benign around the game utilized more for grip than to improve a particular pitch’s effectiveness.
“I don’t know if there’s another way to do it,” Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said. “It’s almost like you have to hit the reset button and then figure out from there what you want to do as a league. The minute you start giving exceptions to one thing, then you’re gonna have people complain about other things.
“I think that’s the way you have to handle it and then we as an industry have to adjust. If that causes guys to have to back off their stuff to throw strikes, then that’s pitching. That’s part of the game. Will it affect people? Absolutely. But again, to control the broader scheme, I think you have to start with a clean slate.”
The Cubs aren’t surprised the league is cracking down on foreign substances but the pivot midseason creates some complications.
“Going into this year, it would have been nice to have a clear cut path for a lot of guys but now you have to U-turn in the middle of a season and try and figure things out that way,” Cubs pitcher Zach Davies said. “It’s annoying to have to talk about when it all could’ve been settled in spring training when guys aren’t worrying about trying to win ballgames and things like that. We could’ve had long conversations about it during spring training.
“I like to just play baseball. Going forward for me, you have to answer more questions now that don’t really pertain to you just because you’re part of the game.”
It’s especially difficult in a year where teams were already so wary about pitcher injuries and workloads after 2020’s unconventional schedule.
Rays ace Tyler Glasnow blames the league’s new rules for his injured elbow because he was gripping the ball harder instead of using sunscreen and rosin.
“We all had an understanding that at some point, they were trying to level the playing field with all this,” Hottovy said. “It’s just a midseason change is gonna be tough. There’s gonna be repercussions or things that happen because of this happening midseason. If you make the call in the offseason or you make it before the season, guys have time to actually work on it.
“I’m more concerned about the injuries and guys trying to do things. It’s easy for us to say, ‘oh, just back off on the velocity and you’ll be fine.’ When you’re out there and you’re competing, the last thing you want to do is feel like you’re not attacking, you’re not using your best stuff.
“To say that is one thing and a lot of guys could do that. But when you’re in the heat of the moment, you’re gonna try to throw your hardest pitch or your best pitch in those moments and now you don’t have quite that same grip and you try to hold onto it a little bit longer, tweak your mechanics, change something a little bit — those are the types of things hopefully we’ll be able to avoid.”
The game has changed a lot since Hottovy last pitched (2013) and he believes things have gotten worse in the last eight years.
“100%. Significantly,” he said. “[Back then], no one had the substances. You maybe had a few but even those substances were still mixtures of pine tar and rosin. It wasn’t like the Spider Tacks and the Pelican grip and all these grip enhancers that weren’t meant to be on a baseball field, really.”
The silver lining the Cubs see to this new set of guidelines is the league will have to get back to commanding the baseball instead of simply relying on stuff to win out.
“Guys are gonna have to start pitching,” Hottovy said.
That’s one area the Cubs may be ahead of the curve with a staff that relies more on generating soft contact than missing bats.
“The art of pitching has definitely changed,” David Ross said. “The trend in our game has really been velocity, spin rate, in the zone, north and south pitching rather than to the corners and changing speeds, which I would call more of an art of pitching.
“Philosophies in organizations have definitely changed and what you’re looking for from pitchers — it’s all about velocity and spin rate and we don’t have a lot of those guys.”