Inside the Clubhouse: Unintended costs of MLB’s ‘sticky’ new rules

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This week, Inside the Clubhouse looks at the costs of the MLB’s new rules around sticky substances, as well as the home struggles of Dylan Carlson and more.

Major League Baseball has made multiple attempts in previous years to prevent cheating. But their decision to ban pitchers from using sunscreen or any other sticky substance, in addition to Spider Tack, felt like an overreaction.

An American League position player, requesting anonymity, texted Monday that “the combo of rosin, sunscreen and pine tar never got any complaints from us since it improves command and relieves fear we wouldn’t catch 95 in the head.” Other players echoed fears about an increase in injuries to both pitchers and hitters, only for Tampa Bay Rays ace Tyler Glasnow to say that the crackdown on sunscreen and rosin contributed to the partially torn ulnar collateral ligament and flexor tendon strain he suffered on Monday night.

It was enough for some players, at least initially, to consider using Spider Tack or any other foreign substance when word leaked that the punishment for violating the rules would be a 10-game suspension with pay. But the chances any team or player would do that dwindled when MLB said that anyone caught using sticky stuff cannot be replaced on the roster while he is out.

Now, pitchers have less than a week to adjust to throwing without sticky substances so they can “figure out how they’re going to survive,” Cardinals reliever Andrew Miller said, who also has a prominent role in the MLBPA. Glasnow suggested that his elbow injury stemmed from changing what he used to get a better grip and how he now is “choking the shit out of all my pitches.” There are many players who share Glasnow’s sentiments, with Dodgers right-hander Trevor Bauer saying, “They’ve knowingly swept this under the rug for four years. Now they implement a knee-jerk reaction to shifting public perception. Hard to hear them talk about ‘competitive integrity’ when they have no integrity to begin with.”

An unintended consequence may be a rise in pitcher injuries in a season in which injuries are already a major problem. It’s possible, as Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic wrote, that pitchers will stay healthier if they adjust by throwing with less effort and focus on gaining command. But the more likely scenario is that other pitchers suffer a similar fate to Glasnow, who will miss most, if not all, of the regular season rehabbing his elbow injury.

A criticism from some players, agents and executives is that the league and the players need to find common ground on what can be used on the mound. The nine-page memo issued by MLB senior vice president Michael Hill said that rosin was the only substance allowed for pitchers who want to improve grip on the ball, but as Oakland A’s manager Bob Melvin said Monday night, “Rosin on a cold night doesn’t work.” Combining rosin with sunscreen creates additional grip while not drastically altering spin rates the way Spider Tack does. But MLB explicitly listed sunscreen as a prohibited substance.

“Hitters are allowed to use batting gloves and pine tar to improve the grip of the bat,” one prominent agent said. “Pitchers should be allowed to use anything that improves the grip of the ball that does not impact flight or spin. The intent of the substance was grip for better command and should be ‘grandfathered’ in. Substances that impact spin must be prohibited and pitchers whose intent to use substances to increase spin had to be punished.”

It’s why MLB stepped in and strongly addressed a problem that has plagued the game for years. It became “baseball’s dirty little secret,” as Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said on May 26, with a poll of a dozen players telling The Athletic that 40-60 percent of pitchers were using foreign substances. The direct result was pitchers’ spin rates climbing to all-time high numbers while hitters slashed .236/.312/.395 from April 1 to June 4.

Since June 5, when details emerged about how umpires would check pitchers for foreign substances, spin rates decreased throughout baseball. New York Yankees star Gerrit Cole, who stumbled over a question when asked if he used Spider Tack, saw his fastball spin rate decrease by 216 RPM on Wednesday night. Hitters, meanwhile, were slashing an improved .247/.319/.417 in a small sample size through June 13, though it should be noted that offense typically improves as temperatures increase.

Those numbers should continue to climb once umpires start checking pitchers for foreign substances on June 21. But in banning sunscreen and any other foreign substances, did MLB go a step too far and unintentionally put their players at risk?

Only time will tell, but if Glasnow’s injury is any indication, teams’ pitching depth could soon be tested like never before.

Dylan Carlson has been impacted by Busch Stadium

A rival executive noted that St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Dylan Carlson “is possibly getting hurt by Busch Stadium” and when asked about it, Carlson acknowledged that it’s something he’s noticed.

Now, Carlson wants to make it clear that he’s not complaining. He says he loves Busch Stadium and the Cardinals. But while he has hit six home runs on the road, with his .234 road ISO ranking in the 78th percentile (32nd out of 148 hitters), he has yet to hit a home run in St. Louis while his .049 home ISO ranks in the third percentile (154th out of 159 hitters).

“There’s some things that you notice when you play in certain parks,” Carlson said. “When you play here you know the ball doesn’t travel as great as other places. There’s definitely a bit of frustration there, but other guys experience the same challenges and I need to continue working to overcome it. That’s the bottom line. I’ve never been one to make excuses and I certainly am not going to start now.”

Carlson, 22, has had only five of his 10 hardest-hit balls (all over 103 mph) result in hits. He would have more home runs in 19 stadiums if he played all his games at different ballparks. He would have fewer home runs in six stadiums and the same amount in five. If he played at Yankee Stadium, for example, he would have 10 home runs.

Still, Carlson is slashing .351/.414/.809 at home and has not just put himself squarely in the conversation for National League Rookie of the Year, but to participate in the All-Star game. And while the home runs have not yet come at Busch Stadium, he is optimistic that will change, perhaps even soon.

“I definitely try to keep it out of my mind,” Carlson said. “There is definitely that level of frustration, but it’s something that you can’t let overwhelm you.”

Brewers’ trade is paying immediate dividends

It’s no coincidence that the Milwaukee Brewers immediately started winning after acquiring Willy Adames.

The expectations were modest when the Brewers acquired Adames, 25, from the Tampa Bay Rays. He was hitting only .197 in 41 games, though the organization felt confident that his power numbers would translate well to American Family Field. But Adames is hitting .265/.337/.446 with three home runs and 14 RBIs in 24 games with the Brewers and has shown, at least early on, that he is more than capable of being the long-term answer at shortstop.

The Brewers lost 13 of 17 games before acquiring Adames, but are 19-7 since the trade, improving to 38-30 and tied atop the National League Central. He has sparked a once stale Brewers offense, with the team scoring over one more run per game since the trade. His .784 OPS is tied for second-best on the team and his 114 OPS+ would be the second-highest of his career.

“As much as anything, the whole team, offensively, has been a better unit since the trade,” manager Craig Counsell said.

The Brewers, however, intend to upgrade their corner-infield offense and the left shoulder injury to Travis Shaw further enhanced that need. Those solutions may come internally, with Luis Urias playing third base and Keston Hiura going back to first base when he returns from Triple-A Nashville. But if Hiura continues to struggle, they are expected to prioritize first base solutions in addition to upgrading their bullpen.

For now, the Brewers believe they have stopped their revolving door at shortstop. They had hoped Urias and Orlando Arcia could be the answers. But Adames has taken the job and run with it and quickly turned the Brewers into a legitimate threat in the National League.

MLB Around the Horn

  • Free-agent right-hander Brad Peacock, who is coming off arthroscopic shoulder surgery, is drawing interest after impressing teams at a showcase on Friday at Cressey Sports Performance in Palm Beach Gardens, Fl.
  • Jackson Merrill, a high school shortstop from Maryland, is generating buzz as a potential early-round selection in the upcoming June MLB Amateur Draft. There have been general managers or assistant GMs from the Baltimore Orioles, San Diego Padres, Detroit Tigers, Philadelphia Phillies, Kansas City Royals, Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees in to see him and representatives from 15-20 teams who have/will see him in the coming weeks.

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