Today marks the first official Rockies game under new foreign substance mandates.
Major League Baseball will now “suspend players caught with any foreign substance for 10 days with pay to help curtail the widespread use of grip enhancers by pitchers around the league,” as quoted by ESPN’s Jeff Passan. The league has finally outlawed anything sticky on the mound: Spider Tack, Pelican Grip, a pine tar stick, a pine tar rag—in certain cases, even sunscreen.
Pitches have become so artificially nasty over the past several years, and the term ‘grip enhancer’ has often taken a deceptive, malicious meaning. It is now all gone: even the innocent enhancement.
You can’t use an outside substance to relieve finger pressure; you can’t use one to prevent slips; you can’t use one to keep the world’s lowest seams from feeling like a cue ball. The only thing that now exists is the rosin bag on the back of the mound and some sweat, or a roll of the dice with a 10-day suspension on the line.
The Rockies are reportedly “no saints” when it comes to grip enhancement, as Patrick Saunders wrote on June 13.
Let’s be real: how many saints were there?
If you didn’t use something before, you could have been left behind. Why risk a minor league demotion at base-level pay when some extra grip could expedite a big league promotion? (Why take the high road when it was basically accepted until now?)
Thanks to a comprehensive database of pitch data, we can see the presumed impact of this ban in a short time:
The chart suggests that substances were abandoned before the league mandate was put in effect.
Rockies Impact: The Starters Appear Clean
Below is a full list of spin rate figures for Colorado’s qualified starters in 2021. Fortunately for the Rockies, the evidence isn’t really suspicious. If any of them were actually using a grip enhancer, they haven’t seemed to be using it for a spin boost.
We’re looking at pretty level figures across the board here. Márquez’s fastball spin has been largely consistent, and his biggest discrepancies came in his first three starts of the year. Between his two most-used pitches (four-seamer and slider), there are minimal peaks and valleys.
A pitcher can have varying levels of intent on a curveball (i.e. ‘for a strike’ or ‘for a punchout’) which can shake up their spin figures. A jump in curveball spin could be from some increased confidence in that pitch, or perhaps an increased desire to create swings and misses.
(You can basically disregard the green line; Márquez throws his changeup less than three percent of the time.)
We haven’t seen Jon Gray since before the substance ban was announced, as he was placed on the injured list shortly after June 4. His spin graph reveals strong consistency and there isn’t much variance in his year-by-year chart either. Gray uses his fastball and slider more than any other pitch, and those are the levelest spin figures on his graph.
Note: Gomber’s velocity was down in his last start. This is why his spin was down.
Spin rate often correlates with velocity; the most accurate measure for ‘normalized’ spin would actually be with a metric called Bauer Units. The formula is simple: RPM/MPH.
Gomber’s spin graph may look suspicious at first glance, but isolating ‘spin-per-pound’ will show there hasn’t been much of a change over the entire season.
Just because these lines are shaky doesn’t mean there is evidence for foreign substance use. His highest and lowest spin on his fastball came in his first two outings of the year, so there isn’t a clear drop-off in the past week. Senzatela’s fastball spin did drop in his last start, but his earlier figures prove it wasn’t really against the norm.
Senzatela throws his changeup almost exclusively to lefties. The nature of emphasized ‘pronating’ on some traditional changeups can potentially lead to more inconsistent spin, especially when compared to ‘staying behind’ a traditional fastball. As Senzatela throws his changeup less than 10 percent of the time, the limited sample can further explain an erratic green line.
This one is almost as flat as I-70 at the Kansas-Colorado border.
Freeland’s figures are admittedly limited, being that he started the year on the injured list. His spin actually increased from his last start to the previous (since the substance mandate was announced), and this could be enough evidence to prove Freeland has been pitching stick-free.
Chi Chi González
His fastball velocity ranks in the ninth percentile, while his fastball spin ranks in the 76th. This range might complicate a traditional means of evaluating spin, and González’s varying role as a starter and bullpen arm can create further noise.
June 14th was when the mandates were announced. Sure, there has been a subtle decline in his recent fastball spin, but it isn’t drastic and it mainly started before the governing provisions were announced.
Codify’s tweet paints a clear picture that pitchers have already began to step away from foreign substance use. The divide could increase now that there is truly a mandate in effect.
At least for now, there isn’t much suspicion around the Rockies’ starters. Perhaps we can expect business to resume as usual.
★ ★ ★
“While every Major League Baseball team will be represented in the All-Star Game, including the host Rockies, it looks like this will be the first season since the 2009 campaign (excluding 2020 where there was no All-Star Game) that the Rockies will not have at least one player starting for the National League.”
Kevin Henry takes a deep dive into historical All-Star lineups, charting way back in recent matchups. There is still opportunity for multiple Rockies to make an All-Star push, as Phase 1 voting will be open through Thursday.
The secret to Raimel Tapia’s 17-game Rockies hitting streak? A pizza superstition: “I like bacon, extra cheese and pepperoni.” | The Denver Post ($)
Carbs are the answer?!
On the farm
- League-wide off day for Low-A, High-A, Double-A
- Triple-A: Albuquerque Isotopes 9, Reno Aces 8
The Isotopes broke a four-game losing streak on Monday as their offensive firepower narrowly edged the Reno Aces. Each team left 17 runners on base; this one could have been a lot higher scoring, too.
Sam Hilliard hit one to Winnemucca:
Holy smokes Sam Hilliard just hit a ball out of Greater Nevada Field and into the tree's beyond right field.. pic.twitter.com/0QRpCzNLW9— Nick (@Slam_Hilliard22) June 22, 2021
Hilliard posted four RBI’s, while Alan Trejo had three of his own. Logan Cozart and Chad Smith closed the volatile high-leverage door, allowing zero earned runs to the Aces in the last two frames.
(Fun fact: Amtrak’s California Zephyr train service passes left field at both Coors Field and Greater Nevada Field. The full Amtrak service stretches from Chicago to Oakland.)
★ ★ ★
Please keep in mind our Purple Row Community Guidelines when you’re commenting. Thanks!