After the Los Angeles Dodgers lost to the Oakland Athletics on Sunday, the umpires kept several suspicious baseballs pitched by Trevor Bauer for MLB inspecting that were “brought to the umpire’s attention.” The baseballs allegedly had some sort of visual sign of a foreign substance as well as stickiness on them. MLB has recently announced that they will be cracking down on pitchers who use foreign substances in games this year. They will inspect out-of-play baseballs as well as install monitors that will watch the clubhouses, dugouts, and bullpens.
It is no surprise that the reigning NL Cy Young winner is under scrutiny. Bauer has publically complained and called out players and teams about using foreign substances to improve grip, and hence, spin rate. He even went as far as to cite the fact that pine tar could increase the spin rate on his fastball by 400 RPM. Sure enough, the spin rate on his fastball increased by right around 400 RPM in 2020. Consequently, it’s not surprising that the microscope is out and Bauer finds himself under it.
There is an old saying that “It is not what you know, but what you can prove.” This saying applies very well here. Regardless of whether the league finds a foreign substance or not, they have to prove that it was Bauer that applied it. That will be a tall order since MLB has monitors watching the dugouts and clubhouses—none of whom saw anything suspicious. Furthermore, the umpires did not see anything suspicious—these baseballs were “brought to their attention.” By who, and at what point during or after the game is unclear.
Outlook of MLB Inspecting for Foreign Substances
It is against the rules of MLB to apply any foreign substance to a baseball (rule 6.02). However, this practice has been going on for decades, all around the league. It is well-known and very widespread. The league is finally doing something about it this year. They have compliance monitors in the clubhouses and dugouts to monitor teams this year. Also, they are already sending out-of-play baseballs out for MLB inspecting regardless of suspicion. It is a huge step in the right direction for MLB. However, the case against Trevor Bauer is not the same as cases like Jay Howell in 1988, and Michael Pineda in 2014. Those pitchers had visual evidence of a foreign substance on their person, and video evidence of them using it.
In Bauer’s case, there are monitors in the dugout and clubhouse that saw nothing. There is no evidence of a substance on his person, nor is there any evidence that he personally applied anything to a ball. Furthermore, the umpires did not notice anything suspicious until someone brought baseballs to their attention. Who these people are and how long they had the baseballs before bringing them to the umpire are unclear. Consequently, it will be hard to make a penalty stick to Bauer regardless of the outcome of the results of MLB’s inspection. It will be more symbolic than anything if they even attempt to penalize him. That notwithstanding, a clear message has been sent to the league. “Big Brother is watching.”
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