MLB All-Star hitters weigh in on baseball’s sticky-stuff crackdown: ‘It’s still hard to hit’


DENVER — Major League Baseball this season has heavily emphasized a crackdown of pitchers using foreign substances. Beginning last month, the league put teeth into a longstanding rule that’s been ignored for a long time by allowing umpires to conduct sticky-stuff checks (checking their gloves, hats, and belt buckles for grip enhancers) on pitchers.

Some pitchers have complained about the implementation of the process and many fans have discussed how laughable it seems to search a pitcher coming off the mound like he’s going through customs. For what it’s worth, MLB will skip sticky-stuff checks at Tuesday night’s All-Star Game.

Since the rule has been enforced, there has been an impact in spin rate with spin rates plummeting — some pitchers more than others — across the board.

The league as a whole hit .232 with a .389 slugging percentage in April and it’s up to .247 and .412 in July. Of course, some of that could be attributed to much warmer weather, which favors the hitter. And it’s still a small sample, too. 

I wondered if the best hitters in the league saw any noticeable difference and what better way to find out than to pester them with this sticky subject at All-Star media day? 

The most common sentiment was that the pitching is still amazing and maybe there’s a slight difference but it isn’t big. 

“It’s a little confusing because they stopped it and the pitchers are still really good,” Cubs utility star Kris Bryant said. “They’re still really good pitchers.” 

“Maybe a little less bite on some curveballs? I guess what I’m really trying to say is Major League Baseball is really hard and these guys are good.”

Most of them honed in on the breaking balls like Bryant did. 

“It’s not always the case, but there are definitely a lot more sliders that are backing up, not having the same shape,” Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto said. “Earlier in the season there were a lot of good sliders and were really tight nearly every time.” 

“I’ve noticed some sliders from some guys that aren’t breaking as hard as they were earlier this season,” Reds outfielder Nick Castellanos said.

“Maybe you see a breaking ball back up a little more often, but I don’t like hitting back up sliders,” Blue Jays second baseman Marcus Semien said.  

“The ball just isn’t spinning quite as tightly,” Realmuto added. 

Realmuto had the strongest feelings on the matter among those I polled and I wonder if it has to do with him catching it, too. He sees a lot more pitches that way.

Others haven’t really noticed much. 

“I really haven’t seen a difference,” Pirates outfielder Bryan Reynolds said. 

Cardinals third baseman Nolan Arenado agreed. “It’s not too much different, I don’t think.” 

“No, it’s not really different to me,” White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson said. 

Two sluggers said they don’t really think they would notice the small differences. 

“You know what? It’s only been a few weeks,” Nationals outfielder Kyle Schwarber said. “I think as we go on we might notice it more, but it’s still the heat of the battle and I don’t know if I really think about it.”

“Man, that’s a tough question,” Rangers outfielder Joey Gallo said. “Maybe a little bit, but for me I don’t really think about it too much. Guys still have ridiculous stuff. You’re not thinking about it.”

Something nearly all of them agreed with was that the pitching nowadays is off-the-charts excellent. Hitting triple digits barely moves the radar these days and there are exploding sliders going more than 90 miles per hour.

“I think these pitchers are still elite,” Castellanos said. “The stuff is still good, regardless. Maybe a little bit on certain guys, but for the most part it isn’t much different. Everyone is really good.”

“You’re still gonna get good sliders,” Schwarber said. “There might be some back up or something, but you’re still gonna get good sliders. And, again, just being heat of the battle it’s possible I just don’t notice.”

“I’m actually hitting worse since then,” Semien said with a laugh. “Pitchers are gonna be good regardless. Pitchers are good without it.” 

“I guess maybe there are a few more mistakes and balls aren’t breaking as sharply,” Gallo offered, “but it’s still hard to hit. It’s still a tough game.” 

“Hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in any sport,” said Bryant, emphatically.

On his point, that’s where I’d say it’s good they’ve stopped allowing pitchers to do something that’s tantamount to cheating. It had gotten out of control. Maybe they’ll come up with a better baseball moving forward (Semien told me that the balls are pretty slippery, varying in slipperiness by venue and that it needs to be more consistent). 

I’d further argue that the efforts of MLB on this front are with their hearts in the right place. Even in only looking at July, a league batting average of .247 is objectively too low. We need fewer strikeouts and more singles, doubles and triples in this game. Doing things like cracking down on foreign substances might help. Some All-Stars think they’ve seen a small difference and any difference is a good thing. Maybe the mound needs to be lowered and/or moved back, too. Time will tell. 

In the meantime, we can admire the attitude Anderson has on the matter. 

“I crush them anyway,” he said with a wide smile.





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