Major League Baseball is asking umpires to make more random checks of pitchers for sticky substances after watching its crackdown become less effective late last season. Regular checks for grip aids began June 21. Spin rates fell at first, an MLB sent memo to teams and players Friday says. "Unfortunately the data showed that spin rates started to rise toward the end of the season as players grew accustomed to the circumstances of routine umpire checks," the memo says. So for the 2022 season, umpires have been told "to be more vigilant and unpredictable in the timing and scope of their checks." The AP obtained the memo, which was first reported by Sports Illustrated.
Last season, umpires checked all starting pitchers multiple times and all relievers either at the end of his first inning or when removed, whichever occurred first. Caps, gloves, and fingertips were checked. That's being adjusted, too, to make the checks "less invasive," wrote Mike Hill, baseball's head of on-field operations. "Rather than focusing on uniforms and belts, umpires have been given additional guidance to help them determine whether a pitcher’s hand or fingers contain a foreign substance in violation of the rules," Hill said. "An umpire checking a pitcher for foreign substances will use his thumb to check for stickiness on the pitcher’s thumb, index finger, middle finger, and palm."
While the timing of checks with be more random, it appears the frequency will not change. And they should again take place between innings or after a pitching change to avoid holding up the game, the memo says. Fastball spin rates declined from an average of 2,323 revolutions per minute in May to 2,258 in June, according to Statcast data. Plans for the crackdown first emerged June 3 following an owners meeting. While the average was 2,239 in July, it rose to 2,263 in September. The major league batting average for the season dropped to .244, its lowest since 1968, known as the year of the pitcher. The memo says MLB now has data, some from outside researchers, indicating the "material impact on performance" caused by foreign substances on a baseball.
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