HOUSTON – Monday, June 21, Major League Baseball rolled out its umpire substance checks.
In every baseball game, a pitcher will now come off the mound to the umpiring crew checking their hat, glove and more.
The mid-season rule has caused a lot of anger from players and fans. On the league’s side, they see it as simply enforcing a rule they’ve been lax on, and that pitchers took advantage of.
For more than 100 years, pitchers have used everything they can get their hands on to have an advantage. Spit, petroleum jelly and nail files are the famous throwback substances. Pine tar and rosin mixed with sunscreen are more modern substances. Now, there’s a new substance popularized at the major league level that hitters say is causing a problem.
SPIDER TACK AND SPIN RATE
Only recently have major league pitchers been able to find out advanced stats about their pitches beyond velocity and movement. Spin rate, or how many revolutions per minute (RPM - like your car), determines how the ball moves. A good major league pitcher should be able to throw his fastball around 2400 spin rate and a curveball at around 3000 or better.
Typically, the higher the velocity, the higher the spin rate, but artificially increasing spin rate won’t increase velocity.
Breaking ball spin rate is easy to figure out. The better spin a curveball or slider has, the more it breaks, the harder is to hit.
The fastball is where it gets interesting. “High Heat” has become more effective in the past few season because pitchers have learned how to create better rise to the ball.
Any ball thrown eventually hits the ground. The more a ball spins (and the faster it goes), the longer it takes to hit the ground. If you have enough backspin on a ball, it creates the effect that it’s rising. It’s not really rising, it’s just in essence falling less.
Pitchers learned to use their high fastballs, and used substances to artificially increase spin rate to give a better rising effect.
The numbers on major league pitchers are relatively consistent across the board, but it’s obviously hard to test difference sticky substances on active MLB pitchers - many of whom won’t admit they even use substances.
So, I tested it.
One set of throws clean, four substances. Three fastballs, three curveballs.
My fastball ran 68-72 MPH, with an average of 1570 spin rate.
My curveball ran 56-59 MPH, with a spin rate topping out at 1700.
The assumption was that each successive substance would give me a slight boost in spin rate. That is not what happened.
This is the only substance that’s allowed by Major League Baseball. Typically, players mix their sweat with rosin to create whatever tack they can on the ball.
Rosin didn’t change my velocity or spin rate by much.
It also didn’t really help when it came to grip.
ROSIN + SUNSCREEN
This is where I started to see some difference in feeling on grip, and was able to have better control.
But - surprisingly, it didn’t improve my spin rate by much.
Pine tar is so sticky that I can hold a baseball with 2 fingers just off the pine tar.
This is where the difference in grip was significant. I felt the most comfort and best control with the pine tar.
That being said, it was so sticky that I had to use nail polish remover to wash off pine tar.
But...it didn’t improve my spin rate by any material difference.
The goop-du-jour in Major League Baseball was originally made for strongmen to lift Atlas Stones.
It’s almost as sticky as super glue, and it took two throws to even get the ball to the plate. The first one was spiked after 35 feet.
Keep in mind, I’ve never touched Spider Tack before and the first real pitch that crossed the plate improved my spin rate by more than 20 percent.
It jumped from the 1570-1600 range to 1950 instantly, eventually reaching over 2000. Now, imagine what an MLB pitcher can do with Spider Tack after working with for a while...
My curveball, which reached a high of 1700 RPM, hit a high of 2100 RPM with the Spider Tack.
Unless you’re a high level pitcher with some familiarity with the substances, getting a big improvement in spin rate is going to take some effort. However, Spider Tack caused an instant 25% spin rate increase, despite the fact I’d never used it before.
The panic over Spider Tack is understandable at the major league level - but with how flat the seams are on the new baseballs (a common complaint among MLB pitchers since the flatter seams lessen drag for more home runs), using the other substances tested really do improve grip more than spin.