Pitchers beware, the MLB is going to be utilizing tech to catch cheaters on the mound in 2021. What will this change for the St. Louis Cardinals?
In this day and age in baseball, there is more information available than ever before about everything happening on the field. Hawkeye cameras measure every pitch for spin rate, spin direction, speed, and movement. In the world of big data, deciding how to use it becomes the big challenge across baseball.
Another part of baseball that has remained constant is cheating. Some call it “getting a competitive edge,” but a simple competitive edge doesn’t get players and managers suspended. At all levels of baseball, players have tried to do things to make the game easier to play. On the pitching side, pitchers are caught each year using foreign substances to doctor baseballs.
By using a sticky substance or changing the ball in any way, pitchers are attempting to get more spin on the ball. In pitching, spin rate isn’t everything, but it’s easiest to think about as the horsepower or potential energy of a pitch. If all other things are kept the same, a higher spin rate pitch will move more than a lower.
In a recent memo sent out to teams, the MLB is going to attempt to crack down on pitchers cheating by using the tech they already have to detect changes in spin rate.
According to Joel Sherman, the memo this effort is a continuation of what the league wanted to do last year before COVID-19 erupted and caused more pressing issues. The league is going to check pitch-by-pitch averages against what a pitcher averages both in career and for that game’s average.
If a pitcher all of the sudden gains RPMs from game to game or if there was a situation where they get in trouble and all of the sudden his fastball gains hundreds of RPMs, there is something else happening.
The MLB has been experimenting with different ways to increase the excitement of the game. In years past, that has meant trying to incentivize homers, but now it seems the MLB is just aiming for fewer strikeouts and more balls in play.
Beginning with the new baseball that will likely not fly as well and now this change, the game could be different in 2021. Cracking down on pitchers using foreign substances is coming at the problem of less offense kind of in a backdoor way, but an interesting one. Pitchers will get the short spoon from all of this, but the good thing is that pitchers who weren’t cheating before won’t have anything to worry about.
Joel Sherman believes this could have a “seismic impact” on the game, citing that teams have “substances to help entire staffs improve their stuff.” This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but taking that option away from teams is going to be a fascinating change.
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Near the beginning of the 2021 season, the thing to watch for is players thinking they can still cheat and get away with it, but also watching to see how refined the MLB’s system of catching players is. The data to be able to tell who is cheating should be there, but setting the bar for what to flag and what to ignore is the big question.
Using outside labs to examine balls during or after games is another way that concrete evidence of foreign substances is going to be found. If an unbiased lab is looking at the baseballs, there is going to be almost no way to hide pine tar or other substances as long as the baseballs aren’t wiped clean between leaving the pitcher’s hand and getting to the lab.
There will almost certainly be players caught early and often in 2021, but the end result should be a more level playing field between pitchers and batters; which is exactly what the league wants.
If there is one thing that no fan can get mad about, it’s cracking down on cheaters. Pitchers who have been getting results naturally will be just fine, but those who have been cutting corners have a choice to make: quit cheating or get caught. This change will be fun to watch in 2021.