Major League Baseball's crackdown on pitchers using foreign substances officially began on Monday night, as umpires meticulously inspected players' gloves and uniforms like airport security officers.
The consensus around the league is that advanced grip enhancers are the leading cause to pitchers' increased spin rates and the game's historically poor offensive numbers. But former major league infielder and current Houston Astros television analyst Geoff Blum believes that the impact of "sticky stuff" is being blown out of proportion.
"The fans and Major League Baseball have this idea of what's going to be entertaining to fans, as opposed to understanding that fans of baseball just love the purity of the game and guys going out and competing," Blum told After Hours with Amy Lawrence on Tuesday. "I think the fact that MLB is constantly trying to put their hand in there and trying to alter the game is what's creating some of these issues. Because the reason that pitchers are using the tacky stuff is because the baseball is constantly changing.
"The baseball is not the same from year to year. Pitchers don't know what they're working with until they show up during a season. And that's another thing: they've adapted to using a baseball that is wound tighter, has lower seams. And the only way they can figure out a way to get a grip and have consistent spin is by having Spider Tack, or pine tar, or some of these other substances. And to stop this in the middle of the season, the pitchers are basically going to have to reteach themselves how to go out there and pitch and how to create movement in their pitches without using the tacky stuff.
"It's kind of things moving against pitchers, a little bit. But it's because Baseball has kind of lost control of the game a little bit, and they want more offense involved. So, what do they do? They stop the ability to use Spider Tack in the middle of the season. And you probably will see offensive numbers get a little bit bigger here in the next couple of weeks."
Under MLB's new guidelines, any player caught in possession of foreign substances will be automatically ejected and suspended for 10 games. Starting pitchers will undergo at least one mandatory check per game, and relievers must be checked either at the end of the inning when they enter the game or when they are taken out of the game.
According to Baseball Reference, batters are hitting a scant .239 this season, the second-lowest league average since the mound was lowered following the 1968 season. On top of that, the current 24-percent strikeout rate is the highest in major league history.
The entire MLB conversation between Blum and Lawrence can be accessed in the audio player above.