For a millennium, MLB allowed its pitchers to doctor baseballs. Outside of laughably obvious violations, such as Michael Pineda rubbing gobs of pine tar all over the ball, they were almost never called out on their use of foreign substances. But MLB has changed the rules overnight. Pitchers are no longer allowed to put anything besides rosin on the ball, even sunscreen, which many of them use to perfect their grips.
With that in mind, Garrett Richards’ frustration is understandable. In fact, it’s completely logical. The veteran right-hander learned how to pitch one way. Now, in his 11th big league season, he’s being forced to start over — in June.
And I have no sympathy. In my irrational mind, this is a quintessential example of comeuppance.
Richards got rocked again Wednesday, surrendering five runs in 1 2/3 innings to go along with three hits and four walks against the Rays. The hurler with the exceptional spin rate and nasty slider has been replaced with a batting practice specialist, serving up flat breaking balls meant to be knocked out of the park. The Rays took Richards deep twice last night, with Mike Zunino smashing an 86 mph beach ball deep into the left field seats. Ever since news of MLB’s enhanced crackdown broke, Richards has posted a 9.82 ERA over three starts.
That’s quite the contrast from the pitcher who shut down the Mets at the end of April, or the Blue Jays at the end of May. Richards isn’t even hiding his exasperation.
“It’s changed pretty much everything for me. It’s changed a lot for me,” he told reporters after the game. “I feel like I need to be a different pitcher than I’ve been the last nine and a half years.”
Over the last several years, we’ve seen baseball devolve into a game where almost every pitcher is treated like a specialist. They aren’t trained to go deep into ball games or pace themselves for long outings. Instead, it’s all about maxing out with the highest velocity and spin rate possible. There’s no reason to try and pitch into the seventh inning. Pitchers generally become less effective each time through the order, anyway.
So you might as well let it all hang out in the fourth.
The end result is a sport with record-setting strikeout totals and offensive numbers that look like they belong in the Dead Ball era. While MLB allowed the problem to get this bad, the sanctimony from pitchers who pushed the envelope too far is difficult to take.
These are the same guys who protest the pitch clock and other measures that would even nominally speed up the game. They are content walking off the rubber after every pitch, incessantly rubbing their hair and belts while we sit comatose on our couches.
So excuse me if I chuckle when I see Max Scherzer throw a tantrum on the mound for getting checked, or Sergio Romo dropping his pants. They’ve put us through hours and hours of agonizing baseball. Now they have to sweat a little bit.
There’s no doubt Rob Manfred handled this problem in the worst possible fashion. The smart policy would’ve been to introduce this new sticky stuff edict during Spring Training, rather than in a Sports Illustrated cover story. MLB has created a witch hunt atmosphere, and deflected its own culpability for this mess.
Remember, the league deadened the ball this season to cut down on home runs.
But revenge has no place for nuance. Baseball cannot continue to be a game where every pitcher throws 95 mph and throws a cutter with movement that would make Mariano Rivera jealous. We are in the midst of a needed correction.
If Garrett Richards gets embarrassed along the way, then so be it.