The baseball news cycle usually only lets us care about a thing for a week or so. Then, like 80 games happen and a new little story pops up and that first thing is forgotten about. This is probably a good thing, as it limits just how much any given story can be beaten to absolute death. Sure, we beat some pretty badly, but compare what happens in baseball to what happens in football and thank your lucky stars we don’t have several days in a row to come up with new hot takes.
A big story about three or four baseball news cycles ago was pitchers using pine tar or sunscreen. That happened when, in a short period of times, Milwaukee’s Will Smith and Baltimore’s Brian Matusz were both suspended for using foreign substances on the ball.
As many said at the time, and as they say every time a pitcher is suspended for such things, the idea is to just get a better grip, everyone does it and perhaps baseball should allow a rules change to let them do just that. Yesterday Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe had a big story up about that and in it he got a comment from Rob Manfred’s spokesman which makes it sound like he’s on board:
Commissioner Rob Manfred has said the issue is something baseball should explore.
“In the event that either the rules committee or the competition committee wishes to address this topic, we will be prepared for such a conversation,” MLB spokesman Mike Teevan said. “We are aware of the comments that managers and players have made on this issue and we will be open to determining whether there is a better solution.”
Maybe that’s encouraging. But maybe it’s just a repeat of 2014, when Rob Manfred said much the same thing about reexamining the rules. The rule remained un-reexamined then. Will it now?
We’ll see. But we can say this much. The rules, as they exist now and as they are enforced are uneven and problematic and for that reason their legitimacy is in serious question. Possibly because the rationale for using foreign substances is not as benign and uniform as people like to say it is. I feel like, for the most part, it’s truly to get that better grip everyone’s talking about. But I also feel like there is a subtle second layer to it in which, sure, sometimes there is a competitive advantage to be had with it too, which leads to making a new rule a difficult proposition.
If there continues to be inaction on this, I suspect it will be because of that.
Orioles lefty Brian Matusz, caught using an illegal substance on his arm on May 23, has had his eight-game suspension upheld by Major League Baseball, Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY reports. This comes on the same day Brewers lefty Will Smith had his punishment for the same crime reduced from eight games to six games. Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun reports that MLB’s reasoning for the disparity is based on a formula that uses games pitched.
Since converting to a reliever full-time at the start of the 2013 season, Matusz has been a reliable southpaw for the Orioles. Between 2013-15, he has a 3.50 ERA with a 117/44 K/BB ratio in 121 innings.
Brewers reliever Will Smith appealed his eight-game suspension for having a “foreign substance” on his arm during a May 21 appearance and MLB has now reduced it to six games.
Smith will begin serving the suspension tonight, leaving Milwaukee without a left-hander who has a 1.83 ERA and 29/8 K/BB ratio in 20 innings this season.
There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of rhyme or reason to when pitchers get in trouble for a “foreign substance” or the length of the suspensions handed out, so it’s possible MLB will address the topic this offseason.
Major League Baseball has just announced that Baltimore Orioles pitcher Brian Matusz has received an eight-game suspension for having a foreign substance on his arm during the bottom of the 12th inning during Saturday’s game against the Miami Marlins. He has filed an appeal, however, so the discipline will be held in abeyance until the appeal process is complete.
This follows on the heels of Brewers’ pitcher Will Smith receiving an eight-game suspension for having some goo on his arm too.
And, as we noted when Smith was suspended last week, the foreign substance rule, however much sense it makes, continues to be a weird one in practice given the “everyone does it and we sort of don’t mind but don’t be so obvious about it” stance people in the game tend to take with respect to it.
The short version: it’s surprising how willing everyone is to accept the pitchers “just use it to get a better grip” justification. And that justification may very well be true. A lot of players, hitters included, say that. But I feel like we’re nowhere near as willing to give that sort of benefit to ballplayers in other cases, especially when the act in question — putting a foreign substance on a baseball — is exactly like a form of cheating as well.
One question I have is why, if the “better grip” justification is as they say, have players never, ever asked for rules changes to allow for pitchers to use sunscreen or pine tar, thereby preventing suspensions such as this one?
Oh well. The “it’s OK, everyone does this, there’s no harm but, JESUS, don’t be OBVIOUS about it” dance will continue, probably forever. Even if it doesn’t make a lick of sense.
Big Willy style. Brewers reliever Will Smith was suspended eight games after he was caught with a foreign substance on his arm on Thursday. On Saturday night, Orioles reliever Brian Matsuz was ejected in the 12th inning of a 0-0 game against the Marlins, also for having a foreign substance on his arm.
Marlins manager Dan Jennings requested home plate umpire Jordan Baker ask crew chief Paul Emmel to take a look at Matusz’s right arm. After an inspection, Matusz was ejected. Matusz had struck out Justin Bour and got J.T. Realmuto to ground out for the first two outs of the inning. T.J. MacFarland relieved Matusz, throwing nine pitches before getting Christian Yelich to strike out looking to send the game into the 13th inning.
We should expect news of a suspension on Sunday.