With strikeouts at an all-time high and batting average its lowest in decades, Major League Baseball is taking the initiative to crack down on pitchers using foreign substances to help increase spin rate and overall performance.
Although nothing has been proven yet, we've seen elite pitchers such as Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer have a dramatic dip in spin rate since news surfaced that baseball was going to look into foreign substance usage. They're hardly the only ones, either.
Speaking with the Sports Junkies on Wednesday, Nationals GM Mike Rizzo said it's "admirable" what Major League Baseball is trying to do.
"You need to have a level playing field. I think that's all the players want, that's all the hitters want and the pitchers [want]," Rizzo said.
However, the longtime general manager quickly made it a point that there's a safety aspect when it comes to using these substances, which could be a major reason why more and more pitchers are using them.
"There's a safety aspect to having a little bit of tackiness of the baseball, believe me," Rizzo said. "The balls, even when they're rubbed up in the mud, it's like throwing a cue ball sometimes, especially when it's chilly out. These guys throwing 100, 102 pretty routinely, if that ball is slipping out of their hand, there's a safety aspect to it."
Just last week, Nationals pitcher Austin Voth was hit by a Vince Velasquez fastball in the face, one that broke his nose and caused him to hit the Injured List. Voth is just one example of such this season, as we've seen Bryce Harper and Kevin Pillar, among others, miss significant time after taking fastballs to the face this season.
"When you see what happened to Austin Voth and guys that are getting thrown at, not intentionally, but getting hit around that shoulder and head area, that's life-threatening right there," Rizzo said.
Pitchers lacking command has been a common theme in 2021. For better or worse, in today's era, throwing hard outweighs a lot of other aspects of pitching.
Earlier this year, Nationals' first baseman Ryan Zimmerman attributed the lack of command to hard-throwing pitchers getting called up to the Big Leagues too early, as they have still yet to figure out how to control the baseball.
While the lack of command is certainly a topic of conversation in the MLB this year, for Rizzo, pitchers lacking control of their fastball partially has to do with the way the actual baseballs are being made.
"I think we need to do something about the baseballs. If you've ever felt a brand new baseball, it's very, very slick. I think it's dangerous," Rizzo said.
As for his solution, Rizzo thinks the MLB needs to come up with a universal substance that is allowed, one that will improve pitcher's control of the baseball but also one that doesn't help enhance their performance.
It's a thin line to balance, but one Rizzo thinks is doable.
"Something has to be done to make it a safer baseball to throw," Rizzo said. "It's got to be a universal substance to give the pitchers a feel and tackiness so they can command the baseball and also make it to the point where it's not a distinct advantage to the players that go above and beyond on tackiness and doing just some [sticky] substances that some guys are using it improve their performance."
As far as pitchers going over the top with substances, though, Rizzo is completely against it.
"If you have to cheat to win, get out of the game. I hate seeing it in our game," he said.