Sticky substances have more ‘direct effect’ than steroids

SAN DIEGO — Former slugger David Segui can’t help but laugh at the irony.

He remembers the public’s outrage learning about the rampant use of steroids in baseball during his career, but now that Major League Baseball is cracking down on pitchers for using illegal foreign substances, the league is being chastised.

“I think pitches using the illegal substances have more of a direct effect on our performance than the steroids,’’ Segui told USA TODAY Sports. “Everybody and their brother were using steroids, but not everyone was breaking the home-run record.’’

There may have been only one Barry Bonds, but with the way pitchers have been dominating and obliterating strikeout records, everyone suddenly had become Nolan Ryan.

“It was a joke the way the pitchers were cheating,’’ San Diego Padres outfielder Tommy Pham says. “Guys were coming back to the dugout all of the time saying, ‘That’s the best slider I’ve ever seen.’ I mean, before the crowds came back, you could actually hear the Spider Tack [traction] off guys’ fingers. I could tell you who was cheating on every team I faced.

“I don’t think people really understand the benefits of it, but we as baseball players do. If your ball is moving more and it’s sharper, that makes it harder to square up. We were playing whiffle ball out there.’’

David Segui with the Expos in 1997.

David Segui with the Expos in 1997.

Indeed, look at how pitchers’ spin rate has dramatically decreased since June 3, when MLB informed the owners that they were going to begin the crackdown. Spin rates, when controlled for velocity, are at their lowest levels since 2015, according to Statcast.

“We’re already seeing certain guys’ spin rates down by 500 rpm,’’ Pham said. “Their horizontal and vertical movement are less by inches. It’s so [messed up]. Guys made careers out of it.

“These front offices should be mad signing guys to that kind of money, expect a certain thing, and now find out it wasn’t real.’’

Indeed, just like the steroid era. GMs would be furious signing or trading for a player who was using performance-enhancing drugs, only for the players to suddenly play the game clean, either because they were forced to stop with the drug testing or suddenly found morals.

Look at the difference now since June 3. You think it’s a coincidence teams are now averaging 4.59 runs a game, up from 4.36, or that batting averages are up (.244 from .236), OPS is rising .730 from .707) and strikeouts are down (23.3% from 24.2%).

And how about that silly argument by pitchers saying they need substances besides rosin to control their fastballs so they don’t hit batters?

Well, guess what?

Hitters are being hit fewer times now with pitchers being clean, with the percentage of hit batsmen dropping from 1.16 to 1.13 per game.

“That was such a cop-out,’’ said Chicago Cubs All-Star Kris Bryant. “I love that things are kind of going the other way.’’

Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer is checked for foreign substances on June 23.

Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer is checked for foreign substances on June 23.
Orlando Ramirez, USA TODAY Sports

Really, the cheating should have been cleaned up years ago, but everyone refused to enforce it. MLB warned pitchers two years ago to stop using illegal substances. The pitchers were told this spring that baseballs would be routinely confiscated and spin rates closely monitored.

It made no difference, and the cheating only magnified, with one starter telling USA TODAY Sports that his own agent was lobbying his clients to use illegal foreign substances.

“Unfortunately, the enhanced monitoring we implemented at the start of the season has had no impact on the behavior of many pitchers,’’ MLB said in a memo sent to every club. “The information we collected over the first two months of the season shows that the use of foreign substances by pitchers is more prevalent than we anticipated.’’

Simply, it was so out of control, MLB had no choice but to stop it now. If MLB waited until the offseason, it would have been too late.

“From a competitive standpoint, man, it was frustrating,’’ Pham said. “I play the game clean, I’ve never taken anything. I never tried to cheat the game. But most of the pitchers I was facing were cheating. We needed the commissioner to step up. I’ll be curious to see how many guys get busted. They’re going to get embarrassed. I wish MLB hardened it and took away their pay too.

“I know the pitchers aren’t happy about it, but if every batter had a corked bat, these pitchers would be outraged as well.’’

It was like back in the heart of the steroid era when MLB told its players to stop using, and came to an agreement that if at least 5% of the players tested positive for steroids in the spring of 2003, there would be testing the following year.

The players, after being given advance notice they would be tested that spring, and knowing they could start juicing without repercussions once they submitted their urine test, still couldn’t help themselves. They soared past the threshold, and MLB’s random performance-enhancing drug testing program began.

“Guys weren’t even hiding it back then,’’ said Segui, who acknowledged using performance-enhancing drugs throughout his career. “Come on, nobody could figure out when we came back jacked, with 3% body fat, and 20 pounds heavier. Really, you’re telling me you couldn’t tell the difference?

“It’s the same thing with these pitchers, they weren’t hiding what they were doing, either. The spin rates were out of control, and no one cared until it started to affect the game.’’

There’s no reason to blame your star pitchers who no longer are striking out 12 batters a game with a sub 2.00 ERA. Not everyone can be Jacob deGrom. But you can’t blame them for trying, right?

“Why wouldn’t you?’’ Segui says. “That’s an athlete’s mindset. If the speed limit is 40, and they’re not enforcing it, you think people are still going to drive 40?

“I’m not trying to justify it. We knew we were breaking the rules [using steroids]. But if I’m losing every race because I’m not breaking the speed limit, and the guy breaking the rules gets the trophy every time, either you start breaking the speed limit to win the race or get out of racing.’’

If you’re watching Gerrit Cole get $340 million in free agency, and Trevor Bauer getting more than $30 million a year, after their spin rates soared dramatically, what are you going to do?

“People forget that becomes the measuring stick in which you’re measured,’’ Segui said. “If you’re failing miserably in the eyes of analytics, you’re not going to be around very long.

“So, then you have a choice to make. Nobody forces you to make the decision to use Spider Tack or whatever they were using. But if you don’t, you’re going to get left behind.

“People say, ‘How about morality?’

“Come on, when has morality ever been part of professional sports?’’

Ugly in the desert

Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo.

Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo.
Mark J. Rebilas, USA TODAY Sports

The most frequently asked question among baseball executives these days is, “Why hasn’t [Arizona Diamondbacks manager] Torey Lovullo been fired?’’

The team is pitiful. They entered Sunday having lost 43 of their last 50 games, including a Major League record 24-game road losing streak. They are on pace to become only the third team in history to lose at least 117 games.

They already are the first team to have a 13-game losing streak and a 17-game losing streak that began this close together since the 1899 Cleveland Spiders, according to Jayson Stark of the Athletic.

The D-backs, embarrassed by their play and on the verge of dumping players beginning with infielder Eduardo Escobar to the Chicago White Sox, privately provide three reasons for Lovullo staying on the job.

  1. It’s not his fault the team stinks, already losing eight games this month when they’ve scored five or more runs
  2. He’s on the final year of his contract, anyways, with no talks of an extension.
  3. Why pay two managers at the same time when there’s no human alive who’s capable of stepping in and turning things around?

Around the basepaths

– Please, enough with the silly narrative that St. Louis Cardinals All-Star third baseman Nolan Arenado may opt out of his contract. He loves St. Louis and is staying put. He told friends he wasn’t even going to opt out of his contract if he stayed with the Colorado Rockies, and it certainly isn’t an option now.

Arenado still is owed $179 million by the Cardinals through 2027, with deferred payments that will pay him $3 million a year until he’s the age of 50.

You really think anyone in their right mind would leave that and test free agency?

Not happening.

– There have been nearly 400 different pitchers who checked by Major League Baseball since the enhanced enforcement began. Only two, notably Nationals ace Max Scherzer, complained.

“Honestly, I didn’t mind it,’’ Mets Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom said. “It was quick and it went pretty easy.’’

Said Red Sox manager Alex Cora: “The way deGrom did it, he’s the best pitcher on the planet, and he took no exception. So everybody should follow suit.’’

– It can be a bit confusing in the household of Tampa Bay rookie Wander Franco, who arrived for his major-league debut this week in style, behind the wheel of a $330,000 Rolls Royce.

You see, his dad’s name is also Wander Franco. His oldest brother’s name, the one who once played with the Kansas City Royals, is Wander Javier Franco. And his other brother, who played with the Houston Astros and San Francisco Giants, is Wander Alexander Franco.

Oh, and Franco’s 2-year-old son’s name? Yep, Wander Samuel Franco, Jr.

– The playoff races, as it turns out, promise to be much more intriguing this year without the expanded postseason. If the same postseason rules applied like a year ago, the Giants, Dodgers, Padres, Cubs, Brewers, Mets and perhaps a sub-.500 team would make the National League field. In the American League, the Rays, Red Sox, Yankees, White Sox, Cleveland, Astros, Athletics and the Blue Jays or Mariners would be in.

Now, we’ve got the runner-up in the NL Central fighting with the No. 3 team in the NL West for the final wild-card spot. And in the AL, you’re going to have at least seven powerful teams vying for only five spots: the Astros, Athletics, White Sox, Cleveland, Rays, Red Sox and Yankees.

It could make the July 30 trade deadline a doozy.

– Two of the greatest moves in baseball last year were by the New York Mets and San Francisco Giants for simply tendering $18.9 million qualifying offers to starters Marcus Stroman and Kevin Gausman.

And perhaps they were the luckiest, too, with Stroman and Gausman being the only two players who accepted the offers.

Gausman has been the best pitcher in the National League not named deGrom with his 8-1 record and 1.49 ERA. And Stroman has been a godsend for the Mets’ rotation with his 6-5 record and 2.35 ERA.

– Padres manager Jayce Tingler on third baseman Manny Machado’s defensive brilliance: “That’s a bad man. I mean, just an absolute bad man. What he’s able to do defensively, and on the bases, and his baseball IQ. These plays he’s making … it’s unbelievable.”

– The pitching crackdown certainly has had a major impact on the Yankees’ offense. They ranked 13th in the American League, averaged 3.77 runs a game before June 3.

They rank eighth in the league in runs per game, 4.69, since June 3, with 29 homers in their last 15 games entering Saturday. Then again, it’s affected their pitchers, too, particularly closer Aroldis Chapman, whose spin rates have dropped dramatically.

Before June 3: Chapman was yielding a .088 batting average, .213 on-base percentage and .176 slugging percentage. After June 3: .417/.481/.750.

– While everyone else’s offense may stink, check out the Houston Astros.

They outscored the opposition 93-24 during their 11-game winning streak. Their .277 team average is 16 points higher than any team. They have struck out the fewest times. They’ve scored 35 more runs than any team. And they have have four players with an OPS above .900.

“Right now, they’re as good as it gets,’’ Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “I played against the Big Red Machine. We’re not quite the Big Red Machine, but maybe we’re the Orange Wagon or something.’’

– Is there a pitcher who has been more affected by MLB’s crackdown than Red Sox starter Garrett Richards? His spin rate on his curveball has dropped 534 rpm, and his fastball and sliders have each dropped by more than 200 rpm.

The result: In his last three starts, Richards is yielding a 9.82 ERA, lasting just 11 innings.

“It’s changed pretty much everything for me,’’ he said. “This just got brought on us real quick so I’ve only had about a week to work on it. So some guys are figuring it out sooner than others but for me, it’s taken a little bit more time so I’m just trying to figure it out.”

– The craziest part of the Cubs’ combined no-hitter this week against the Dodgers?

The only three people in the stadium who didn’t know the Cubs had a no-hitter working, as it turns out, were the Cubs’ three relievers who came into the game after Zach Davies.

“The whole bullpen had no idea, like completely oblivious,” said Cubs reliever Andrew Chafin, who pitched the eighth inning. “We couldn’t see the scoreboard with the line or whatever at the bottom.”

– Former Boston Red Sox great Dustin Pedroia, after the Red Sox ceremony honoring him Friday night and electing him into their Hall of Fame: “I’m now at peace.’’

– MLB informed teams that they plan to have the winter meetings once again this year, this time in Orlando, Fla.

The winter meetings were postponed last year because of the pandemic.

– Los Angeles Dodgers esteemed broadcaster Charley Steiner on the haves and have-nots in baseball: “It’s the ghost of Red Klotz,’’ Steiner said, “with the Harlem Globetrotters playing the Washington Generals.’’

There already are four teams that are at least 18 ½ games out of first place without even being at the halfway mark of the season: Arizona Diamondbacks, Baltimore Orioles, Texas Rangers and Colorado Rockies.

CC Sabathia weighs in on MLB’s “sticky” situation

CC Sabathia on how Major League Baseball needs to change

SportsPulse, USA TODAY

– Minnesota Twins outfielder Byron Buxton is one of the most talented players in baseball, but that talent has been wasted with his array of injuries, costing him 279 games since 2017.

He has now missed games because of a groin strain, migraines, fractured toe, strained wrist, wrist contusion, concussion, dislocated shoulder, labrum surgery, sprained foot, hip strain and now a fractured hand that will sideline him at least a month.

“This isn’t fair,’’ Twins manager Rocco Baldelli says. “That’s how I feel about the whole thing.”

– Orioles slugger Trey Mancini will participate in the home-run derby, 15 months after having Stage 3 cancerous tumor removed from his colon.

– Keep an eye on Padres starter Blake Snell, who is starting to feel comfortable in San Diego, and vows to have a monster second half.

– There still is not a single TV broadcasting team traveling this year, and several broadcasters predict that they’ll never be on the road again. They’re not sure they are even welcome any longer on team planes, with their seats now being occupied by extra coaches and team’s analytic departments, and no one wants to pick up the extra expense.

– Shohei Ohtani, who has 24 homers this year, has hit only one of his homers while pitching in the same game, but he could still catch Babe Ruth. Ruth had four homers as a pitcher in 1915.

In Ruth’s last appearance as a pitcher on Oct. 1, 1933, he pitched a complete game and homers in the Yankees’ 6-5 victory over the Boston Red Sox.

The record for homers by a pitcher is Wes Ferrell, who had nine homers in 1931 for Cleveland.

– Nationals slugger Kyle Schwarber, who was non-tendered by the Cubs last winter, is playing with a chip on his shoulder to prove them wrong, and everyone else for not showing more interest.

He just hit 13 home runs in the past 14 games for the Nationals, giving him 22 for the season, after hitting only 11 homers in 59 games last season with the Cubs.

The only hitter with a greater two-week streak was Barry Bonds in 2001 when he hit 14 homers in 14 games, to go along with his insane 1.926 OPS.

– The Dodgers have played only 11 games all season with Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy in the same lineup.

– Kudos to Atlanta starter Ian Anderson, who became the first native New Yorker to defeat the Mets and Yankees in New York during the same season. Anderson is from Clifton Park, N.Y., about 25 minutes north of Albany.

“Pretty cool,’’ he said.

– Congratulations to Royals outfielder Jarrod Dyson, who reached his 10 years of major-league service this past week. Not bad for a 50th-round draft pick in 2006, the 1,475th player chosen in the draft.

“I’m definitely going to enjoy the milestone for me, getting 10 years,” Dyson said. “Not many big leaguers get 10 years in this game. For me being a 50th-round draft pick, and to get 10 years, is a blessing.”

– The Yankees are the first team to have a no-hitter and turn three triple plays in the same season since 1886 Brooklyn Trolley Dodgers.

– It was strange and uncomfortable for Tigers manager A.J. Hinch to listen to Tigers’ fans booing and taunting Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa this weekend for his role in the infamous cheating scandal. Hinch, of course, was the manager of that Astros team who was caught cheating in 2017 when they won the World Series.

“I understand the league in general, not just Tigers fans, has an opinion,’’ Hinch says. “But I also was in the same dugout with those guys not too long ago. So yeah, it’s uncomfortable.’’

– The Dodgers are expected to finalize plans to visit the White House on their upcoming trip to Washington D.C.

“I’m personally excited if the opportunity presents itself,’’ Dodgers manager Dave Roberts says. “I think our coaches and players are as well. I hope the Vice President, Kamala (Harris), is there. I’d love to meet her as well as the president. It’s an honor.

“Most champions get that opportunity, so it’s something I’ve always dreamed about.”

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