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Latest MLB News: Trevor Bauer’s “Suspicious” Baseballs

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The Los Angeles Dodgers had not received their World Series rings before MLB News broke that right-handed pitcher Trevor Bauer was being investigated for possibly doctoring baseballs.

Latest MLB News: The Investigation

Trevor Bauer was one of the most sought-after free-agent pitchers this past offseason. Waiting for the perfect deal, Bauer waited and waited until the 2020 World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers came calling with the deal of a lifetime… literally. The Dodgers and Bauer struck a deal that would bring the reigning National League Cy Young award winner to the City of Angels. Three years, $105 million with $40 million coming in the first year, $45 million in the second year, and an option for a third year would be worth $17 million.

With all of that being said, there was much speculation before Bauer signed with Dodgers as to how he achieved such great command of his pitches from one year to the next. We often hear pitchers talk about spin rate and revolutions per minute (RPM) and the more spin they can achieve with their pitches, allowing for better movement, thus increasing their strikeouts per nine innings. All of that sounds pretty simple, right? The more dominant a pitcher can be, will pave the way to a bigger and better payday down the road. Bauer is a prime example of this scenario.

Leading up to this week, there has been much speculation about how Bauer has achieved such great command of his pitches from one season to the next. If we look at his 2013-17 seasons, Bauer went 46-39, with a 4.49 ERA in 128 games, averaging 8.2 strikeouts per nine innings with the Cleveland Indians. In 2018, Bauer seemed to turn the corner and posted a career-best 12-6 record, with a 2.21 ERA in 28 games while averaging 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings. In 2019, Bauer seemed to have a regression as he went 11-13, with a 4.48 ERA in thirty-four games, averaging 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings. This regression might be due to Bauer getting traded from the Cleveland Indians to the Cincinnati Reds.

In Bauer’s 2020 season, there was some speculation about Bauer’s possibility of doctoring baseballs. Although it was a 60-game season, Bauer posted his career-best 1.73 ERA in eleven games. What makes this more interesting is Bauer’s strikeout per nine increased from the 2019 season of 10.7 strikeouts to the 2020 season of 12.3 strikeouts per nine innings.

Could this be a coincidence? It is possible, but one cannot help but wonder if a foreign substance might have aided this to allow for a better grip and a higher spin rate. To add to the speculation, Bauer averaged 7.8 hits per nine innings in 2019. In 2020, that number decreased to 5.1 hits per nine innings, which ultimately led to Bauer winning the Cy Young Award.

It might seem that Bauer is being outed as the only one that might be using a foreign substance on baseballs which is not entirely the case. Bauer has been an activist to prevent cheating in the game of baseball, most notably in the case of the Houston Astros and their sign-stealing scandal. Bauer has come out on his social media accounts and mocked the Astros for what they did back in 2017.

In 2018, Bauer came out on social media and made a reference as to how pitchers might be able to increase their spin rates, and then not a season later, Bauer has magically increased the spin rates on all of his pitches. Now, the tables have turned, and Bauer is now the focus of an investigation.

According to The Athletics Ken Rosenthal, Major League Baseball sent out letters in March to all thirty clubs stating that MLB will monitor and enforce rules prohibiting pitchers from applying foreign substances to baseballs. In these letters, MLB noted that they would be reviewing data this season to compare the spin rates from prior seasons. As of last week, MLB was already starting to look into this, and it comes at Bauer’s expense. In his last outing against the Oakland Athletics, umpires collected multiple balls that Bauer threw that showed evidence that the balls had markings and were sticky. MLB officials have said that the collections would be sent to the Commissioner’s office for further testing.

If Bauer (or others) are found guilty, how MLB plans to execute a penalty has yet to be determined. There have been allegations of pitchers using a foreign substance to gain extra spin on the ball, but nothing definitive has been proven. The last pitcher to have any fine or suspension was former New York Yankee pitcher Michael Pineda, now with the Minnesota Twins. Pineda was suspended for 10-games after finding a foreign substance on his neck in 2014. Since then, no other pitcher has been fined or suspended.

Major League Baseball is trying to clean up the game, but given their track record with regard to how they handled the sign-stealing scandal, it might be tougher than they think. The only way they might be able to eliminate the possibility of a pitcher using a foreign substance is to eliminate all the vices that might aid a pitcher in doctoring a baseball.

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Jeff "Rip" Griffin is a current MLB writer covering the Houston Astros. Rip is also the host of The Rip Griffin Show on Apple Podcasts. Rip holds a Bachelors of Science in Kinesiology, focusing in Sports Management from the University of Houston - Victoria.