Sticky situation? Cole says spin rate drop due to mechanics

Published 9:38 pm Tuesday, June 8, 2021

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MINNEAPOLIS — The pitches Gerrit Cole threw in his last start weren’t rotating as much, and the New York Yankees ace said the spin rate dropoff was due to mechanical flaws — sidestepping a recent accusation that he cut back on tacky substances amid a Major League Baseball crackdown.

“I attribute it to just not being as good or as sharp as I wanted to be. It’s as simple as that,” Cole said Tuesday before the Yankees began a three-game series at Minnesota.

Twins third baseman Josh Donaldson, as part of wide-ranging comments last week about the presence of pitcher-friendly sticky stuff, casually wondered aloud whether Cole was suddenly trying to hide usage of grip aids to avoid being caught.

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According to MLB Statcast data on the website Baseball Savant, Cole had a 125 rotations per minute decrease in his four-seam fastball last week when he allowed five runs in five innings in a loss to Tampa Bay. Cole, not quite halfway into the second season of a $324 million, nine-year contract, is third in MLB with 104 strikeouts. The three-time All-Star has a 2.26 ERA over 75 2/3 innings and 12 starts this season.

“I’m just not quite bringing out my best delivery. Of course it’s something that we monitor. Of course there are other variables that we monitor as well when we’re evaluating our performance from every game. You try to take as much information as you can as a player, and certainly that’s one of them,” Cole said. “We’re trying to get better this week and put in the work, and I’ll be as prepared as I possibly can for my next start.”

Cole is scheduled to pitch Wednesday against Donaldson and the Twins.

At least four minor league pitchers have been suspended this season by Major League Baseball after being caught using banned foreign substances to doctor baseballs, evidence of a stronger crackdown in the game’s feeder system than in the big leagues during this historically dominant stretch of pitching. The use of homebrewed sticky substances — typically made from sunscreen and rosin — is suspected to have spiked in recent seasons to increase the spin rates on fastballs and make those pitches harder to hit.

Despite those suspicions, no big league pitchers have been suspended or fined for using illegal substances this season

Donaldson suggested the timing of the news of the minor league suspensions was related to the changes in Cole’s spin rate. Cole called the criticism “undesirable” but declined to respond specifically to the allegation.

“I understand this topic is important to everybody that cares about the game. In regards to Josh, I kind of felt like it was a bit of a low-hanging fruit, but he’s entitled to his opinion and to voice his opinion, so I just have other things that I need to keep my focus on,” Cole said.

Cole dodged a question Tuesday about whether he had ever used a particularly sticky substance known as Spider Tack, designed for use by Strongman competitors.

He began to answer, paused for six seconds, then continued.

“I don’t quite know how to answer that, to be honest,” he said. “There are customs and practices that have been passed down from older players to younger players, from the last generation of players to this generation of players, and I think there are some things that are certainly out of bounds in that regard.”

Donaldson said Friday that the sticky substance situation is going to be “the next steroids of baseball ordeal” for its performance-enhancing effect on the game.

“Hitters have never really cared about sunscreen, rosin and pine tar. We haven’t cared about that because it’s not a performance enhancement. What these guys are doing now are performance-enhancing, to where it is an actual superglue-type of ordeal, to where it’s not about command anymore,” Donaldson said. “Now, it’s about who’s throwing the nastiest pitches, the more unhittable pitches.”

Cole, a member of the executive subcommittee of the players’ association, said he welcomed the dialogue about the use of and legality of grip aids.

“This is important to a lot of people who love the game, including the players in this room, including fans, including teams, so if MLB wants to legislate some more stuff, that’s a conversation that we can have,” he said. “Because ultimately we should all be pulling in the same direction on this.”

Said Yankees manager Aaron Boone: “In the end, all that anyone really wants — pitchers, position players, managers — is the best possible product and the most level of playing field that we can create.”