Dodgers Dugout: Spider Tack, Spider Tack, does whatever a....
Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell and I can tell Rob Manfred means business because the spin rate on my washing machine has been way down the last couple of weeks.
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So, many of you have emailed me to explain the whole spin rate/foreign substances controversy. While a book could be written about the subject (and probably will) and while our own Jorge Castillo wrote about it recently here, let’s delve into it a bit.
MLB actually defines spin rate for us: “A pitcher’s Spin Rate represents the rate of spin on a baseball after it is released. It is measured in revolutions per minute. The amount of spin on a pitch changes its trajectory. The same pitch thrown at the same Velocity will end up in a different place depending on how much it spins.”
So, the more spin the better. Fastballs with a high spin rate won’t sink as much, which is why batters are swinging under fastballs so much. And a great way to get more spin on the ball is to use something sticky to help you grip the ball better (remember Jay Howell using pine tar to better grip the ball during the NLCS against the Mets in 1988?)
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A substance that appears to be popular with pitchers is called Spider Tack. Trevor Bauer once estimated that 70% of major league pitchers use an illegal substance. Yankees ace Gerrit Cole was asked recently if he uses Spider Tack. His answer: “I don’t … I don’t know … I don’t quite know how to answer that, to be honest. 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. 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. Because ultimately we should all be pulling in the same direction on this.”
Spider Tack is available on Amazon and is used mainly by weightlifters. If you ever watch “World’s Strongest Man” competitions, it was specifically designed for help with the Atlas Stones competition. It is so sticky it usually takes baby oil or WD-40 to get it off your fingers. And, it’s easy to hide. The Athletic had a former major league pitcher throw a ball with and without using Spider Tack. With it, the spin rate increased by 500 rpm.
And baseball has noticed and is cracking down, telling teams that it plans to begin enforcing the rules against pitchers using illegal substances to doctor baseballs for increased spin rates. And since that announcement, guess what has happened. Batting averages are up, spin rates are down. It would probably be unfair of me to point out that since the crackdown was announced, Bauer has given up seven earned runs in 12.1 innings (5.11 ERA), 15 hits and six walks, while striking out 15. And if I did point it out, it would be important to note that it is an extremely small sample size, but it is worth keeping an eye on.
So there’s what you need to know about illegal substances, in a nutshell.
The Dodgers routed the Rangers 12-1 on Friday, but lost two players in the process. Max Muncy strained an oblique, apparently while homering in the first inning, since he was replaced at first by Albert Pujols after the inning. He was put on the 10-day IL (the team recalled Luke Raley to replace him) and the Dodgers are optimistic he will miss only those 10 days. Cody Bellinger also left the game later because of a strained left hamstring. He didn’t go on the IL, but hasn’t played since.
I don’t have the exact numbers in front of me, but this is around the 10,000th injury suffered by the Dodgers this season.
The Dodgers also recalled infielder Andy Burns from the minors to help out, sent down reliever Mitch White, and designated pitcher Dennis Santana for assignment, meaning he is no longer on the 40-man roster.
A couple of former Dodgers died while I was off, and one passed away just recently, and they are certainly worth mentioning.
Pitcher Mike Marshall, the first reliever to win the Cy Young Award, died on May 31. He was 78. In 1974, he pitched in an astounding 106 games, good for 208.1 innings relief innings. He led the NL with 21 saves that year and pitched in all five World Series games. He received 17 of 24 first-place votes for the Cy Young, finishing 30 points ahead of teammate Andy Messersmith, who went 20-6 with a 2.59 ERA. Messersmith received five first-place votes, Atlanta’s Phil Niekro got one, as did Dodger Don Sutton.
Marshall and Jimmy Wynn were my first two favorite Dodgers. Marshall was very opinionated and frequently wore out his welcome with front offices around baseball, which is a big reason he pitched for nine teams in 14 seasons despite being a good-to-excellent reliever for much of that span. He finished in the top five of Cy Young voting four times, remarkable for a reliever, and led the league in games pitched five times. The Dodgers traded him to the Atlanta Braves during the 1976 season for Lee Lacy and Elias Sosa.
Dodger reliever Joe Beckwith died on May 22 at 66. He had a 1.96 ERA in 1980, his rookie season. But in spring training of 1981, he ducked quickly to avoid a line drive off the bat of Jack Perconte and suffered from double vision afterward. He missed the entire season, had two eye surgeries and returned midway through the 1982 season. He had two good seasons and was traded to Kansas City in December of 1983 for three minor leaguers. He was a reliever on the Royals’ 1985 World Series championship team. He was released by the Royals the following spring, signed with Toronto and was purchased by the Dodgers from the Blue Jays. After a poor 1986 season, he retired. He is one of the many relievers in baseball history who never get the spotlight, but often are a key part of many winning teams.
Jim “Mudcat” Grant died on Saturday. He was 85. He won 20 games in a season, going 21-7 with the Minnesota Twins in 1965. He started three games against the Dodgers in the World Series that year, going 2-1 with a 2.74 ERA. And he spent 1968 with the Dodgers, going 6-4 with a 2.08 ERA. The Dodgers had sent Ron Perranoski, John Roseboro and Bob Miller to the Twins for him and Zoilo Versalles. However, the Dodgers lost him in the 1968 off-season expansion draft when the Montreal Expos took him.
My first exposure to Grant was while he hosted the post-game Dodger talk in the mid-1980s. He was not afraid to say what he was thinking and was a pleasure to listen to. He devoted much of his post-playing career to researching and celebrating the other Black pitchers to win 20 games in a season. He has a website dedicated to it, which you can still visit, called theblackaces.com. He also wrote an excellent book title “The Black Aces.” The 15 “Black Aces” are: Vida Blue, Al Downing, Bob Gibson, Dwight Gooden, Grant, Ferguson Jenkins, Sam Jones, Don Newcombe, Mike Norris, David Price, J. R. Richard, CC Sabathia, Dave Stewart, Dontrelle Willis, and Earl Wilson.
Tonight: Philadelphia (Spencer Howard, 0-1, 4.61 ERA) at Dodgers (Tony Gonsolin, 0-0, 5.40 ERA), 7 p.m., Sportsnet LA, AM 570
Tuesday: Philadelphia (Zac Eflin, 2-5, 3.89 ERA) at Dodgers (*Julio Urías, 9-2, 3.56 ERA), 7 p.m., Sportsnet LA, AM 570
Wednesday: Philadelphia (Zack Wheeler, 4-3, 2.29 ERA) at Dodgers (*Clayton Kershaw, 8-5, 3.39 ERA), 9:30 a.m., YouTube, AM 570
Vin Scully discusses how he comes up with his anecdotes for games. Watch it here.
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