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Foreign Substance Crackdown is coming. Do the Blue Jays have anything to worry about?

By now I am sure you have heard of baseball’s dirty little secret. Sports Illustrated has called foreign substances the new steroids. Eno Sarris and Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic have written (among other stories on this issue) about Spider Tack and how it can increase spin rate up to 500 revolutions per minute (rpms).

The league starting to take action. Baseballs from a Trevor Bauer start in early April were sent to MLB for investigation. We saw Joe West ask Cardinals pitcher Giovanny Gallegos to change his hat as West saw a substance on it. The League is taking measures to stop this and it seems players are making changes so they don’t get caught. It’s becoming a regular occurrence to see a tweet like this.

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This isn’t a new problem; the tipping point probably should have come four years ago when a ball got stuck on Yadier Molina’s chest protector.

The pitcher throwing that ball? Former Blue Jay, Brett Cecil. Seeing that clip you would think that Cecil had something sticky on the ball, perhaps doing something he maybe didn’t do in Toronto? Looking at the numbers that doesn’t appear to be the case, Cecil’s spin on his curveball actually decreased in that first season in St. Louis.

On paper, the Blue Jays don’t look like a team that uses foreign substances. They rank in the bottom third among teams in average fastball and slider spin rate, per Baseball Savant and in the bottom half of curveball spin rate. The teams at the top of these lists, the Dodgers, Yankees, Astros, Rays, are teams that have been suspected of using foreign substances. Other teams that stood out here were the Brewers and Pirates. On the most recent episode of Blue Jays Nation Radio, Tyler mentioned a Tik Tok account that was posting videos of players rubbing their gloves and having sticky fingers. I found the account; @Hey_Commy and many of his videos have been centred on the Brewers three-headed monster of Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta. He also shows numerous Pirates pitchers as well, so seeing those teams ranking near the top of a spin rate list isn’t surprising.

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With crackdowns on pitchers already here and more coming very soon, I decided to look at the Blue Jays pitchers to see who if any will be affected by this. I went through every pitcher who has pitched this season for the Blue Jays (with the exception of Ty Tice and Alek Manoah as this is their first big league season) and compared the spin rate of their 2021 fastball to their 2020 fastball. Where applicable I added in the pitcher’s 2019 spin rate for further context. Pitchers that came to the Blue Jays mid-season will have two spin rates, the first showing their fastball spin with their former team and second with the Blue Jays. All spin rate data courtesy of Baseball Savant.

Here are the results sorted by those pitchers with the largest spin rate increase.

Pitchers 2019 2020 2021 Change
Ryan Borucki* 2200 2168 2447 279
Jordan Romano 2261 2225 2502 277
Jeremy Beasley 2357 2555 198
Julian Merryweather 2324 2438 114
Travis Bergen 2112 2223 2327 104
T.J. Zeuch* 2192 2127 2219 92
Joel Payamps 2460 2368 2400 32
Tyler Chatwood 2479 2483 2493 10
Anthony Kay 2301 2367 2375 8
Anthony Castro 2512 2512 0
Trent Thorton 2372 2380 2372 -8
A.J Cole 2406 2331 2322 -9
Rafael Dolis 2315 2298 -17
David Phelps 2334/2356 2397 2373 -24
Carl Edwards Jr 2636 2593 2552 -41
Ross Stripling 2274 2300/2219 2175 -44
Hyun-Jin Ryu 2084 1996 1931 -65
Steven Matz* 2102 2230 2163 -67
Tanner Roark 2145 2080 2008 -72
Tim Mayza* 2144 2067 -77
Tommy Milone 2192 2191 2106 -85
Robbie Ray 2257 2460/2351 2265 -86
Nate Pearson 2306 2062 -244

*sinker spin rate was used instead of four-seamer

At this point in time seeing a large jump in spin rate is suspicious. That’s not to say any of these players is using a foreign substance. We saw first-hand how many random drug tests José Bautista had to take just because he had a power spike. If Major League Baseball is going to investigate anyone on the Blue Jays those first five pitchers seem to be the most likely.

Should that be the case this could have a big impact on the Blue Jays (though not as much as other teams). Romano has been the team’s most valuable reliever to date. Borucki was the team’s primary lefty when he was healthy, and Merryweather in just 4.1 innings this season has been the fifth most valuable Blue Jays pitcher this season. When all are healthy those are three key bullpen arms, so it would be an issue should any one of them see a large spin rate decrease.

The Blue Jays have had plenty of turnover on their pitching staff over the last three seasons bringing in a variety of arms from outside the organization. Those arms typically see their spin rates stay the same or even decrease. The pitchers that have been corrected and “fixed” by the Blue Jays and Pete Walker have typically come from mechanical adjustments and not some secret stuff. Every team will be affected should Major League Baseball put forth a serious crackdown on foreign substances. The Blue Jays based on their spin rate numbers shouldn’t have anything to worry about and could be one of the teams least affected by this. Other teams in the division however might not be so lucky.

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