Unfortunately, it seems his Los Angeles teammates are among those most likely to be affected by Rob Manfred’s latest crusade, instead of the hidden enemy in Houston he once targeted.
As the chatter around the game has only grown louder regarding grip enhancements used by a proliferation of pitchers, which create unhittable sinkers and ridiculous movement, a Sports Illustrated bombshell dropped on Friday.
Not only does it include damning quotes and details regarding the specific mixes of elements pitchers are using, but it fingers the Dodgers as the clearest year-over-year offenders between 2020 and 2021.
Whether you believe sticky substances are “the new steroids,” as a quote in the piece posits, is your own opinion.
The facts, devoid of bias, show a wild increase in spin rate for the Dodgers’ staff between last year and this year, the type of percentage jump that can’t only be explained by the addition of Bauer and departure of Pedro Baez.
The Dodgers rank atop baseball in terms of increased spin rate.
LA’s up 7.04%. The second-closest team? The White Sox, at 4.20%.
Not shockingly, the resurgent Red Sox are in third, and the surprisingly potent Yankees’ pitching staff is in fifth. Things are starting to fall into place a bit.
"According to the data, L.A. has by a large margin the highest year-to-year increase of any club in spin rate on four-seam fastballs, which are considered a bellwether pitch. In fact, the Dodgers’ four-seam spin rate is higher than that of any other team in the Statcast era. There is no proof the Dodgers are doctoring baseballs, but nearly across the board, their hurlers’ spin rates on that pitch have increased this season from last.The Dodgers declined to comment."
Now, of course, the Astros are the innovators here and all other teams have followed enthusiastically. There’s no indication Houston isn’t involved; when you lose Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander and are starting from a position of strength, you won’t show a drastic increase.
Everything about Bauer’s rise to power has been damning, though, and there’s every indication his Dodgers teammates have followed suit. Bauer did once say there was no way to increase these rates without artificial means, and he was confident he could increase his spin rate dramatically and dominate the game, except for the fact that he “had morals.”
He went on to increase his spin rate dramatically and dominate the game months later.
For years, no one has cared. No one at all. That was Bauer’s point two years ago. If the Astros were going to be so brazen about it without a care in the world, why shouldn’t everyone else try the same tactics?
Now, though, MLB appears ready to stigmatize these actions, with pitchers taking countless trips to the glove and constantly swiping. Will that stigmatizing come with a punishment, though? Will this be policed? If not, Bauer and his brethren will continue to be just fine.
Offense is disappearing faster than ever, though, thanks in large part to this series of innovations. If MLB wants to inject life into the game, they may finally try to legislate Bauer out of it. Take it from Rockies star Charlie Blackmon:
"“I’m tired of hearing people say that players only want to hit home runs,” says Rockies rightfielder Charlie Blackmon. “That’s not why people are striking out. They’re striking out because guys are throwing 97 mile-an-hour super sinkers, or balls that just go straight up with all this sticky stuff and the new-baseball spin rate. That’s why guys are striking out, because it’s really hard not to strike out.”"
In the coming weeks and months, MLB has a choice: strikeouts or dingers? Half-measures like moving the mound, or a full go in curbing the real problem?
Whatever happens, Bauer and the Dodgers will be at the center of the fiasco.