Dodgers and Spin Rate: How Will MLB’s Crackdown Affect Los Angeles Pitching Staff?

The Los Angeles Dodgers have an off day on Monday before they begin a three-game set with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Coming off of two losses against the Atlanta Braves, they could use a little time to regroup.

Aside from two innings, one where they scored eight runs, and one where they scored three, they only scored four runs over the other 25 innings. That is not going to win many games, especially when the eight runs were scored mostly with the help of Atlanta’s lack of pitching and defense, and only three hits by the Dodgers.

Fans of the team were hoping that the offense might start to pick back up with Cody Bellinger and Zach McKinstry returning to the lineup, but that’s not quite the case yet, anyway. Only one homer was hit off a Dodger bat all weekend, by Albert Pujols in the ninth inning of Sunday’s game.

The Dodgers now find themselves three games out of first place behind the San Francisco Giants and one game behind the second-place San Diego Padres.

The biggest thing on the Dodgers’ radar is whether the crackdown on pitchers using foreign or banned substances on the ball will affect the pitching staff or not.

The Dodgers as a whole have the highest spin rate in the major leagues. Their rate increased significantly over the 2020-2021 season break. The main reason for that? The signing of Trevor Bauer.

After MLB announced it will be cracking down on pitchers for using foreign substances on baseballs, Bauer’s spin rate dropped. In Atlanta on Sunday, his fastball averaged 2,612 rpm. Entering the game, it was averaging 2,835 rpm. Only twice before in his last 28 games has it dropped below 2,700 rpm.

Asked about it after the game, Bauer didn’t give much of an explanation. “It was a hot, humid day in Atlanta,” he said.

“I just want to compete on a fair playing field,” Bauer said. “I’ll say it again. That’s been the point this entire time, that everyone can be on a fair playing field. So if you’re going to enforce it, enforce it. And if you’re not, then stop sweeping it under the rug, which is what they’ve done for four years now.”

Bauer has been very vocal about other pitchers using, and then seemingly set about using it himself to show how it could make him a better pitcher. In 2019, his average rpm on his four seam fastball was 2,410. In 2020, when he won the Cy Young Award, it was up to 2,779 rpm.

“For eight years I’ve been trying to figure out how to increase the spin on my fastball because I’d identified it way back then as such a massive advantage. I knew that if I could learn to increase it through training and technique, it would be huge. But eight years later, I haven’t found any other way except using foreign substances.” Bauer made this statement in February of 2020 in The Player Tribune in an article he wrote for the publication.

We all know what happened next, he won the Cy Young and signed his massive contract with the Dodgers.

However, as stated, the Dodgers have the highest spin rate in all the majors, so it’s not just Bauer. Clayton Kershaw, Julio Urias and Kenley Jansen all saw their spin rate drop during the weekend series in Atlanta.

Graph of Clayton Kershaw’s pitches and spin rate from Baseball Savant
Graph of Julio Urías’s pitching and spin rate from Baseball Savant
Graph of Kenley Jansen’s pitching and spin rate from Baseball Savant

But, as Bauer has been the most outspoken about it, having an over 200 rpm decrease immediately after MLB’s announcement, there will be increased scrutiny on his and the entire staff’s pitching.

What will happens with all of this remains to be seen. If using a substance to help with this is truly a league-wide thing, then it should affect all pitching staffs—not just the Dodgers. Offense will most likely increase across the league, which is most likely what MLB’s intention is with the tighter enforcement of the rules. Altering the baseball itself did not have the intended effect of increasing offense and this ‘issue’ of foreign substances could be a different angle to increase runs scored.

Whether teams start to seriously police each other about the substance issue or if it just all kind of falls off as time goes on also remains to be seen. The next few weeks should be interesting to say the least.

15 thoughts on “Dodgers and Spin Rate: How Will MLB’s Crackdown Affect Los Angeles Pitching Staff?

  1. Trevor has never lied to me so I’m going to accept his explanation that it was hot and humid in Atlanta yesterday. If, by some chance his spin rates continue to stay at the lower rates and if that makes Bauer only a slightly better than average pitcher, I wonder how AF will feel, knowing that he won’t be paying him 40 mil next year. He’ll be paying him 48 mil.
    And how does that affect the offers he might or might not make to Kershaw, Seager and Taylor?

    1. I would assume that AF made this deal with Kershaw and possibly Seager/Bellinger in mind. He’s usually thinking 3 steps ahead. But if things continue to decline it may indeed look like a bad signing

  2. He’s been barely an above average pitcher his whole career except for 10/12 games last year. Pretty sure AF knew what he was getting and why and was prepared to pay for it. Could backfire on him although mlb is not really known for enforcing its rules and upsetting owners and players. It’s starting to sound like everyone is doing it to different degrees and have been for 4/5 years. Which means they won’t enforce it because the owners will get mad. Bauer is just rubbing it in and the league doesn’t react. But he is absolutely right that the playing field should be level for everyone. If everyone is doing it or trying to do it, how can you penalize just a few players. Its not like the league wasn’t aware of what was going on.
    That was a great article andy.

    1. They may not have enforced it before, but they certainly can’t ignore it any longer. After the mess they made of the Astros scandal, they can’t pretend this isn’t happening. Players are starting to get upset about it, or maybe I should say hitters are now speaking out about it.

      I would assume that if Bauer started speaking out about this as he did, he must have assumed that it would eventually have some effect and he must also think that he will still maintain his advantage even without the sticky stuff or he would have never opened his mouth. It will be fascinating to see how this all plays out.

      He said that it was hot and humid in Atlanta, giving that as a possible reason for his reduced spin rates. His next turn comes up on Saturday night at Dodger Stadium. It won’t be hot and it won’t be humid. I’ll be anxious to see what his numbers are.

  3. The Dodgers will not be the only team affected. If they truly do crack down, this will affect a lot of guys, most notably, Gerrit Cole of the Yankees. But for me it is wait and see. I am old enough to remember them finding an emery board on Jay Howell in a game during the playoffs.

    1. Hey Bear, what’s wrong with taking an emery board to the mound? Catchers use nail polish these days.
      You simply can’t go out on the field looking like a slob.

    2. Every ball I ever played with, from Little League to MABL was scuffed before the end of the first inning. What’s the big deal here? I think the rules currently say something about “foreign substance”. Enforce the rules and problem solved.

      1. My thoughts exactly. Get rid of the over shifts they have and you will see more runs and hits. I think MLB has been surprised a little by the way the new ball has played. They said originally it would probably take about 5 feet off of the flight of the ball, but it sure seems like you lose more than that. Mookies ball against the Cardinals would have cleared the wall easily last year.

      2. I thought it was a good plan because players would re-value the line drive. From my own experience, I hit a few home runs over the years but not one of them came because I tried to hit it out. The idea was to pick a strike and hit it hard. Gap hits are one of the most exciting plays in baseball. I still think that’s true but I was wrong about players adjusting. I also figured some organization would get ahead of the curve and start beating the shift by hitting (and bunting) away from it. Had that wrong too.

        Some of the ideas on how to bring back offense are ok, not sure about others. The first time I played with an outside base was in an Over 50 softball league and immediately found it to be a sound idea. I think I would look into lowering the mound from 10” to 8”, I would experiment with a slightly larger barrel, I would definitely employ ABS, and I would enforce current rules on foreign substance. Why have rules if you aren’t going to enforce them?

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