On June 3, MLB informed owners of a crackdown on pitchers using foreign substances. From that day forward, we saw league-wide spin rates begin to drop. Pitchers began to complain about not using substances. On June 16, MLB announced that pitchers would receive a 10 game suspension if found doctoring the ball. It became clear very fast that nearly every pitcher used some substance to enhance grip, whether the intention was the increased spin rates or not. For this edition of “Statcast Standouts,” we will take a look at several pitchers who have seen a significant change in spin rates and whether that has impacted their performance.
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Statcast Standouts: Spin Rates
Maybe standout is not quite the right word here. Maybe it is the opposite of standing out. But one thing is for sure, these pitchers we are going to discuss have stood out for losing spin rates, according to statcast. Has it affected their overall performance? Let’s take a look!
Trevor Bauer, LAD
Trevor Bauer is the obvious candidate to be written about in an article like this. Bauer is a known tinkerer, and I am certain he tinkered his way to success with substances. Again, this is no knock on any specific player. Almost every pitcher in the league uses some substance. I believe Bauer found a way to use it most efficiently. Check out the chart below. Bauer saw his four-seam fastball spin rates jump significantly from 2019 to 2020. His four-seam wasn’t alone in taking a big jump forward in spin rate.
Then, take a look at his spin rates by game. On May 31, Bauer averaged 2824 RPM on his four-seamer, according to statcast. His next start was down to 2608 RPM. Then on June 18, just two days after MLB announced they would be handing out ten-game suspensions, Bauer’s four-seam RPM dropped all the way to an average of 2474 RPM on 34 pitches. That number sits much closer to his 2019 range before he made a massive jump.
So, it is pretty clear that Trevor Bauer has seen a huge decrease in spin rates, but does it matter? Over the three starts, when the spin rates began to decline, Bauer has pitched to a 3.26 ERA. Still very impressive. One of the more notable things is the increased walk rate of 10.7 percent, 7.8 percent over his previous 12 starts. His strikeout rate is also down to 27.4 percent over those 19.1 innings instead of 32.7 percent over his first 76.1 innings.
So, overall, the decreased spin rates haven’t impacted Bauer’s performance significantly. Yes, he is walking more batters and striking out fewer. But that could be a small three-game sample. It will be important to monitor Bauer’s performance moving forward. I still believe he can be a high-end starting pitcher, but it will be interesting to see if his spin rates continue to decline closer to the 2019 range.
Dylan Bundy, LAA
If Dylan Bundy was using a substance to help his performance, it certainly did not help this season. After a breakout in Los Angeles last year where Bundy pitched to a 3.29 ERA over 11 starts, Bundy has fallen flat on his face with a 6.68 ERA over 13 starts in 2021. His breakout last season was not even fueled by elite spin rates. Surprisingly, Bundy’s largest overall increase in spin rates occurred this season. At least, before the MLB cracking down.
Bundy’s spin rates have come crashing down hard over his last two starts. On May 31, Bundy averaged 2723 RPM on his slider on 19 uses. On his June 14 start, that number fell all the way to 2468 RPM. His four-seam fastball also dropped from an average of 2529 RPM to 2343 over that two-start stretch. Needless to say, Bundy has lost a lot of spin. Check out his statcast data chart bw=ekkiw
As if Bundy’s performance was not bad enough, to begin with, his last two games have been atrocious. Bundy has allowed nine earned runs over eight innings pitched and struck out just five hitters. Better days should be ahead for Bundy, as this seems to be rock bottom. Bundy proved in 2020 he did not need elite spin rates to excel, and hopefully, he can get back to those ways.
Gerrit Cole, NYY
Gerrit Cole has been very vocal in complaining about speaking out against MLB changing the rule midseason. He first fumbled through an interview when asked if he had ever used Spider Tack before. Then, in a later press conference, he spoke out about how it was unfair that pitchers would not be allowed to use a sticky substance.
Anyway, like Bauer, Gerrit Cole had a season where he improved his spin rates significantly. 2019 was the year we saw the big jump in spin rate. Those elite numbers have sustained into this season before the substance ban. After June 3, Cole saw his spin rates begin to decline, as you can see in the table below.
Outside of one bad start on June 3, Cole has pitched decently well over three starts. He owns a 4.26 ERA over those 19 innings but has seen his strikeout rate drop to 27 percent over that time span. Before that, Cole’s strikeout rate sat at 36.9 percent. A noticeable difference. It is worth noting that despite Cole’s drop in spin rates, his velocity is noticeably up on all of these pitches. It will be interesting to see if the increased velocity can sustain. Regardless, Cole is one of the top pitchers in the game, and I am not overly worried about his decreased spin rates.
It is important to remember that spin rates are down across the league. It is not just these three players that I highlighted. In no way am I calling these specific players out. Just highlighting some noticeable differences in spin rates from players. If everyone cuts using substance cold turkey, it would seem natural that the aces should still perform at a high level. The standard for pitching like an ace may be a little different.
Thanks for tuning in for another edition of “Statcast Standouts.” Be sure to head on over to our Fantasy Baseball page to check out all our great content on FantraxHQ.
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