In the wake of the Trevor Bauer substance controversy, could any Colorado Rockies pitchers be under the supposed Major League Baseball-wide microscope in the near future?
The baseball world was quite curious when MLB recently announced it was going to be testing Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer’s baseballs for illegal substances. This news has people wondering who else could be guilty. Locally, it’s also worth asking if any Colorado Rockies pitchers could draw attention in this regard as well.
Let’s face it, it should shock no one that this is happening. MLB announced they would collect baseballs throughout the league earlier this year, especially from pitchers who saw a dramatic rise in spin rate and test them for suspicious substances.
First, we should look at why Bauer’s baseballs are being tested.
Bauer being one of the first to be publicly known should not be surprising. He has previously stated that the only way to see a dramatic spin rate increase would be through using illegal substances. He saw one such increase for one inning in 2019 and then again throughout the entirety of his Cy Young-winning season. He has been outspoken about the whole scandal and has acted as a whistleblower for the whole thing, keeping it in the public eye as MLB possibly tries to stifle it.
If illegal substances caused Bauer’s dramatic increase in spin rate, then the data suggests he is still using it, including when he faced the Rockies on April 2. In 2019, Bauer’s 4-seam fastball spin rate was 2412 RPM. In 2020, that number rose to 2776 RPM and, in 2021, it has so far remained similar. To put it simply, MLB has every reason to look at Bauer’s baseballs.
But what about the Rockies rotation?
While certain spin rate jumps have happened in the past, Colorado Rockies pitchers seem clear from this scandal.
All Rockies starters have had fairly consistent careers (in terms of spin rate, that is). The largest jumps of the starters were from Jon Gray and Kyle Freeland, who saw an increased spin rate of 150 RPM on their fastballs in 2016 and 2020, respectively. Gray saw that rate quickly regress in the following years and we have yet to see Freeland pitch in 2021 because of injury.
Another sign to note for the Rockies rotation is that almost all of them have fairly low spin rates, the only exception being Chi Chi Gonzalez at a 2457 RPM fastball to start the season.
While unlikely, the consistency of the Colorado staff would also happen if all seven of the potential starters were using substances since at least 2015, when spin rate began being measured, which would theoretically be possible if the substance abuse is as widespread as some sources claim it is.
Colorado’s relievers are a little more interesting to look into. For the vast majority, the spin rate is much higher than with the starters but, again, it seems to remain consistent throughout careers, with little change from year to year.
There are two points of interest in the relievers, though, but the abnormalities can be explained away fairly simply.
First, we have to look at Daniel Bard.
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Bard’s comeback story is incredible. He went from pitching coach on the Diamondbacks to hardest throwing (and spinning) pitcher on the Rockies with a fastball spin rate of 2809 RPM, several revolutions higher than Bauer’s. It is entirely possible he was this dominant on spin rate when he was with the Red Sox before he got the yips, but we do not know because spin rate was not measured back then (Bard last pitched for Boston in 2013, then didn’t pitch again until last season).
The other abnormality is Mychal Givens, who has seen his spin rate consistently climb over the past two seasons when it had been fairly consistent through the first four years of his career. However, the most he saw his spin rate rise by in a single season was about 120 RPM, something a pitcher could feasibly reach through sufficient training.
In summary, Bauer’s baseballs being inspected could be far more routine than people are making it out to be. If (key word there) he has been using substances, then the data suggests he was still using them against the Rockies on April 2. Also, based on spin rates, Rockies’ pitching seems to be in the clear.
Finally, don’t be surprised if one of the Rockies pitchers named above has his baseballs tested in the year. It is a new policy and, while the Bauer baseballs were widely publicized, the tests are supposed to be something that will happen league-wide.
Note: Statistical data for this article was found using Baseball Savant.