Could MLB's spin-rate crackdown affect NL Central race?
A popular topic around MLB these days has been spin rate, illegal substances and MLB's potential crackdown on rules violators.
The theory is, MLB told teams last week it planned to start handing out suspensions to pitchers caught using illegal substances to improve the grip on balls. Since then, spin rate dropped and contact rose.
USA Today's Bob Nightengale tweeted that the past week featured the lowest spin rate of any week this season. Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer, often mentioned as a potential suspect, lost his last two starts.
So how does this affect the Cubs? Hard to tell, since Cubs pitchers as a group are notoriously low in spin-rate and velocity. But it's possible some key rivals could be affected.
"It's on the radar," Cubs manager David Ross said Sunday. "I think there's a history of guys wanting to use some stuff to get grip. I think there's just substances out there now that are going a little bit further on beyond controlling the baseball.
"It's on the radar, I pay attention to it, but until the rule or something comes across my desk, I'm not aware if any of our guys do or do not use it. We don't have a lot of spin rate guys off the top of my head. I pay attention to it, but not anything I've had to make an announcement to the team or everything."
One popular theory with Bauer is he spoke out about pitchers using illegal substances a few years ago, MLB didn't do anything about it, then his spin rates rose significantly the past two seasons.
One area where this could affect the Cubs is with NL Central rival Milwaukee, which has three strong starters on their staff with Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta. Will any of those guys lose effectiveness?
On one hand, it could be argued that Burnes' improvement was due to the development of a devastating cutter. He rarely used that pitch in 2019, but now throws it 57% of the time, according to baseballsavant.com, where all the spin rate data can be found.
Then again, the top three pitchers in average cutter spin rate this season are Bauer, former Cub Yu Darvish and Burnes, with the Dodgers' Walker Buehler fourth. Will any of those numbers drop if MLB is serious about focusing on illegal substances?
For the Cubs, the lone pitcher who shows up near the top of the average spin rankings is Dillon Maples, one of the lesser-used relievers in their bullpen.
Among pitchers with a minimum 50 pitches thrown, Maples' spin rate ranks third in MLB on the four-seam fastball, behind Bauer and Rockies reliever Daniel Bard, with Burnes fifth. Maples is second in sinker spin rate, eighth on the slider and sixth in curve.
The only other instance of a Cubs pitcher showing up in the top 20 of any pitch is Justin Steele, ranked 18th in sinker spin rate.
"I think we try to get people out," Ross said. "I don't correlate spin rate with outs. I know it helps. Spin rate is a thing now we can measure that definitely gets outs. Our guys get outs. I don't care how hard they throw or what their spin rate is. I like outs."
Baseballsavant.com also measures pitch movement and Zach Davies ranks second in MLB in vertical movement on his cutter. But Davies has one of the lowest average velocities of any starting pitcher in baseball, typically peaking in the high 80s.
When it comes to average velocity on the four-seam fastball, closer Craig Kimbrel leads the Cubs at 96.9 mph, but that ranks just 39th in MLB. Trevor Megill is next at 96.4, then Tommy Nance at 95.6, Maples at 95.3 and Rex Brothers at 95.0.
One area where the Cubs seem to excel is hard curve balls. Four pitchers rank in the top 19 in MLB in average curveball velocity -- Kimbrel is fifth at 86.4 mph, with Nance at 85.7, Cory Abbott at 84.9 and Maples at 84.2.