As Major League Baseball has moved toward enacting stricter guidelines for pitchers using foreign substances on baseballs to improve grip, one of the sport’s best pitchers has fallen under scrutiny for the elite rate his pitches spin. That pitcher is New York Yankees star and former Astros pitcher Gerrit Cole, the highest-paid pitcher in MLB history and a frontrunner for this year’s AL Cy Young award.
Cole’s fastball spins at an average rate of 2,552 revolutions per minute (RPMs), enough to put him in the 93rd percentile among pitchers in 2021. He’s averaged over 2,500 RPMs each of the last three seasons, an elite number he couldn’t touch just a few years prior. From 2015 to 2017, he averaged 2,168 RPMs, leaving some skeptics to wonder how he made such a leap after joining the Houston Astros in 2018.
When asked Tuesday whether he’s ever used these substances to doctor a baseball, Cole gave a less-than-inspiring answer.
“I don’t quite know how to answer that to be honest,” Cole said. “There are customs and practices that have been passed down from older players to younger players, from the last generation of players to this generation of players. I think there are some things that are certainly out of bounds in that regard and I’ve stood pretty firm in terms of that, in terms of the communication between our peers and whatnot.
“This is important to a lot of people that love the game including the players in this room, including fans, including teams and so if MLB wants to legislate some more stuff, that’s a conversation that we can have because ultimately we should all be pulling in the same direction.”
Cole isn’t the only pitcher getting a closer look. Reigning NL Cy Young winner and prized offseason acquisition of the Los Angeles Dodgers Trevor Bauer has seen a dramatic uptick in his spin rate the last few seasons as well. When New York Mets star Jacob deGrom was accused of doing so, many of his teammates jumped to his defense on Twitter.
Even Nationals three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer was named in a lawsuit earlier this year filed by a former Los Angeles Angels clubhouse attendant that claimed he supplied ball-doctoring substances to pitchers around the league.
Once MLB does begin cracking down on players using these substances, Cole likely won’t be the only pitcher struggling to come up with the words to explain himself.