Zimmerman: Difference in using substances for control vs. advantage


No topic has been a bigger conversation over the past few weeks in Major League Baseball than pitchers' use of foreign substances on the ball to help enhance their performance.

With batting average at a record low and strikeouts and spin rate at an all-time high, the league is attempting to crack down on substance use. Since MLB announced last week that they were going to investigate such, we've seen elite pitchers such as Trevor Bauer and Gerrit Cole dramatically decrease their spin rate. They're just two of many examples, too.

On Friday, Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman joined the Sports Junkies and, naturally, was asked about the foreign substance use of pitchers he's faced. 

"I've heard many different stances over the past couple of months," Zimmerman said. "It's been known that a lot of pitchers use stuff, not so much to really enhance what they're good at, but to be able to control the ball. A lot of the time the balls are fairly slippery, they're not rubbed up that well."

Zimmerman said he's been told that controlling the baseball is a primary reason pitchers use stuff, but also made it a point that if that is the case, then why does the number of batters hit by pitch increase every year?

"A lot of guys use [stuff] a little bit just to have control, at least that's what I've been told," Zimmerman said. "The only problem with that is the hit by pitches has gone up every year. So their control is not working that well.


The 36-year-old also said that while he's OK with pitchers using some substances to help control the baseball, those that go over the top to increase their performance take away from the integrity of the sport.

"You also have the people that take it to another level and try and push the limits. Then when you get the guys that use the crazy stuff, the spider tack or whatever the hell it's called, they make their own stuff or combine a couple things, those guys are for sure getting a competitive advantage," Zimmerman said.

Related: GM Mike Rizzo doesn't want safety overlooked in crackdown of foreign substances

Zimmerman was just getting started, too.

"I'm not huge on analytics, spin rate and all that stuff, but these guys are getting an extra 400, 500 rpms on their spin rate, which is basically taking a very mediocre pitcher who could be in the Big Leagues but might not be in the Big Leagues and propelling them to a level that is elite," Zimmerman said. "Whether it is all their pitches, one pitch or whatever it is. To me, that's cheating. I can't do that with anything in the batter's box. I think that's where the problem lies."

That last part is perhaps the most important: pitchers that go over the top with substance use create a competitive advantage that hitters can do nothing about. That's a major reason why strikeouts are so high and overall batting average is so low.

Zimmerman's take aligns almost identically with Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, who said that he doesn't want safety to be compromised when banning substances, but also said there's no place for cheating in baseball.

As for how to fix it? Zimmerman doesn't have an easy solution, unfortunately.

"The easy fix is to take everything away. But there's always been this type of thing in the game. It's not an easy situation. I don't think there's one answer to cure everything," Zimmerman said. "But I think there's definitely been stuff over the past two, three years that has gone to a different level that has brought about this conversation is the best way to put it."