One thing that Hunter Renfroe and other Major League Baseball hitters have said consistently is that they’re OK with pitchers using foreign substances to improve their grips on the baseball — to a point.
Yet while traditional substances like pine tar and rosin are within acceptable boundaries, certain newer substances are receiving increased scrutiny as ever-rising pitch spin rates contribute to falling batting averages and skyrocketing strikeout totals.
In a recent interview with NESN’s Tom Caron and Lenny DiNardo on the “TC & Jerry Podcast,” Renfroe shared a story about his experience with one such type of substance.
“We’re OK with them using some kind of sticky stuff,” Renfroe told Caron and DiNardo. “But the Spider Tack plus rosin plus Coke plus pine tar, whatever their concoction is, is a little bit absurd. I’ve felt it. I’ve had it on my fingers and I could literally go up there to a hairspray bottle, a large Tresemmé hairspray bottle, put your fingers on it and lift it off the ground. And it stays there. That’s how crazy that stuff is. But that’s today’s baseball. We’ve got to learn to hit the rise ball and I think we’re doing OK right now.”
Regardless of whether the recipe is legal, it’s clearly effective. And that creates a cycle that all but forces pitchers to use it, if they want to keep up with their competitors.
“I think more than anything, it’s hurting the guys that don’t need it,” Renfroe said on the podcast. “I think the guys that do need it are putting pressure on the guys that always have been good and have good stuff, and they’re having to use it just to be competitive. I think that’s kind of the deal, where it hurts the guys that don’t need it. …
“Hitters don’t care about things like sunscreen and rosin. Those things have always been OK for pitchers to use for the grip. No hitter wants to get hit. We don’t care about the grip stuff. But the stuff that does help spin rate and make elite spin rate even better, that’s tough. I think that’s one of the issues we have as far as the strikeouts and batting averages being down, is the elite stuff these guys have now and they’re just improving on that due to the sticky stuff. I think MLB’s going to come down on it a little bit. I hope to see a little bit of change, but like I said, those guys are good for a reason, with sticky stuff or without it. Those guys are nasty. I think you won’t see a huge difference, but you’ll see a little bit of difference.”
The use of illegal substances by pitchers has been an open secret in baseball for a long time, but as pitchers as a whole are exerting greater dominance in the game, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has come under increased pressure to crack down. Renfroe’s first-hand experience reveals just how much of an impact such substances can have.