The White Sox have the best record in the American League. They have a 3.5 game lead over Cleveland in the AL Central, with a +99 run differential, tops in baseball. So, why is there a sense of uneasiness right now for some Sox fans? Is it just the normal reaction to a franchise that rarely has sustained success? The general anxiousness of any fan?
The answer is a little sticky.
The success so far in the 2021 season can be attributed to the stellar pitching staff. According to FanGraphs, Ethan’s boys lead the AL in the following categories:
fWAR — 11.5
ERA — 3.26
FIP — 3.57
K/9 — 10.43
It looks even better when you focus on the rotation: A 3.07 ERA, an fWAR of 8.5, which is over a full win better than the second-place team. They’ve dominated all year and carried the MASH unit that has been the offense to the top in baseball in June.
Everything was coming up roses until two words entered the MLB lexicon in 2021:
The use of “sticky stuff” has been rampant for years in baseball. The war of attrition to increase your spin rate has been ramped up recently, with Trevor Bauer leading the charge.
When St. Louis pitcher Giovanny Gallegos was told to swap his hat out in a game against the White Sox on May 27th, Cardinals manager Mike Shildt called the use of certain grip enhancers “baseball’s dirty little secret.”
Now it appears that baseball wants to clean up, and instead of a calculated plan that considers many different factors before acting, the MLB has chosen a scorched earth approach. Everything must go: Spider tack, pine tar, rosin, sunscreen. If you’re using that and get caught, you’re getting tossed and suspended.
Since the initial crackdown, we’ve seen a dip in spin rate as well as dominating performances from the likes of Gerrit Cole and Tyler Glasnow. We’ve also seen an uptick in pitcher injuries, like the aforementioned Glasnow and Jacob deGrom.
We would all love to think our favorite team is squeaky clean and would never cheat, but the reality is so many pitchers use at least something to get a better grip on the ball these days that the odds are some pitcher(s) on the White Sox were as well.
With the full enforcement coming June 21st, the hope for the South Side faithful is we won’t see diminishing returns from the pitching staff… or, worse, trips to the IL that stem from having to change their routine midseason.
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