Even with heat on Gerrit Cole, Yankee hitters support ball-doctoring enforcement: ‘Something’s up’

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MINNEAPOLIS — Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton had Gerrit Cole’s back on the field Wednesday night.

Stanton hammered two home runs and Judge hit his 15th of the season in the Yankees’ win. Both said they thought Cole went out and handled the awkward situation of facing Josh Donaldson —who days earlier had accused Cole of cheating — as well as expected.

But both know that those home runs are harder to come by these days because pitchers were using illegal adhesive substances to gain greater control over the ball and artificially manipulate their spin rate and command.

Basically, hitters across the game — including in the Yankees clubhouse — feel Donaldson has a point. Stanton said that pitchers’ use of illegal substances to improve their grip, spin rate and command was absolutely affecting the hitters and the game.

“I think the numbers speak for themselves, of how this year has gone and years prior of their numbers being enhanced,” Stanton said of the pitchers. “So that’s not opinion-based. So, I think it’ll be better for hitters in general if everyone is even.”

The league-average batting line in MLB right now shows hitters struggling across the board. They are hitting .237/.313/.396. Five years ago, the average MLB line was .259/.326/.425. The average four-seam fastball spin rate has jumped 79 revolutions per minute since 2015 across MLB; sliders, curveballs and cutters have seen huge jumps of 200 and 350 per pitch.

Those jumps are across baseball, so Judge said it was a little unfair to single out one pitcher.

“I feel like 95% of guys I faced in the league or something’s going on, you know, it was kind of all those rules that I feel like haven’t really been enforced or are undefined. Whatever you want to say about it,” Judge said.

Judge, who has 15 home runs and is slashing .292/.396./.548 with a .944 OPS, added that he thinks that this needs to be sorted out by the powers that be, and he and his teammates have to do their jobs.

But for hitters, that job has gotten harder as the substances that pitchers are using have advanced from rosin, sunscreen and maybe some pine tar to super sticky grips like Spider Tack or Pelican Grip. Before Wednesday night’s game, Donaldson explained how the jumps in spin rates have completely changed how hitters have to react. For a fastball, a higher spin rate dramatically changes the movement on the ball, making it appear to flatten out.

“Guys are jumping 400 to 500 rpms in a matter of a couple of years ... I’ve talked to numerous analytics guys, my own analytics guys, other analytics guys, to where they’re saying, a 100 to 150 RPM jump is a big deal. Now we’re talking 400 to 500. That’s massive,” Donaldson said. “Which is why you’re seeing, in my opinion, offense at an all-time low.”

With veterans like Donaldson, Charlie Blackmon and others speaking out and MLB making a very public display of their decision to crack down on this rule — which has been on the books but ignored — the conversations about this are happening in clubhouses across baseball.

“I’d say a good amount,” Stanton said of the hitters’ growing discussions about the problem. “I mean, we understand we know how pitches should move. I mean, I’ve seen professional pitching for 13-14 years now. I know how balls are supposed to move and, and you face guys, some guys for that long as well. So, when you’re getting older and your balls moving more and having more life to it, you know, usually something’s up there.”

And Stanton was pretty clear about what he wants to see happen.

“The balance for me, it’s just to have everyone on an even playing field,” he said. “So and that’s with nothing added to enhance performance. So I think we’re all here, we all grind every day. And it’s not fair for somebody (whether) it’s half the people doing it, two thirds or all of them, whatever. There should be none.

“We’ll see how the performance is from there.”

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