Iowa baseball coaches discuss foreign substances at college level

With recent pressure from Major League Baseball to crack down on pitchers using foreign substances, Iowa coaching staff are discussing substance use in varsity play.

Jerod ringwald

Iowa Head Coach Rick Heller returns to the coaches’ box after disputing a call with the home plate umpire during a baseball game between Iowa and Maryland on Saturday April 24, 2021 at the Duane Banks Field. The Terrapins defeated the Hawkeyes 8-6.

A recent surge in Major League Baseball pitching turnover and the frequency of batting strikeouts has caused the league to re-evaluate its rules regarding the use of foreign substances on the mound.

Historically, professional pitchers using substances like sunscreen and pine tar to gain a better grip on baseball have been a “don’t ask, don’t tell” case. Pitchers get more control, and hitters get more shots and get hit by fewer shots.

“I think 10 years ago every major league hitter would say to you, ‘Let them use it because we don’t want to be hit,'” the baseball head coach said. University of Iowa, Rick Heller. “That’s why this has been the dirty little hidden secret.”

In response to safety concerns with the old standard bat and in an effort to limit home runs, college baseball switched to standard Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution (BBCOR) bats in 2011.

With the new change, varsity baseball has seen a drop in offense across the board.

“They changed bats, and with the high-stitched baseball being used by colleges, the offense dropped to the point of hampering play,” Heller said.

Instead of changing the bats again, the NCAA went from high-seam baseball to flat-seam baseball – the MLB standard. Flat seams create less drag on the ball and allow it to travel farther than a high-seam baseball.

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Heller said he thinks foreign substances are much less prevalent in college play than at the major league level, but college pitchers who use substances like pine tar and sunscreen likely do so because Flat-seamed baseballs are more difficult to grip.

Additional foreign substances like pine tar or sunscreen can also help throwers increase the spin speed of their throws.

The speed of rotation is measured in revolutions per minute (rpm), indicating the number of rotations of a ball after being released. The speed of rotation of a pitch will have an influence on its trajectory.

If two fast balls are thrown at 96 mph but one of them has a very high spin rate, this throw is more effective because it will repel gravity for longer and have an upward effect on the batter. A curved ball with a higher spin rate will also have more movement.

“It makes a big difference for a pitcher,” said Hawkeye hitting coach Jimmy Frankos. “You used to say, ‘Dude, this guy throws a big ball.’ Well, now a heavy ball is a guy with a high spin rate.

Foreign substances like Spider Tack and Pelican Grip have been discovered to help pitchers improve their spin speeds up to 400 RPM – which Frankos says could give baseball league pitchers across the country unfair advantages over hitters.

“What I think has to happen is for something to become legal, universal, for everyone to use, and that won’t give a pitcher a huge advantage,” Frankos said. “It’s going to give them enough of it that we are still hitting the shots and being able to control the baseball.

“When you’re in these northern and midwestern states, you play a lot of 40 degree games. You’ll need a little help hanging on to the baseball when you throw it over 90s. “

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