Originally posted on The Outside Corner  |  Last updated 5/9/13
Mlb-athletics-red-sox-jul
Wearing sunscreen at the ballpark is probably a good idea for fans and players. No need to risk melanoma when you're out there under the sun.  However, Boston Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz allegedly has more in mind than protecting himself from skin cancer by applying sunscreen to his arms. More specifically, his left arm.  According to Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Passan, the substance glistening on Buchholz's left forearm during his start May 1 in Toronto was sunscreen — most likely BullFrog sunscreen, which is apparently a popular product among MLB pitchers.  Combining the sunscreen with the powdered rosin available from a bag behind every pitching mound in baseball creates a sticky substance that helps pitchers get a far better grip on the ball.  "Sunscreen and rosin could be used as foundation for houses," an American League pitcher told Passan. "Produces a tack, glue-like substance that engineers would be jealous of."   As reported by Sportsnet's Shi Davidi, the network's video crew noticed "a streak of what looked like a creamy white substance" on Buchholz's left forearm during his start against the Toronto Blue Jays. The Red Sox right-hander appeared to run his index and middle fingers through the substance. The edge of Buchholz's left sleeve also looked soaked, probably with water. Water mixed with rosin can also produce a sticky substance that would presumably help a pitcher get a stronger grip on the baseball.  Buchholz has been one of the best pitchers in MLB during the first six weeks of the season, compiling a 6-0 record and 1.60 ERA while striking out 56 batters in 50.2 innings.  That performance during his first seven starts thus far is a significant improvement from the 11-8 record and 4.56 ERA Buchholz posted last year for the Red Sox. (After six starts last year, he had a 9.09 ERA.)  His strikeout ratio is particularly eye-popping. Buchholz is striking out 9.9 batters per nine innings, an increase of nearly four batters per game compared to last season.  Yet if you look at Buchholz's PITCH f/x information available at FanGraphs, he doesn't appear to be doing anything much differently. He's relying largely on a fastball, combined with a cutter and curveball. Occasionally, he mixes in a two-seam fastball and splitter. It's the same arsenal he's used in the previous two seasons.  Buchholz's velocity is the same as well, averaging 92 mph on his fastball with a slight increase (from 91 to 92 mph) on his two-seamer.  So what is the major difference between the pitcher who struggled last year but has turned around to dominate the opposition this season? Is Buchholz attacking hitters more aggressively, rather than try to get them to chase pitches at the edges of the strike zone? Is it that he's tricking hitters by often beginning with a first-pitch curveball, as Matt Sullivan detailed at Over the Monster?  Or is Buchholz dominating because he can command all of his pitches and locate them on both sides of the plate, as Red Sox catcher David Ross explained to WEEI.com?  "He can execute four to five pitches on both side of the plate," Ross said. "There’s not many other guys in the big leagues who can do that. That’s why he’s doing what he’s doing. He’s that good. There is nothing that team can sell out to. Well, OK — but is there a reason Buchholz has better command and location with his pitches these days? Is it because the combination of sunscreen and rosin allows him to get a better grip on the ball, and can thus exert greater control on what he's throwing? Should it be viewed as a coincidence that Buchholz struggled in his next start following the allegations of using a substance on his right hand? After the Blue Jays' broadcast crew accused Buchholz of using a little something extra to gain an advantage, he went out and had his worst start of the season, giving up four runs and seven hits over six innings versus the Minnesota Twins.  Was Buchholz rattled by being outed? Did worrying about whether his actions were being more closely scrutinized get into his head and throw him off his game?  Maybe Buchholz just had a bad game. Every pitcher has them, even during a great season. Perhaps his performance in his next start will provide a better indication. If he has two poor starts in a row, will that raise a red flag? Buchholz is scheduled to pitch on Saturday — against the Blue Jays at Fenway Park.  At least an argument could be made for using sunscreen then. Buchholz will be playing outdoors, under the afternoon sun with a 1:35 p.m. ET start time. Using it while pitching indoors at Rogers Centre is the sort of thing that invites suspicion.  But if Buchholz is doing what Passan reported — something that many other MLB pitchers allegedly do themselves — is that really cheating? In the purest definition of the term, it is. Buchholz would be using a foreign substance to gain an advantage?  Yet is that really different from hitters using pine tar to get a better grip on the bat? How about the batting gloves almost every hitter uses nowadays? Those don't help batters grip the bat handle better, allowing them to generate more force?  The argument could also be made that Buchholz and other MLB pitchers aren't applying a substance to the ball. That's where the rule violation would occur. Rule 8.02 of the MLB rulebook states that "the pitcher shall not apply a foreign substance of any kind to the ball." Rule 3.02 says that "No player shall intentionally discolor or damage the ball by rubbing it with soil, rosin, paraffin, licorice, sand-paper, emery-paper or other foreign substance." There does seem to be some wiggle room in those rules for players to work with. Perhaps it's splitting hairs and rationalizing, but it does seem notable that no other current players have raised objections to what Buchholz was allegedly doing. Nor did MLB exact any sort of penalty — or presumably raise any inquiry — as to what Buchholz may have been doing with his right hand and left arm during that game in Toronto.  However, Rule 8.02(b) does state that no pitcher shall "Have on his person, or in his possession, any foreign substance. For such infraction of this section (b) the penalty shall be immediate ejection from the game." Does sunscreen on the arm qualify as a pitcher having a foreign substance on his person? Well, maybe. How do we define "foreign" here? As something that a ballplayer wouldn't normally use in play? Like rubber cement or spackle? How could MLB tell a player not to use sunscreen for his own personal health when he's standing out in the sun for at least three hours?  Rosin is legal, as long as it's not applied directly to the ball, glove or uniform. Mix that rosin with sweat, water or sunscreen might be skirting the rules in spirit, but how can that really be illegal. Can umpires tell pitchers not to sweat? Pitchers can always claim that water got on their shirt sleeve or uniform pants accidentally. Should the umps hold the game up while the pitcher changes into something dry?  This just seems like one of those things that we have to wink at because it makes baseball fun. If you ain't cheatin', you ain't tryin'? Maybe something like that. It would certainly seem to qualify as gamesmanship.  Ultimately, we're all just following the advice of Mary Schmich (or Kurt Vonnegut, Baz Luhrmann or Vitamin C, depending on whom you choose to consult here). In a famous 1997 Chicago Tribune column, she told us all to wear sunscreen. "The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists," she wrote.  We just didn't realize that the 11 or 12 pitchers on a given baseball team were amateur scientists. 

This article first appeared on The Outside Corner and was syndicated with permission.

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