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Josh Donaldson made Gerrit Cole into the face of a MLB cheating scandal, but he says there are plenty of others worthy of the label.
If Donaldson wanted to do an Oprah Winfrey impersonation, he might stand on stage and scream out to a crowd of pitchers, “You get a punishment! You get a punishment! Every-body gets a punish-ment!”
Four days after Donaldson pointed to Cole’s decreased spin rate in his last start as evidence that pitchers are scared straight by MLB’s looming crackdown on illegally doctoring the baseball that started with four suspensions at the minor league level, the Twins slugger was in the lineup Wednesday against Cole and the Yankees.
“I don’t regret it,” Donaldson said before the game. “When I say something, it’s been thought through beforehand. It’s not on a whim. I’ll say this: Gerrit Cole was the first guy to pitch since the suspensions happened and he was the first guy who we could see spin rates going down. Since Gerrit pitched, there have been 12 or more guys already whose spin rates have drastically dropped in the last week. So it’s not just Gerrit.”
A pitcher’s spin rate is measured in revolutions per minute (RPMs) and can be increased if the ball is sticky. The spin rate on Cole’s four primary pitches Thursday against the Rays decreased from season averages: By 125 RPMs on the four-seam fastball, 78 RPMs on the knock curve, 77 RPMs on the changeup and 48 RPMs on the slider, according to Baseball Savant.
With offense at record lows and strikeouts on the rise, Donaldson lit a powder keg when he wondered aloud if that was “coincidence” or if something fishy were going on. Cole subsequently stammered to answer directly whether he has ever used sticky Spider Tack on the mound, which caught Donaldson’s attention.
“Not up to me to judge,” he said. “That’s him and his camp. Time is going to tell what happens. I’m not in his position, so I don’t have to wear whether I can sleep at night.”
It set high alerts for Wednesday’s matchup and whether Cole might send a message with a fastball to the ribs.
“I’m not in his brain,” Donaldson said. “If he decides to do whatever he wants to do, do it.”
Twins manager Rocco Baldelli wasn’t planning to monitor every time Cole touched his hat, pocket or belt and engage umpires to check for substances.
“I’ll be very clear on the fact that there are some pitchers that don’t hide what they are doing very well — almost as if they are not trying to hide it at all,” Baldelli said. “And that’s the only time we end up even discussing it. Under normal circumstances, almost every other game we play, we are worried about a lot of other things and talking about what’s going on strategically trying to win the game.”
Donaldson was armed Wednesday with a doctoral dissertation’s amount of research on what kind of difference spin rates make. The former MVP has talked to MLB officials.
“If you are not going to be able to hit a fastball right down the middle, how much more difficult does it become?” Donaldson said. “To me, it’s gotten out of control to where if you are going to give $100 counterfeit money to an experienced bank teller, right away you are going to know that’s not real money. Think about how many pitches I’ve seen in my career.”
Donaldson said he and Dodgers right-hander Trevor Bauer had analytical RPM conversations as Indians teammates. Bauer happens to be Cole’s former UCLA teammate and they are not on good terms, with Bauer subtly suggesting Cole as a cheat in the past.
Baldelli spent seven seasons (2003-10) as an MLB outfielder, but Donaldson’s research suggests the broad uptick in RPMs began after 2017.
“I do think our game has adjustments that need to be made,” Baldelli said. “It’s more just a question of simple enforcement because the rules have always been what they are. I always think that pitchers should have the ability to get a grip on the baseball … but when you allow something like that, you also open up the door for people to take advantage of that in a lot of different ways.
“For those that are gaining a pretty huge competitive advantage, I think it’s wrong. We’re all going to be relying on Major League Baseball and their guidance in a big way. I think it’s time. I think almost everybody in the game is going to welcome the changes that are coming from top to bottom.”
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