How are the Twins' spin rates looking after MLB's crackdown on foreign substances?

The Twins are mostly normal -- except for one starting pitcher.
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J.A. Happ

When Josh Donaldson called out Lucas Giolito on Wednesday, it created headlines. 

It wasn't because the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox have been battling for first place in the American League Central -- the Twins are 14.5 games back after being swept in Chicago -- but the encounter brought up one of baseball's stickiest topics.

Donaldson has been one of Major League Baseball's most vocal players regarding pitchers using foreign substances on the mound. While pitchers have long used rosin and sunscreen to get a better grip on the ball, they have also have begun to use pine tar, Spider Tack, and other substances that significantly increase spin rate.

MLB has attempted to control the issue by checking pitchers between innings and so far only Seattle Mariners reliever Hector Santiago has been caught allegedly cheating. But Donaldson revealed on Wednesday that he has a list of about 150 pitchers that he says has been cheating on the mound, which explains the league-wide drop in spin rate.

While Donaldson's crusade has garnered national attention, it's also interesting to wonder if some of the players on his list are residing in his own clubhouse.

Statcast began keeping track of spin rate during the 2015 season, so it's easy for everyone to see how pitchers have been doing under the new rules. That hasn't brought much of a change for the Twins however as most of their starting rotation hasn't seen a significant drop in their spin rate.

According to CBS Sportsline's Mike Axisa, MLB's average spin rate has gone down by about 100 RPMs since increased enforcement began on June 20. For context, Axisa says that the drop isn't too significant when it comes to generating movement or velocity.

"An individual pitcher losing 50 rpm or so in a single game is nothing," Axisa wrote. "That's normal fluctuation. That's like sitting 92.5 mph one start and 92.7 mph the next. No big deal. It's the spin rate declines in the 200-plus rpm range that raise an eyebrow. Those indicate the pitcher was using foreign substances to enhance his spin rates (and thus performance)."

When looking at the spin rates of Kenta Maeda, José Berríos, Michael Pineda and Matt Shoemaker, all four pitchers have seen an average drop in their pitches.

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That's not the case when it comes to J.A. Happ. Happ's season averages have seen a large jump in his sinker and changeup in 2021 and that change has been amplified by MLB's crackdown.

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While Happ's numbers normalized in Friday's start against the Kansas City Royals, his numbers were much more drastic in his June 27 start against the Cleveland Indians.

In that outing, Happ saw a 222 RPM drop in his sinker and a 325 RPM drop in his changeup, which are the same red flags Donaldson referenced about Giolito on Wednesday.

It should be noted that Happ's sinker (13.5 percent) and changeup (8.5 percent) are two of his least-used pitches, so maybe a larger sample size would even things out. But it's the same type of drop that had Donaldson waiting for Giolito in the parking lot on Tuesday night.

Whatever the Twins are doing, it may not be enough. Minnesota's starting rotation ranks 12th in the American League in ERA (5.15) and with the Twins fading out of contention, Donaldson may have plenty of time to brush up on spin rates around the league.

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