Does pine tar benefit pitchers?

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Over the Monster chatted with Fox Sports baseball analyst and former MLB pitcher C.J. Nitkowski on the benefits of using pine tar on the mound and the perception of its use around the game.

The general sentiment in the Red Sox clubhouse following Michael Pineda's pine tar incident was universal. Despite Pineda's blatant and over the top violation of the rules, many Red Sox players seemed okay with the use of pine tar in baseball, as long as it was not obvious.

"I think grip is very important. If that was not the case then a lot of guys would be walking around in wheelchairs because it's cold," said Red Sox pitching coach Juan Nieves. "But you cannot be that blatant about it. I think using the rosin bag is very important, also."

"It's one of those things that we all know that everyone does it," catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. "I'm all for it. You just can't do it that blatantly. That's it. Everyone has something. Catchers have pine tar on their shin guards all of the time. It's not a big deal. As long as it's not blatant, you're not putting it out there for the whole world to see."

"A lot of pitchers in the league do it," first baseman Mike Napoli said. "You don't really see spots like that so blatantly. I'd rather a guy have control over his ball when it's cold, but you can't do it that way."

While many of the players mentioned that pine tar allows pitchers to give a better grip on the ball, the question as to whether or not pine tar provided a noticeable difference for pitchers on the mound beyond having a better grip was up in the clouds.

C.J. Nitkowski spent ten years pitching Major League Baseball from 1995 through 2005 and spent four years playing in Japan and Korea. Nitkowski, who currently works for FOX Sports as an analyst for the weekend pre-game show and FOX Sports 1's MLB Whip Around, believes there is a tangible advantage for pitchers using pine tar on the mound, particularly with getting a sharpness on breaking balls.

"In middle of the summer, guys will still use it and use it because it can help with your breaking pitches," Nitkowski said. "You get a little less friction in there because the ball is going to be sticky and sticking to your fingers a little bit more which is going to allow you to pull down on the baseball more so if you're throwing a traditional curveball and you have your finger touching the pine tar which is touching the seam, it will allow you to pull it down just a little bit more so you will get more rotation and it's going to be a better breaking pitch."

While he believes there is a noticeable advantages to pitchers using pine tar on the mound, Nitkowski says that hitters don't believe that pitchers have benefit on the mound with a little extra grip.

"Most guys will prefer or they will feel a little bit more comfortable on the hitting side of it that the guy has a better grip on the baseball," Nitkowski said. "A lot of hitters don't feel like it does necessarily make your breaking pitches better and so they are okay with it. Every hitter that I've talked to has said that they are okay with it. I've never heard a guy say that they don't want a pitcher to have pine tar. Most people in general, not just hitters, most professional baseball players, general managers prefer that the attention not be brought to this and let things be as they were. It's not that big of a deal, but it does help a little bit."

Nitkowski says that the use of pine tar is higher among relievers than it is among starting pitchers, although most pitchers have used something other than rosin to get a better grip.

"I think a lot of relievers [use something], just because you're out there, on average, 60-75 times per year," Nitkowski said. "During the year, that's a lot of games and there are going to be days where they don't feel it and feel like they can get a little bit extra help. That's probably part of it. You'll see more relievers than starters."

"The one thing that you have to include in there is that just because a guy uses it does not mean he uses it every time he pitches," Nitkowski said. "It could be that he's going through a phase where you are having a hard time dealing with grip. I definitely used pine tar before, but I never used it in every single game so I would tell you that most guys have at least experimented with something, whether it be pine tar or the rosin, sunscreen combination that some guys will do.

While he considers using pine tar as "cheating," Nitkowski believes that most people in baseball don't consider the infraction as something like steroids.

"Technically yes, it's against the rules," Nitkowski said. "If I'm being honest, you have to say that it's cheating. As a guy who saw others convicted of taking steroids and feels more strongly about that, for some reason, this doesn't bother as much. Baseball has always been a sport where we've kind of giggled at some of the little things that guys do to cheat. Guys like Gaylord Perry as examples, isn't that cute, they are trying to scuff the ball and if they caught, they get kicked out of the game. This is an infraction, absolutely. Is it a major infraction? I don't believe it is."

In regards to the use of other substances, the subject of the unwritten rule in baseball has arisen. Many in the game today choose not to care about pitchers using foreign substances unless their use is obvious and blatant. Nitkowski believes that these unwritten rules change and evolve as new generations of players filter through the game.

"Everywhere has unwritten rules, we just talk about them more in baseball," Nitkowski said. "You have them in the workplace, we have them in society. Things that we'd like people to do or should do. In sports, especially in baseball when those rules aren't followed, we have ways of correcting within the game. As the game continues to evolve, those rules will change a little bit. It's been going for years. This is not new, but you'll always have an older generation telling the newer generation that they are doing it wrong. Find some of the oldest players that they are there now, they may see things from 21, 22 year olds that they don't like. The game changes and the unwritten rules are by the current 750 major leaguers that are on the field. They aren't the same now as they were 30 years ago and that's okay. The guys that define the rules are playing the game."

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