June 15 (UPI) -- MLB pitchers will be ejected and receive 10-game suspensions for the use of foreign substances on baseballs as part of an expanded policy to prevent competitive advantages in the game, the league announced Tuesday.
The policy, which becomes effective Monday, comes amid league lows in batting averages. MLB players hit .232 through August, lower than the record of .237 in 1968. Players hit .236 through May. The league average sat at .238 as of Tuesday afternoon.
The strikeout rate of 24% for MLB teams in 2021 is the highest in league history.
"After an extensive process of repeated warnings without effect, gathering information from current and former players and others across the sport, two months of comprehensive data collection, listening to our fans and thoughtful deliberation, I have determined that new enforcement of foreign substances is needed to level the playing field," MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said in a news release.
MLB said it collected complaints about the substance use from position players, pitchers, umpires, coaches and executives as part an information gathering process through the first two months of the season. The league said "there is a prevalence of foreign substance use by pitchers in MLB and through the Minor Leagues."
"I understand there's a history of foreign substances being used on the ball, but what we are seeing today is objectively far different, with much tackier substances being used more frequently than ever before," Manfred said.
"It has become clear that the use of foreign substance has generally morphed from trying to get a better grip on the ball into something else -- an unfair competitive advantage that is creating a lack of action and an uneven playing field."
The new policy will allow MLB and Minor League umpires to enforce regular checks of all pitchers regardless of requests from opposing club managers.
Repeat offenders will be subject to additional discipline. Starting pitchers will receive more than one mandatory check per game and relief pitchers will be checked either at the end of the inning they entered or whenever they are removed from the game.
If a player other than the pitcher is found to have applied a foreign substance on the ball, that position player and the pitcher will both be ejected and suspended.
MLB studied baseballs, may of which had dark, amber-colored markings and were "sticky to the touch," and found that the substances "significantly" increased the spine rate and movement of the baseball.
The league said that spin rate and movement provided "pitchers who use these substances with an unfair competitive advantage over hitters and pitchers who do not use foreign substances, and results in less action on the field."
"This is not about any individual player or club, or placing blame, it is about a collective shift that has changed the game and needs to be addressed," Manfred said. "We have a responsibility to our fans and the generational talent competing on the field to eliminate these substances and improve the game."
MLB's rule book already included a provision that states that "no player shall intentionally discolor or damage the ball by rubbing it with soil, rosin, paraffin, licorice, sandpaper, emery paper or other foreign substance."
The new rule expansion says pitchers can't apply a "foreign substance of any kind to the ball; deface the ball in any manner; throw a shine ball, spitball, mud ball, or emery ball; have on his person, or in his possession, any foreign substance; or attach anything to his hand, any finger or either wrist."
Players who refuse to participate in the inspections will receive automatic ejections and suspensions. Additional team employees who help players use or encourage players to use foreign substances also are subject to discipline from the league.