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  1. Umpires may need some reeducation on this point too. Jerry Meals’ excuse for the notorious nineteenth-inning blown call at the plate was that McKenry had made a “swipe tag attempt” at the runner and that he did not see the tag. If the A’s lose a game because an umpire won’t call an out on a swipe tag, you’ll hear the fans calling for Suzuki to block the plate faster than you can say “clavicle.”

    I wonder if something similar is going on with the area call at second base. Second baseman don’t have to plant their foot on the bag to get the call on the double-play pivot. Is this partly because everyone knows that a second baseman who comes anywhere near the front of the bag is going to get Nishioka’d?

    Comment by matt w — February 23, 2012 @ 4:55 pm

  2. Very true on Meals, which I wrote about here, and called for expanded instant replay:

    Ah, the “neighborhood play.” Great question. I actually don’t know the history of the neighborhood play. Does anyone else know when it became the tradition for umpires to call it that way?

    Comment by Alex Remington — February 23, 2012 @ 4:58 pm

  3. It would be interesting to see a cost/benefit on this (though it would require some interpretation and a sample (of non blocking) that probably isn’t available yet. My hypothesis is that the expected run production for the catcher position on a team goes down by instructed its catchers to block the plate – ie the increase in injury rates and drop to the replacement level from the starting catcher far outweighs the increase in outs expected for catchers that block.

    Granted there are some leverage concerns. If it’s still allowed (contrary to the rule book as it’s currently stated), I expect Posey will be blocking the plate ina tied game 7 of the WS.

    Comment by d_i — February 23, 2012 @ 5:18 pm

  4. I think that cost-benefit of injury risk is one of the areas that sabermetrics should really focus on. Player health is one of the hardest things to understand, by numbers.

    Comment by Alex Remington — February 23, 2012 @ 5:27 pm

  5. I still maintain that Posey did what he was supposed to do and Cousins did go out of his way to initiate contact because he chose to tag on a shallow fly ball and jarring the ball loose was the only way he could be safe.

    To me it’s not unlike Ty Cobb going spikes high into 2nd or 3rd to try and kick the ball loose or knock the glove off.

    The existing rules simply need enforced. Catchers can’t get between the runner and plate until they have the ball, and that includes laying their left lower leg on the ground before the ball is in their mitt.

    Runners shouldn’t be allowed to cross the baseline and initiate contact on the CF side of home plate anymore than McRae should veal lowed to roll Randolph to the OF grass.

    The teams that are issuing these commands are essentially telling their C’s to follow the rules. The injuries occur from catchers blocking the plate while waiting for the ball and they get plowed over their legs instead of blocking the plate once they have the ball (facing the runner) and getting knocked on their butt or rolling backwards.

    I also favor rules eliminating the neighborhood play in response to players sliding incredibly late away from the bag while reaching back with their hand in an attempt to “touch the base”. If players are sliding feet first then the attempt to touch the base should be performed with the foot. Otherwise we get slides that are 8 feet from the base, which IMO is not the spirit of the rule.

    There are simply rules that are not being enforced such as the play where a C was covering 3rd and went shin guards first into the runner and slammed on Jeter’s shoulder. In effect he blocked 3B and then made the tag after contact.

    The rules already exist to prevent much of the risk, but through practice, the rules have been stretched to the point where common practice leads to them not being enforced.

    Comment by CircleChange11 — February 23, 2012 @ 6:01 pm

  6. Nice article, and not just because I agree with it. :^)

    I was not aware that current rules enforcement, as per CirclChange’s comment, would solve the problem. If so, I hope baseball would crack down on this.

    But from what I was informed, soon after the hit job, there are rules protecting the catcher that is enforced in amateur leagues, and I don’t know why the MLB can’t get on board with that.

    Also, while Posey might have been in a gray area in terms of placement (that is debatable), Cousins fully admitted that when he took off, he did so with the express intention of aiming himself at Posey. Whatever rules need to be changed so that the runner never makes such a decision, would be ideal. A runner should be focused on scoring at homeplate safely, it should not be a hail mary dash in hopes that you can knock the ball out of the catcher’s mitt.

    Collisions at home can never be legislated away, and it is a part of baseball, I agree, and will never go away. But as the author notes, rules have been put in place before to stop runners from going outside the basepaths to interfere with fielders, and it is time to do that with home plate as well. And as I noted, there are rules in amateur ball that helps out with this as well.

    Let’s put it this way, an ex-NFL player, after seeing the collision, said that such a hit would not be allowed in football: so what is the MLB and Selig waiting for?

    Comment by obsessivegiantscompulsive — February 23, 2012 @ 6:16 pm

  7. Posey absolutely did the wrong thing. The right thing is to be behind the plate and let the ball travel so that you can see the ball and runner simultaneously. Then you are stepping forward into the collision instead of trying to turn back towards the plate in a compromising position.

    Comment by Preston — February 23, 2012 @ 6:16 pm

  8. Posey’s injury happened because of the the way he was postiioned. Not blaming him, it was a big play, but I heard a lot of catchers say he made a mistake. Sometimes a catcher doesn’t have much choice because of the throw, but he does have the choice on plating his feet. A month or so later, Napoli took a hard hit at the plate, but the key was, he didn’t plant, he absorbed the hit by falling and rolling on the ground.

    Wearing the old fashioned steel cage face mask is one deterrent to runners, because hitting that will hurt a lot more tha a plastic hockey mask. Retaliation is also a deterrent.

    Comment by Tex Pantego — February 23, 2012 @ 6:36 pm

  9. I’m not sure how I feel about this one, yet I can’t help but feel this is another instance where Alex is saying “they’re doing it wrong.”

    Comment by M.Twain — February 23, 2012 @ 6:38 pm

  10. Well, I think Bochy and Beane are doing it right, and Ryan is doing it wrong.

    Comment by Alex Remington — February 23, 2012 @ 6:41 pm

  11. No, I disagree. Posey didn’t position himself well to absorb the hit by kneeling and resulted in him being injured. The majority of the blame shouldn’t fall on Cousin, who properly aimed at Posey’s shoulder which, as a runner in a collision play, you are supposed to do.

    Comment by JonnyBS — February 23, 2012 @ 6:49 pm

  12. As noted, catcher is not “the only position where a full-body collision is permitted by the rules.” No rule allows this; it’s just allowed by custom. Alex Rodriguez was ridiculed a few years back when he attempted to reach out and swipe the ball out of the glove of a fielder who was trying to tag him. Fundamentally (and rules-wise), there’s no difference between that and taking out the catcher.

    Comment by giantsfan — February 23, 2012 @ 6:58 pm

  13. I believe the point is it never should have been a collision play in the first place. Cousins deliberately took an angle to MAKE it a collision play, going so far as to taking a route to home that would have made it more likely that he would be tagged had Posey fielded the ball cleanly.

    Comment by Viliphied — February 23, 2012 @ 7:13 pm

  14. I,m not sure how I feel about this. Good catchers are hard to find and making them football players doesn’t seem like a good idea for the game in general. I want to see Posey, Mauer and McCann play, not their sub-replacement level backups. But the bang-bang play at home is exciting and I don’t want to lose that either. Besides, as the article mentions, they aren’t the only guys at risk. I played second base through JV ball in high school and I have the scars on my legs to prove it.

    I also don’t know how you write an article like this without mentioning Ray Fosse.

    Comment by MikeS — February 23, 2012 @ 8:12 pm

  15. I know, everyone always writes about Fosse in these articles. The thing is, there have been a lot more recent injuries. The issue isn’t going away. But bang-bang plays don’t have to involve collision — like plays at first base.

    Comment by Alex Remington — February 23, 2012 @ 8:49 pm

  16. I remember Dave valle used to always win on those ‘worst teamate’ polls.

    Because he refused to block the plate.

    I wonder if players think the same these days.

    Comment by shthar — February 23, 2012 @ 9:01 pm

  17. This just in….

    Defensive players in football are told “Dont sack the quarterback, rather two hand touch on his shoulder area will suffice for a sack, resulting in a deadball, spotted at the location of the two hand touch”

    Also, just in…..

    Hockey goons are now required to “use open hands” when hitting/punching.. in short, only slaps are allowed.

    Also just in……

    Yeah.. Good luck getting a player NOT to do what he has done instinctively for years, honing it, perfecting his craft. Injuries happen.. It is all part of the game. That is why the players get what they can, when they can, because there may not be a tomorrow. They play the game knowing this. Baseball is littered with “coulda been stars” that got injured and never were the same player after. Joe Nuxhall, Ray Fosse, are maybe the two well known ones.. but, there are many many more.

    Play On.

    Comment by Cidron — February 23, 2012 @ 9:08 pm

  18. You do realize there are many rules in ice hockey and football to protect vulnerable players, right?

    Comment by jeff_bonds — February 23, 2012 @ 9:14 pm

  19. This is a very fine article on the subject. One that should be referenced.

    I would imagine it is possible that a code be developed and enforced within the game. Take out a catcher, get vilified and thrown at.

    Comment by Ryan — February 23, 2012 @ 9:16 pm

  20. I’m going to keep throwing that “buck up, Mauer” bone to the fans for as long as they’re going to question me about Mauer’s toughness, while quietly remaining in denial about my catcher’s twice surgically-repaired left knee. This will all blow over in a few weeks.

    Comment by Terry Ryan — February 23, 2012 @ 9:45 pm

  21. I think with a force play an umpire has to err on the side of the defender when the defender has the runner dead to rights in terms of timing. Obviously this is usually the case in a double play situation at second base. Where a tag is involved I think umpires unconsciously overcompensate and try to err on the side of the runner.

    Comment by Bill — February 23, 2012 @ 9:54 pm

  22. To illustrate my point:

    Alfonso Marquez stands in line with the defender (Cuddyer) and the runner (Shoppach). Clearly a tag is applied, and the jersey even swooshes, but because Marquez didn’t position himself in a perpendicular angle, he couldn’t be 100% sure the tag was applied and so he erred on the side of the runner. Same thing on the McKenry play: Meals is almost in line with the runner and the defender, and so it was difficult or impossible for him to see the tag with 100% certainty.

    Comment by Bill — February 23, 2012 @ 10:09 pm

  23. And many other teams are doing it wrong. “Baseball culture” is doing it wrong. The MLB rules committee is doing it wrong.

    Comment by M.Twain — February 23, 2012 @ 10:26 pm

  24. Mauer is bigger than the guys trying to run into him. (And he uses perfect technique…)

    Comment by Lindner — February 23, 2012 @ 10:47 pm

  25. To actually fix this, you’ll need to change the character of the play-at-the-plate subgame. I suspect there’s a solution out there that could make it at least equally interesting/exciting without the injury risk, but I’m not coming up with it off the top of my head.

    Though it’s kind of a moot point since MLB won’t change anything even if a great solution did exist. If they were that sort of people, we’d have had a double-wide first base for years by now.

    Comment by Tim — February 23, 2012 @ 10:48 pm

  26. I do think this is important; there’s a significant discouragement benefit from players really not wanting to run into Mauer that isn’t there as much for smaller catchers. (In fact, the ideal strategy might be to tell Mauer not to block the plate but then tell opponents that he will be.)

    Comment by Tim — February 23, 2012 @ 10:50 pm

  27. IIRC correctly he stretched toward the 1B side to catch the ball and then was attempting to spin around to the 3B side of the plate for a tag when he was absolutely lit up by a runner that had crossed the baseline with arms folded and delivered a flying body block into his chest, causing his bodyweight to be pushed over his ankle, which was gripped into the dirt via spikes.

    He could have positioned his body so that his chest protector toward 3B, so he’s better able to absorb the blow, but then he can’t really make a play on any ball that’s thrown to the 1B side of the plate.

    I don;t think there’s anything a catcher can really do in a situation where a runner has decided to plow when the catcher is on the CF side of the plate and has his eyes on the ball and is extending himself to make the catch.

    Based on my experience, if that play had occurred in college, there would have been a bench-clearing brawl. Posey was exactly where he was supposed to be, out in front of the plate making a play on the ball while giving the runner access to the plate.

    As I said before, Cousins made a horrible mistake in trying to tag up on a shallow fly ball. His only option to be safe was to try and knock the ball loose and he went out of his way to do it. If he’s on my team, I probably say way to go. If Posey is on my team and I’m a former pitcher, Cousins gets one during his next at bat … and not one in the butt or numbers, but one at his chin. Since he’s such a stud athlete and loves contact he should have no problem getting out of the way and accepting it as part of the game. Cousins could have easily slid to the outside of the plate, but he would have been dead because of his poor decision to tag.

    Comment by CircleChange11 — February 23, 2012 @ 11:00 pm

  28. I grew up in the NBA era where anyone that came into the lane was going down, and then after they picked themselves up they could go “earn” those points at the free throw line.

    The NFL went through rule changes to limit what defensive players could do. We’ve all seen highlights of Night Train lane and Dick Butkus, right? You can no longer clothesline receivers, horsecollar them or rip their heads off while a teammate has them wrapped at the waist.

    And there is likely no other sport that has been more toned down than hockey.

    The idea is to limit unnecessary injuries and to reward skill.

    Comment by CircleChange11 — February 23, 2012 @ 11:04 pm

  29. Matt Weiters … excellent at plate blocking, so big no one would likely try it anyway.

    Comment by CircleChange11 — February 23, 2012 @ 11:05 pm

  30. The right thing is to be behind the plate and let the ball travel so that you can see the ball and runner simultaneously.

    Where did you learn this?

    Just as shortstops are tuaght to position themselves on the catcher side of the bag while covering on steals, catchers are taught to get on the CF side of the plate during plays at home.

    The simple, and obvious, reason is that it prevents the fielder from having to battle a sliding runner while taking the throw. It works very well most times, catch the ball without interference from the runner AND be in great (and safe) position to tag the runner.

    A catcher that stands behind the plate (on the umpire side) during a play at home is going to get drilled by his coach for doing so, and for good reason.

    I must be misunderstanding what you are saying because every catcher is taught to do just the opposite for the very reasons I mentioned.

    You never intentionally position yourself where the runner, doing his regular thing, can easily interfere with you making the play. Standing behind the plate (umpire side) would do exactly that.

    I would prefer MLB look at the area in front of the plate (CF side) the same way the NHL views the goalie crease. It’s the catcher’s zone and there’s no contact in that area. The catcher can still make the play and the tag while being close to the plate, and the runner still has reasonable access to the plate. Plays at the plate are exciting because [1] they’re fast, and [2] they’re either and out or a run. While collisions are exciting (and I blocked the plate as a pitcher covering home when unable to keep my curve out of the dirt with a man on third, and received a lot of respect for doing so … and a few spike marks in the thigh), they really are not a necessary component of the game.

    I completely understand the tradition and macho part of collisions at the plate. I’ve been on both the giving and receiving end of those and have witnessed some real “layouts” during my playing days including one that was just grotesque, loud, and excruciating that involved a broken collarbone that was bulging almost out of the top of the uniform. I played college baseball in the early 90s when MLB was only beginning to limit/reduce the “basebrawl” aspect of the game. In college it was very much alive, and you drilled someone every chance you could. The game, as it turns out, is just as fun and exciting without that aspect.

    Comment by CircleChange11 — February 23, 2012 @ 11:18 pm

  31. Oh, I understand Circlechange about Night-train and Butkus, but both of them (and others), deliberatly INITIATED the contact in maybe the most ferocious manner that they could, so that the ball carrier WOULD go down (or the sack made). My intial post above was more tongue in cheek.. but, the last paragraph was the meat of my intent. We are asking people to go against reflex, not decisions. Going against reflex is quite difficult, especially in a bang-bang play. I also know that hockey has undergone a few facelifts to minimize “goons” and their place.. but, there will always be a place for them, even in a much minimized version.

    Comment by Cidron — February 23, 2012 @ 11:18 pm

  32. Double wide first base? That’s just wrong.

    Comment by nolan — February 23, 2012 @ 11:31 pm

  33. I would argue that, for baseball players, initiating contact into the catcher isn’t their first reflex. We see far more guys dive or hook slide to the outside than we do guys that look up the catcher.

    Cousins initiated contact because he realized he made a big mistake and only had one way out. IMO, it was a conscious decision. An “Oh S**t, decision” because he realized just how out he was going to be.

    The runner also has to decide a little early as well since they have to brace for impact. No one just “crashes” into the catcher at the last minute, they set up and deliver as much force as possible.

    You can tell when guys decide to plow at the last minute, because it’s usually a weakass half-hearted attempt where they just bounce off.

    Comment by CircleChange11 — February 23, 2012 @ 11:40 pm

  34. Yes, I think baseball culture should shift, as it did when it came to the Hal McRae rule.

    Look, baseball has a 170-year history in this country. There are a lot of traditions, and those traditions change a lot. Players used to be too macho to wear gloves or masks or batting helmets. There have been a lot of changes made in the last century to make players safer and less prone to injury. This is another change that I think should be made, and at this point, the best way to make it is from the bottom up.

    The logic is simple: teams win more games if their starting catcher is healthy. So if using a swipe tag rather than blocking the plate helps keep him healthy, then they should instruct him to use that tactic.

    Comment by Alex Remington — February 23, 2012 @ 11:40 pm

  35. That’s probably fair. Right now, it’s regarded as legitimate for a runner to go in hard to home plate and try to knock the ball out. I’ll always think of Ken Caminiti barreling over Greg Olson. Olson had a bad run-in with Dan Gladden, too, as you can see in this photo:

    Even in A League of Their Own, Kit — who was dead to rights — barreled hard into her older sister, fueled by a lifetime of sibling rivalry, and knocked the ball out of her hand.

    That shouldn’t be an acceptable play. But until MLB bans that play, then teams are going to have to get their catchers to be more prudent about trying to block the plate.

    Comment by Alex Remington — February 23, 2012 @ 11:45 pm

  36. Such things seem absurd at the MLB level, but are implemented at youth levels for safety.

    If you remove the tradition and familiarity aspects, what would be the reasons against having a “fielder base” and a “runner base” at 1B?

    I suppose one could propose that MLB bases are proportionate size with the players in regards to youth baseball using the same size bases as MLB, but I just can’t get my mind around a base 3 feet wide. Heh Heh.

    They put dugout railings up. They (most places) moved the bullpens off the field and relocated them beyond the OF fence. Why? Because baseball is “going soft”? And what’s with the padded OF walls instead of bricks/steel? You see where I’m going with this.

    But, we’re also talking about an arena where David Wright wouldn;t wear a helmet to help with concussions because it looked funny (I don;t blame him, it did look stupid), and no batters where a facemask.

    I don’t, however, recall a single person ever questioning John Olerud’s toughness for wearing a helmet in the field (even with his unique circumstances).

    We’re kinda inconsistent in our safety application and analysis.

    As a sabermetric website, how often does “blocking the plate” result in an out where the runner would have been safe? How does that compare to the average value lost due to injury resulting from a home plate collision? I think the answer is pretty obvious.

    Comment by CircleChange11 — February 23, 2012 @ 11:50 pm

  37. But what about $/fWAR? I come to Fangraphs so that everything happening in the baseball world can be presented in terms of $/fWAR!!!!

    Comment by Keystone Heavy — February 23, 2012 @ 11:52 pm

  38. Maybe NHL hockey will always have goons. But I hope not. College doesn’t really, to anywhere near the same extent.

    After reading the Derek Boogaard story in the New York Times, I think the NHL should crack down on fighting as harshly as they do in college. The whole reason he was on the ice was to fight. By the time of his death at the age of 28, he had the punch-drunk brain of a retired boxer.

    Comment by Alex Remington — February 23, 2012 @ 11:53 pm

  39. There’s a parallel process to fix umpire error. Umpires have been shamed by replays that show them making wrong calls based on being out of position. The potential for umpire error shouldn’t be a determining factor for how catchers approach a play at the plate.

    Comment by Alex Remington — February 24, 2012 @ 12:03 am

  40. Circle: Great idea about the catcher’s zone. The dirt area in front of home plate in fair territory is no contact. If the runner makes contact with the catcher in fair territory he is automatically out. If the catcher tries to block the plate by crossing into foul territory he gets run over.

    Comment by Krog — February 24, 2012 @ 12:32 am

  41. I really like Circle’s suggestion of a catchers fair territory in front of the plate.

    Comment by kick me in the GO NATS — February 24, 2012 @ 4:15 am

  42. Bill James, I think, once did a piece saying that blocking the plate is illegal, based on the rule that the runner has the right to the basepath. Obstructing the runner is defensive interference. The umps should simply automatically call the runner safe if the catcher blocks the plate, and call the runner out if he leaves the basepath to try to run over the catcher.

    That would put an end to the problem.

    Comment by Juancho — February 24, 2012 @ 4:52 am

  43. The easiest solution is to treat plays at home plate much like they treat plays at 2nd and 3rd base. If runners and fielders can (for the most part) play clean/fair at 2nd and 3rd, then they can do the same at home.

    Comment by OzzieGuillen — February 24, 2012 @ 7:13 am


    As a fan, I would hate to see MLB abolish the catcher’s freedom to block the plate (though as Juancho points out, it’s not exactly legal) and the runners prerogative to knock them out of the way.

    Linked above is a play from NYY@BAL, an assist from Jones to Wieters. Wieters receives the throw and tags a sliding Jeter, who slides right into the catcher’s well placed legs. I think this is a great play. Wieters probably doesn’t record the out without blocking the dish and coupled with Jeter’s poor slide it makes a great highlight.

    I thought of this after reading some of writing above. To paraphrase – Cousins initiated contact because it was the only way to avoid the tag/out. In the future, MLB should legislate against this sort of thing – much like they regulated the take out slide. If I didn’t feel this sentiment had some legitimacy, I wouldn’t bother critiquing it. Removing rough contact would suppress injuries among catchers. Baserunners are also hurt in these plays as well – the catcher isn’t necessarily the victim.

    The issue I take issue with this position that MLB outlawing both actions (the blocking and the contact) is necessary or the best option. Injuries can be brutal. Posey, Santana, and others (recently) were injured blocking the plate. But Napoli, like many others, were not.

    I view the plate block and the collision as legitimate baseball plays. Considering (and maybe you disagree) the traditions, origins, and logic of the game’s rules are essentially arbitrary and up for revision, there can be no actual legitimacy in baseball anything. I don’t see the harm in letting Mauer have the freedom to block the plate and Santana the freedom to set up in front of it and swipe.

    Like Cousins, Wieters made an unusual baseball play to help his team. I have to think that he blocked the plate because it was the only way he could make the play. He risked injury, like Santana and Posey (and like Cousins for that matter) in an unusual circumstance. Fortunately for Wieters, Jeter chose not to gamble (or used his instincts). Let’s let them have this agency. There is mutual disincentive for these plays – for health and strategic reasons. They can figure out when it’s worth it or not (not to mention how to do it more safely). Fisk made the transition from blocker to swiper. Scioscia never did.

    Yes, the play at the plate is incongruent to other rules in baseball. So is, “___” (fill in the first rule that comes to mind). Baseball, despite its reputation, is a physical, contact sport. I’d rather see MLB help the players adjust, and not the rules. Unlike Roy Johnson, I think the players and teams will do a fine job of managing this themselves.

    “…Bochy and Beane are doing it right.”

    So is Ryan.

    Comment by Casey VnL — February 24, 2012 @ 8:26 am

  45. Gary Carter used to plant both feet up the third base line in front of the plate. Runners had to literally go through him to get to the plate which is why he was so good at it. I just don’t see that setup anymore and wonder if it would be better for catchers to take Carter’s approach, which made him much more stable and intimidating to runners coming down the line.

    Comment by Subtle — February 24, 2012 @ 8:43 am

  46. ” The potential for umpire error shouldn’t be a determining factor for how catchers approach a play at the plate.”

    I disagree. As the example cited, if it’s the bottom of the 9th or an extra inning game where one run ends it, the catcher is going to go with the high percentage play. A sweep tags opens the door for an umpire to make a call, blocking the plate nearly takes the ump out of it as a catcher who hangs onto the ball is going to get the call pretty much every time. You can argue that the catcher’s health is more important than winning a game, but if the player can all but remove the possibility of an umpire’s error why wouldn’t he?

    Comment by Misfit — February 24, 2012 @ 10:16 am

  47. I just don’t accept your premise, that “the player can all but remove the possibility of an umpire’s error.” Agree to disagree.

    Comment by Alex Remington — February 24, 2012 @ 10:18 am

  48. The difference is that you can’t over-run 2nd or 3rd, because you’ll be tagged out. Hence there’s a natural limit to how hard you can go in, which there isn’t at home.

    Here’s my suggestion from Alex’s July piece (on the Meals blown call) again:

    How about: no run can score once the catcher has the ball in his glove and has touched the plate – and if the runner then touches home plate, they are out (they can try to return to 3rd, so it’s not a force play). An exception would be required to keep the double steal (of 2nd & home) in order.

    Comment by Aaron (UK) — February 24, 2012 @ 10:24 am

  49. I’d forgotten that you brought up that angle yourself. Kudos.

    That is an excellent question about the neighborhood play. I was spitballing there (further unfounded speculation: do they call it differently in Japan, and would that account for Nishioka being in the wrong place?), but it’d be great if someone did some real research on it. (Not me, though.)

    Comment by matt w — February 24, 2012 @ 10:27 am

  50. Even in football you can’t hit a “defenseless” reciever, why should it be ok in Baseball? Catchers wear a lot of gear designed to absorb the impact of a baseball, not a 225lb runner going full speed. This “tradition” should go away
    just as it has in every baseball league below the professional level.

    Comment by Hurtlockertwo — February 24, 2012 @ 10:30 am

  51. It’s only illegal if the catcher doesn’t have the ball. If he has the baseball, he’s free to block the plate as much or as little as he wants to. The same is true of any fielder at any base and runners are free to run towards the base even if a fielder is in the way, with or without the ball.

    Because of the culture that has developed in baseball over the years, it’s rare to see collisions occur at bases other than home plate. And it’s also rare to see non-catchers block a base. Alex Core would sometimes block second base with his leg by kneeling over the bag on steal attempts. I’ve seen A-Rod do the same when covering third and fieding a throw from the outfield. It’s legal for him to do so if he has the ball, but he also risks getting spiked by putting his leg in the path of the sliding runner. I also remember a play involving Carlos Delgado and Doug Mientkiewicz where Mientkiewicz was playing second base for the Red Sox in 2004. Mientkiewicz, obviously not accustomed to playing second, received a throw and put himself in the path of Delgado, who was running from first to second. Delgado didn’t give himself up as Mientkiewicz probably thought he was going to and plowed over Mientkiewicz instead. Mientkiewicz held onto the ball, so Delgado was out, but there was nothing illegal about what either player did, just uncommon. Mientkiewicz was also pretty pissed off as he felt Delgado broke an unwritten rule by barrelling into him.

    It’s probably true that umpires do not force this rule on catchers who block the plate with or without the ball. I like the idea of giving catchers a safe zone as it’s one that would be easy to enforce since the umpire usually has plenty of time to get into a position that will allow him the proper viewing angle to enforce such a rule.

    Comment by Misfit — February 24, 2012 @ 10:43 am

  52. I’d love for someone to explain to me how knocking over a catcher in a collision at home plate is allowed in accordance with Rule 7.08(b):

    “A runner is out when –
    he intentionally interferes with a thrown ball; or hinders a fielder attempting to
    make a play on a batted ball.”

    Shouldn’t every runner that knocks over a catcher be called out for hindering the catcher’s attempt to make a play?

    Comment by tomsmith79 — February 24, 2012 @ 11:00 am

  53. This is dross.

    Specifically, you argue that unwritten laws of the game enforced by players are ineffective deterrants. If that was truly the case, you would see alot more preening after home runs, several more ludicrous and marginal strategies when the outcome of a game is beyond doubt (ie: stealing a base when up 15-2 in the 8th innning), and alot more unmitigated beanings. (a good reason not to bean a player is not just the warning it creates, but knowing that, if unwarranted, you are later exposing a teammate to potential injury).

    These unwritten deterrants have evolved slowly over time and made the game safer, but it will never be 100% safe. Deal with it.
    More specifically, that flash of uncertainty, as a runner passing third is waived around and an outfielder is firing home is one of the very best parts of watching a game, especially live. Will the runner try to leap the catcher, evade, or go through. The threat of the collision makes tactics such as the leap and a wide slide much more plausible.

    I am starting to put together a vision of all of alex remington’s collective visions, and it leads to a game that would be way less exciting.

    Alex, you are quite possibly my least favorite writer on fangraphs since Pat Andriola. And that isn’t a compliment. I only read this article because I didn’t read the tagline. I officially regret reading it now.

    Comment by TheUnrepentantGunner — February 24, 2012 @ 11:14 am

  54. You misunderstand me. I’m not arguing that ALL unwritten rules are ineffective. Just that this one needs to be changed. Obviously, plenty of unwritten rules are effective. In fact, I believe — as I’ve argued elsewhere — that baseball culture is a lot more important in determining how the game is played than baseball rules. Baseball culture effectively determines how the rules are actually interpreted and used.

    But let’s game out the enforcement that you’re talking about. What could the Giants do to Scott Cousins?

    A pitcher could throw at him, and would probably receive a suspension of the league office. Recently, deliberate retaliatory beanballs have gotten you at least a five-game suspension, and sometimes more. This is probably the best option available to the Giants, but it means that they’ll be playing with a 24-man roster for a week.

    If he were an infielder, a Giant baserunner could slide hard into his bag and try to take him out. But he’s an outfielder.

    To take Matheny’s suggestion, the next time Cousins slid into the plate, the Giant catcher, Eli Whiteside or someone else, could hit him hard with body armor in the spur of the moment and make it look like a baseball play. But bang-bang plays at the plate are relatively rare.

    The Giants could hope that an on-field brawl started, and then one of them could specifically go after Cousins and punch him repeatedly. But on-field brawls have almost disappeared because of the extraordinarily harsh suspensions that have been handed down by the league office in the last two decades or so.

    So how can the Giants punish Scott Cousins? What is the effective deterrent — and effective enforcement — that you envision?

    Comment by Alex Remington — February 24, 2012 @ 11:25 am

  55. If and when it is understood, the problem will take care of itself – smart teams will pay catchers that block the plate less money and offer them less years. They should already be doing so.

    Comment by Someanalyst — February 24, 2012 @ 11:52 am

  56. Here is how you break the Play On cycle: You make players who take unneccesary risks pay for those risks out of pocket: you account for the risk in the contractual terms you offer them. The, just sit back and watch the instincts melt away in the face of the money.

    Comment by Someanalyst — February 24, 2012 @ 11:57 am

  57. That’s an interesting thought, but it might be difficult in practice to get an unusual contractual clause like that past the Players Association, which has every incentive to fight hard against a precedent that might force players to pay out of pocket for getting injured. I don’t have enough knowledge of labor law to be able to handicap how possible it would be to get something like that into a contract.

    Comment by Alex Remington — February 24, 2012 @ 12:12 pm

  58. Punish him for what? A good hard play? It was a freak accident that Posey’s leg got caught and as far as Cousins could tell, Posey was going to be trying to tag him.

    Also, he was in the basepath.

    Comment by NEPP — February 24, 2012 @ 12:57 pm

  59. Excellent post and I agree entirely. Keep the play legal and let managers/catchers determine whether it’s worth it to block the plate or not.

    Comment by Drew — February 24, 2012 @ 1:19 pm

  60. While being none too familiar with baseball rules, especially those pertaining to the catcher and basepaths, I think two rules could help limit collisions:

    i. The baserunner is only allowed to make contact with the catcher within the basepaths. Any intentional/deliberate contact with the catcher outside the basepaths is an automatic out.

    ii. The catcher is only allowed to enter the basepath if he currently possesses the ball. An attempt by the catcher to enter/obstruct the basepath without the ball (with the exception of a run-down play) will automatically score the closest/first baserunner rounding/advancing from third base.

    While I prefer to leave the rules as they are, I think the rules above allow for home plate collisions while hopefully reducing the “defenseless catcher” aspect.

    Comment by Drew — February 24, 2012 @ 1:34 pm

  61. That’s basically what the current rules state.

    Comment by NEPP — February 24, 2012 @ 1:35 pm

  62. I don’t think the problem, if you can even call it a problem, isn’t large enough to merit a rule change. Pitchers get injured more often when they throw sliders. Maybe MLB should limit pitchers to 5 sliders a game. If a player doesn’t want to risk getting run into 1B DH and LF are open.

    Comment by adohaj — February 24, 2012 @ 1:37 pm

  63. Pretty soon, all pitchers will be robots.

    I, for one, welcome our new cyborg overlords.

    Comment by Alex Remington — February 24, 2012 @ 1:40 pm

  64. Haha well much appreciated for the clarification.

    Comment by Drew — February 24, 2012 @ 1:45 pm

  65. take your kid that you might be sending down to triple a anyway in a few days, or your 12th pitcher, and throw at the guy if you’re that upset.

    The 5 game suspension isn’t the end of the world for your most marginal pitcher.

    And again, I’m not even sure if the play was considered dirty or not.

    There are other less obvious ways to enforce these sanctions that come up less frequently, (if he get’s on base there are lots of nasty things you can do around pickoff moves that are more subtle, especially if the play is at 2nd and not first or third), but the beaning is the easiest one, just make sure the person that does it can make it seem plausible that the fastball just “got away with it”.

    As for the rest, your overall vision for the game would make me hand in my season tickets, something that price hikes from $40 a seat to $64 a seat over the last 6 seasons has failed to do.

    Comment by TheUnrepentantGunner — February 24, 2012 @ 3:51 pm

  66. CC, I doubt the Giants coaching staff agrees with you. I distinctly remember a play at the plate in a Giants/Brewers game a couple of weeks after the Posey collision. Eli Whiteside stepped back on a throw from the outfield and caught the ball roughly at the back of the right handed batter’s box and tagged Prince Fielder out as he was coming home. Fielder hit him, but Whiteside was ready and standing up, not in a crouch like Posey was when he was hit. I’d never seen Whiteside receive a throw home like that before, so I’d bet diamonds to dollars that he was instructed on it after the Posey collision.

    Comment by fergie348 — February 24, 2012 @ 3:51 pm

  67. With all the recent news about CTE brain damage in hockey enforcers and football players, this comment is beyond disgusting. Let’s see, I’ll pay you a couple million dollars and you’ll come over to my house a couple times a month and I’ll beat you senseless. Sound good? No, it’s hideous and anything we can do to stop it is exactly what we should be doing.

    Comment by fergie348 — February 24, 2012 @ 3:59 pm

  68. “…or hinders a fielder attempting to make a play on a batted ball.”

    It’s the second part of that statement you’re ignoring. A runner can’t interefere with the fielder’s ability to make a play on a batted ball, where batted ball means live ball. As in, the runner on first can’t barrell over the second baseman as he tries to field a ground ball. Once the fielder secures the ball and moves into the basepath and obstructs the runner’s path to the base, he’s fair game for a collision by the rules of baseball. As we saw in the 2004 ALCS, if the fielder is outside the basepath the runner is not allowed to attempt to swipe at him while he’s trying to make a tag.

    Now runners probably get away with doing just that in some home plate collisions. It’s not uncommon to see contact made just before the catcher receives the throw or while he’s trying to scoop the ball. At the same time though, a lot of those catchers are also obstructing the path to home before they receive the throw which is also against the rules but rarely enforced. Most catchers today don’t seem to block the plate before receiving the throw as compared to previous eras. They tend to field the ball in front of the plate and then jump in the path of the runner, though some will stick their leg out like a hockey goalie which is just asking for trouble.

    Comment by Misfit — February 24, 2012 @ 4:10 pm

  69. “Moreover, Posey admits that his no-plate-blocking order was overwhelmed by instinct:”

    You know, its unfortunate that he has these instincts, but it’s probably true. Everywhere you play baseball, you have the slide or avoid rule. This precludes a baserunner bowling over a catcher. So the catcher learns that your really cannot touch him. That teaches people like Posey that blocking the plate is safe (when the aren’t playing pro ball, but even college has slide or avoid rule) and doesn’t prepare them that they can get killed. I don’t know what all MLB can create a more safe environment for cacthers other than a slide/avoid rule but as a baserunner that sucks because the don’t even have to have the ball to block the plate and there really isn’t anything you can do. You can’t have little league and college change the rule because you could really hurt or kill a younger person. Its really sad that Buster and others have gotten hurt and I really think the mandate to not block the plate is the best solution, despite its imperfection.

    Comment by Thurston24 — February 24, 2012 @ 4:44 pm

  70. If you were running a team and you wanted to bean Scott Cousins you’d still be able to do so, even if by some miracle anyone in baseball read my column and thought it was a good idea.

    I’m sorry you don’t like my columns, but I think that you’re reading a bit too much into them, like when you seemed to think that I want to end all unwritten baseball rules. I don’t know what you think my “overall vision for the game is.”

    I’ve written 100 columns for Fangraphs now, and I don’t think I really have an overall vision other than wanting the Braves to win.

    I can be a bit of a purist — I don’t really like the DH and I don’t really like the expansion of the playoffs, and I don’t love a lot of the crass commercialism that enters the game, like when MLB told the Mets they couldn’t wear FDNY and NYPD caps on September 11.

    I think that unwritten rules should be acknowledged, upheld when they make sense and overturned when they don’t. It turns out that bunting is often a bad play, even though “The Book” according to Tom Tango sometimes conflicts with “The Book” of unwritten baseball strategy. I think that the unwritten rule of keeping disputes in the clubhouse and out of the papers is honorable. I think the unwritten rule that says you’re not supposed to run up the score by stealing a base in the late innings is silly.

    I think that it’s important for baseball to confront issues of player health, like concussion, and I’m very gratified that they’ve instituted the concussion DL. I think it’s important for baseball to confront issues of racism, sexism, and homophobia, and all of those things are happening too.

    But I’m glad I haven’t been able to convince you to get rid of your season tickets. Baseball’s a fun game.

    Comment by Alex Remington — February 24, 2012 @ 4:52 pm

  71. Beyond the letting the ball travel, Posey also dropped to his knee BEFORE the ball even got there. At that point if he’s hit, he’s got to get lucky not to get that leg caught up as he’s bent backwards.

    It was absolutely the wrong technique as he should have been up on both feet where if he gets hit there’s a good chance he just gets bowled over without one leg being effectively dug in.

    The other problem from a baseball perspective is once he drops to his knee his range to field a ball is limited if the throw is offline. While at that point he could probably see the ball was relatively online, he gave himself little margin if the ball kicked left or right when the ball bounced.

    I like Posey, but there was some poor catcher technique that contributed to that injury.

    Comment by Joe — February 24, 2012 @ 5:35 pm

  72. Alex, thanks for this excellent article. I hope that more teams take the steps that the Giants and A’s have taken, and that the MLB acts as well.

    Comment by BurleighGrimes — February 25, 2012 @ 6:30 pm

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