Rule Change Friday: Ground Rule Homers

Baseball sometimes seems as if it is the most unchanging of the major sports. Maybe that is the case now, but as anyone (like me) with even a slight interest in baseball history knows, baseball has made changes in its rules many times over the years. That is part of the reason discussions about potential rule changes are interesting — they not only stimulate the mind grapes, but also have a basis in the real history of the game. Moreover, some of the ideas are not necessarily new, but involve a hypothetical return to yesteryear.

In the wake of the concerns about home run records being “tarnished” by PEDS and, horror of horrors, the designated hitter, it is worth remembering that the home run rules, like almost everything else, have not always been the same. Certain older rules cost some hitters home runs. However, some rules also gave players more home runs. It is the latter I want to discuss today as a possible rule change. What do you think? Would you be in favor of allowing what are not ground rule doubles to be ruled as home runs?

Today, if a ball hits the ground and bounces into the stands, it is a ground rule double according to the Official Rules 6.09(e-h). The change happened prior to the 1930 season for the American League, and after that season for the National League. Without looking up various individual examples, I have read that when Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were engaged in their home run race in 1927, at least one of Gehrig’s homers was a hit that would have been ruled a ground rule double by today’s rules. What would it be like to go back to something like?

Various related issues would need to be sorted out. By the current rules, if a ball bounces off of a player’s head and into the stands, it is a home run. Along the same lines, if the rule is changed, baseball would need to decide what to do about situations where the ball hits the ground, then the fielder, and then goes into the stands. While that is worth discussion in the comments, in this brief post I want to focus on how going back to something like the old rule might make the game better or worse.

Obviously, it would lead to more home runs. Assuming I did the query correctly, there were 510 ground rule doubles in 2011, which would represent more than a 10 percent increase over the 4552 home runs that counted. It might also make fielding a bit more exciting. Would outfielders be more aggressive in playing certain batted balls off of bounces? I suppose it would vary from park to park depending on how high the wall is or how “bouncy” the turf is. Maybe in the future I will try and see which parks are most prone to ground rule doubles (if someone else wants to do that, fine). Would teams would respond to change by making their parks’ walls higher or lower?

There might be disadvantages, too. For example, fan interference (and thus replay) would have to be watched ever more closely, although that really would not be much of a change from the current situation.

When it comes down to it, this speculative exercise involves an aesthetic preference — what would give you the most pleasure when watching a game? That is not to say that there are no objective and/or universal grounds for aesthetics (that is a debate for another time and place), but rather that this is something that, even in principle, we cannot resolve be reference to numbers. Hey, I bet what would totally solve it would be a poll!

Change for its own sake is pointless, but would “ground rule home runs” make this game more enjoyable for you?




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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.


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Mike
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Mike
4 years 5 months ago

I wished they changed ground rule doubles to how they rule fan interference. That way a guy could score from 1st if the umps thought he would have if the ball didn’t go into the stands.

Bryz
Guest
4 years 5 months ago

Agreed.

Aaron (UK)
Guest
Aaron (UK)
4 years 5 months ago

Just make a ground rule double into an automatic bases-clearing ground rule double.

siggian
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siggian
4 years 5 months ago

Even better. I prefer the umpires not having to decide what should have happened.

TK
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TK
4 years 5 months ago

I’d say if the ball bounces over the outfield fence it should be a bases clearing double, but if it bounces into the stands on the left or right, then it should be the current rule.

West
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West
4 years 5 months ago

The DH has been around for 40 damn years, get over it.

TLD
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TLD
4 years 5 months ago

I think he was being sarcastic.

Phrozen
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Phrozen
4 years 5 months ago

Communism has been around for 95 damn years. Get over it.

chuckb
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chuckb
4 years 5 months ago

I guess you didn’t know that “West” is Raul Castro’s internet moniker.

When you’re Cuba’s ruler, you can’t very well post at fangraphs under your given name, can you? You should see all the horrible comments he made in that Cespedes thread!

ben
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ben
4 years 5 months ago

Communism has been around a lot longer than 95 years, but I get your point.

MikeKA
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MikeKA
4 years 5 months ago

At this point, leagues that do not use the DH are in the minority. If we were to homogenize baseball on a world-wide scale, it’d be easier for every league to incorporate a DH rule, not the other way around.

kick me in the GO NATS
Guest
kick me in the GO NATS
4 years 5 months ago

Yes, but we don’t have to like it!

Ben
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Ben
4 years 5 months ago

Well I, for one, like it.

1. Often a ground-rule double is worse for the batting team than the regular double or triple that would have resulted had the ball ricocheted off the wall instead of clearing it. You want to be HAPPY to see your team’s hitter clear the wall, damn it!

2. If the fielder was face-down (say they tripped and fell) on the ground and it bounced off their head, it’s a homer, why does it matter what it bounced off? It’s the fielder’s job to keep the ball from clearing that wall, no matter where it bounces.

3. You’d see a lot more highlight reel plays in fielders’ desperate attempts to keep the ball in the park.

4. Doubles and triples hitters would finally get the appreciation they deserve.

The world of baseball is a world of inertia, but keep nudging it and finally the ball might get rolling on this (bad physics pun). Keep ’em coming!

Justin
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Justin
4 years 5 months ago

Ben, I respectfully disagree. Addressing each of your points in turn:
1. Yes, this is a problem, but I think it would be better addressed by a rule change allowing a runner on first base to score on a ground rule double.
2. iLife you, I agree that the current rule is silly. But I think it would be better addressed by changing these to ground rule doubles. I think it’s better to eliminate the situations where a hitter can “luck” there way to a HR instead of expanding them.
3. You got me on this one. Though you might also see a slight adjustment in the positioning of OFers – allowing more singles and fewer doubles/ground rule HRs.
4. I have no support for this, but logically, it seems to me that it would really help fly ball hitters and not necessarily doubles/triples guys. Generally speaking, don’t d/t hitters mostly hit the ball on a line? I would guess that line drives don’t usually go for ground rule doubles unless it’s a park w/ really low fences.

While it might provide a few more diving OFers (possibly causing more injuries), I’d rather see MLB address the issues you raised through other rule changes. Also, I guess I just see the HR as something that should be earned, as opposed to something that you can luck your way into.

Ben
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Ben
4 years 5 months ago

Thanks for entertaining the possibility… I knew this to be the minority opinion but I like playing Devil’s Advocate to generate some good discussion.

I do think doubles/triples hitters doesn’t necessarily entail line drives all the time… some guys just don’t have enough power to clear the fence but can hit long flies to the warning track.

I think it’s far from a perfect rule change, but I do think something should be changed with these rules, so it’s interesting to compare.

Dave S
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Dave S
4 years 5 months ago

Terrific idea. Would love to see it implemented.

danny
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danny
4 years 5 months ago

not –> now

I’d be curious to know how many ground-rule doubles this would affect per-annum. Who has the most career ground-rule doubles. Would this have changed the outcome in a home run race?

Ian R.
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Ian R.
4 years 5 months ago

I’d also be curious to know how this would impact RBI races, if only to illustrate the stupidity of RsBI as a statistic. Two hitters come up to bat with runners on first. Both hit doubles, but one is a GRD. As a result, one hitter gets an RBI, the other doesn’t.

The Ancient Mariner
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The Ancient Mariner
4 years 5 months ago

Well, he said there were 510 last year, so that gives you an idea.

gary
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gary
4 years 5 months ago

Not all ground rule doubles clear the outfield fence…some bounce into the stands down the lines.

Was this accounted for in the 510 last year?

Yirmiyahu
Member
4 years 5 months ago

gary, not sure what you’re saying. If a ball doesn’t make it out of the infield and goes into the stands, it’s a foul. So I don’t know what scenario you’re envisioning.

Paul Thomas
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Paul Thomas
4 years 5 months ago

@yirmiyahu: Gary’s talking about balls that bounce in fair territory in the outfield (thus, fair balls), then slice sideways into the stands in foul territory. They never cross the yellow home run stripe in the outfield. That stripe is really what he means by “the outfield fence”.

John DiFool
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John DiFool
4 years 5 months ago

“You want to be HAPPY to see your team’s hitter clear the wall, damn it!”

Then anybody at first automatically scores-or scores at the ump’s discretion.

Louis
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Louis
4 years 5 months ago

I would like them to be a bit more liberal with the results of a GRD. It’s so frustrating to have a man on 1st only advance to 3rd because it was a GRD when he would have clearly scored.

MikeKA
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MikeKA
4 years 5 months ago

What if that man on first in David Ortiz or one of those Molina boys? Is it always a guarantee? (That’s a serious question… is it?)

Bip
Member
Member
Bip
4 years 5 months ago

Considering how hard it is to hit one, I think you’ve got to give the benefit of the doubt to the batting team.

Ian R.
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Ian R.
4 years 5 months ago

The biggest issue I have with ground rule doubles is that the umpires never, ever, ever award a baserunner more than two bases. Even if the runner on first was off with the pitch and is already rounding third by the time the ball bounces over the wall, he has to hold up at third.

This wouldn’t require a rule change per se, since as far as I’m aware the umpires can award runners an additional base at their discretion. It would just require following the rules that already exist.

hk
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hk
4 years 5 months ago

It is not at the umpire’s discretion. Runners on 1st must stop at 3rd.

brianwilliams42
Member
Member
brianwilliams42
4 years 5 months ago

Thinking about somewhere like Fenway Park, does this mean you can hit homeruns into foul territory? Lots of right field hits bounce into the stands down the line, and many bounce into the stands on the foul side of the Pesky Pole.

Not a particularly exciting idea. A home run goes over the fence. The “bouncing off someone’s head” rule is just an unfortunate consequence of a broader, more correct rule (touching the ball on its way out doesn’t change that it went out).

Justin
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Justin
4 years 5 months ago

The head bounce could easily be remedied by giving the umpires discretion. Or by still awarding a “home run” to the batter, but charging it as a four-base error, which is really what it is in most circumstances. Should that run really be charged to the pitcher?

MustBunique
Member
Member
4 years 5 months ago

I don’t think that’s accurate about balls bouncing into the stands in foul territory next to Pesky’s pole. I watch a lot of Red Sox games, and I am having trouble remembering an instance where a ball landed in fair territory and bounced into the stands in foul territory. Please back up that claim, because I would honestly be very interested to see the numbers on that.

brianwilliams42
Member
Member
brianwilliams42
4 years 5 months ago

Well, I don’t see many Red Sox games, but balls going in the air just foul is not uncommon, and balls going just foul and fans grabbing them happens all the time, so I presume it’s happened that a ball bounced just inside the pole for a (fan interference?) ground-rule double. Not exactly noteworthy enough for it to be all over YouTube. It has to be at least as likely as balls going off people’s heads for homeruns, just from how close the wall is to the field along the line.

MustBunique
Member
Member
4 years 5 months ago

@BW42: You’re right that it probably does happen, just not as often as one might think. With how close that pole is to home plate, anything hit high enough to land in fair territory and still get a high enough bounce to get into the stands has a good chance to be caught by a fielder.

Yirmiyahu
Member
4 years 5 months ago

The trajectory necessary for this to happen is like Kennedy’s magic bullet. I can’t imagine how a ball could be fair past 1B, not get scooped up, and then take a high bounce while crurving off the right.

Maybe this has happened before, but I’ve never seen it and can’t picture what it would look like.

bstar
Guest
bstar
4 years 5 months ago

Yirmiyahu,
It’s not all that rare of an occurrence. I’m stunned you’ve never seen it happen. It’s usually a ball with a lot of sidespin slice on it, which means a righty batter hitting it to right field or vice versa. it hits near the line and continues on its slice trajectory as it bounces into the stands. This really isn’t uncommon.

Do you play golf? Ever sliced a ball with the trajectory of a banana? Same effect.

John DiFool
Guest
John DiFool
4 years 5 months ago

You’ve never seen a pop flare drop in along the third base stands @ Fenway and bounce into the seats? I’ve seen that 2-3 times at least over the years (Wade Boggs did it once IIRC).

Greg W
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Greg W
4 years 5 months ago

The Rogers Center has maybe a half dozen of these baseline wall doubles each year! The bullpens are located beyond the outfield, so the first row of seats on the baselines comes very close to the line and low to the ground.

Ben
Guest
Ben
4 years 5 months ago

I can’t imagine anything worse than watching a ball travel 130 ft with the proper spin going into the seats down the 3rd base line at Fenway……. about 30 ft past 3rd base the foul line is maybe 5ft from the seats any hit with crazy spin is a ground rule double…….

Fred
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Fred
4 years 5 months ago

It would ruin DIPS, since homeruns would no longer be fielder independent, so no.

RobBob
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RobBob
4 years 5 months ago

LOL. And of course, we ALL KNOW that preserving modern baseball theory is the most important thing to do.

Yirmiyahu
Member
4 years 5 months ago

I’ve got bad news for you. There are inside-the-park homeruns. Hell, there are even groundball homeruns. http://sports.yahoo.com/mlb/blog/big_league_stew/post/cody-ross-assists-on-inside-the-park-home-run-by-carlos-gomez?urn=mlb,wp7921

Bryz
Guest
4 years 5 months ago

For the “bouncing off the head” scenario, I would much rather see that changed into a ground-rule double, but then that creates even more problems.

1. Jose Canseco has a ball bounce off his head and has it go over the fence. With my rule change, this is now a ground-rule double.

2. If Jose Canseco jumps at the fence, has the ball glance off his glove and then go over the fence, then that must surely also be ruled as a ground-rule double. If it’s ruled as a home run, then we’d need to determine at what distance from the fence must a fielder be positioned to distinguish between a home run and a ground-rule double.

If anything, what I’d want to see changed with ground-rule doubles is not just the runners on base being rewarded bases that the umpires think they could have reached without the ball leaving the field of play, but also the batter being rewarded. If it appears the batter could have reached 3rd base on what became a ground-rule double, then award him 3rd base.

MikeS
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MikeS
4 years 5 months ago

One word reason why I don’t like it: AstroTurf.

Fred
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Fred
4 years 5 months ago

Do any parks still have Astroturf?

Greg W
Guest
Greg W
4 years 5 months ago

Um, yeah, The Trop and Rogers Centre are kind of stuck with it.

Yirmiyahu
Member
4 years 5 months ago

I think they both have FieldTurf.

MustBunique
Member
Member
4 years 5 months ago

Or along similar lines teams intentionally firming up the warning track or using materials that would result in a higher bounce.

hk
Guest
hk
4 years 5 months ago

Why would teams do this when it would hurt their pitchers as much as help their hitters?

Yirmiyahu
Member
4 years 5 months ago

hk, why are the Mets moving in and lowering their fences? It’ll hurt their pitchers as much as help their hitters.

Kevin
Guest
Kevin
4 years 5 months ago

Teams have been using their groundskeepers to manipulate the playing field throughout the history of baseball. There are myriad stories of teams turning the base path between first and second into swamps to slow down opposing base stealers (as well as firming it up if the home team boasted quick runners). And the Baltimore Chop became a thing in part due to the groundskeepers turning the dirt in front of home plate into virtual concrete to aid the bounce of the sharply chopped ball that was the trademark of an entire team.

Manipulating the playing field is fair because you can’t change it between halves of innings. Both teams play with the same changes.

Greg Rybarczyk
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Greg Rybarczyk
4 years 5 months ago

I suspect that not all of the 510 ground rule double events actually hopped over the home run fence. Any idea how many did, and how many hopped into the stands in foul ground?

Jim Lahey
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Jim Lahey
4 years 5 months ago

I was gonna say a bunch of stuff about why I don’t like it but then i realized it’s just the area of the park that I have an issue with. It would clearly have to be over the outfield wall, not the walls to the foul grounds.

And I feel like I only want to allow it say 30 ft’ away from the foul pole. Put a new yellow line on the wall and if it bounces to the fair side of the line, its a HR, if it bounces to the foul side, it’s a ground rule double.

What about ground-rule triples for those that bounce within that “center” of the field area, reserving the HR designation for those who really hit the ball on the screws and knock it over the wall.

Randy Bobandy
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Randy Bobandy
4 years 5 months ago

that must be the liquor talking jim

Mike E
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Mike E
4 years 5 months ago

I can see it now. Statistical park adjustments for firmness of sod/dirt.

It must be a slow news day.

Nate
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Nate
4 years 5 months ago

My opinion is that if the ball clears the fence on the fly without touching anything, it’s a HR. If it touches anything in the playing field (ground or player) and then leaves fair territory, it’s a GRD (bases clearing). I would never want to reward someone who hit it less distance than the top of the fence with a HR. Fan interference still needs to be regulated.

Baltar
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Baltar
4 years 5 months ago

Baseball is more exciting for me if there are more base-runners, not more home runs. In fact, I find home runs really boring. I’d rather that balls clearing the fences without hitting the ground be triples.
I am also against awarding baserunners more than two bases on a GRD. Again, more baserunners is better.

Barkey Walker
Guest
Barkey Walker
4 years 5 months ago

I like triple too. Gives you “yay, it went over the fence” and runner on first scores without a sense of cheapening the HR.

As for guys heads, I’d hate to give an incentive to have it bounce off your head (i.e. obvious triple or run scoring double turns into a double.)

Craig
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Craig
4 years 5 months ago

Here’s my problem with altering the rule to clear the bases on a GRD. It just switches punishing the offensive team for punishing the defensive team. If you have Jim Thome on first and the next guy hits a double, then it’s reasonable to assume an outfielder with a decent arm could make a play on Thome at the plate. Yeah maybe a faster guy could score, but it’s not automatic.

A GRD means the ball is not a HR but it is still not playable. I think the current rule’s intention is that there is no continuation of action once the ball is not playable. Sometimes it sucks for the offensive team, but they are still getting a free stand-up double.

Benjamin
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Benjamin
4 years 5 months ago

Make them Ground Rule Triples. That way:

1. They clear the bases.
2. They don’t count as a cheap HR.
3. If the runner would have made it to third had the ball stayed in play, well, he’s on third because it a ground rule TRIPLE.

Benjamin
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Benjamin
4 years 5 months ago

# 3 should say “Takes care of the situation where the hitter would have made it to third had the ball stayed in play.”

RobBob
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RobBob
4 years 5 months ago

Someone brought this minor point up in a broadcast last year: it should be known as a “book rule double”, since it’s described in the rule book. A “ground rule double” is one that’s unique to a ballpark (like a ball getting caught in the ivy at Wrigley.)

Ben
Guest
Ben
4 years 5 months ago

Yes, rule-book double or automatic double.

skippyballer486
Member
skippyballer486
4 years 5 months ago

I would guess that “ground rule double” is so named because the ball hit the ground. I don’t know for certain, but that seems like the obvious interpretation to me.

Jorgath
Guest
Jorgath
4 years 5 months ago

No, RobBob’s right…and wrong. It’s actually a ground-rule double, because it’s a rule of the park, not of the game. It’s just a rule of MLB that all MLB parks operate with that rule in their ground rules. A high-school or middle-school field, particularly one used by people who generally aren’t looking for baseball scholarships or drafting, might have a different ground-rule on the subject.

giuseppe
Guest
giuseppe
4 years 5 months ago

No, RobBob is right and right. It’s an automatic double. Some MLB parks do not have their own ground rules. It’s in the rule book and not in any ground rules and not referred to as a ground rule in the rule book. Is that clear? I know it seems pedantic, but RobBob is right.

giuseppe
Guest
giuseppe
4 years 5 months ago

I’m wrong on one count: a comment in the rule book on Rule 7.10(b) does mention a “ground rule double.” It’s talking about ruling a player out when they miss a base. Nowhere else is it called a ground rule double in the rule book. And for purposes of this discussion with myself (since I’m sure no one is reading this thread anymore) I’m going to point out that comments in the rule book “…interpret or elaborate on the basic rules and in essence have the same effect as rules when applied to particular sections for which they are intended.” So I still say ground rule double is a misnomer.

Dan G
Guest
Dan G
4 years 5 months ago

No, RobBob is right and wrong. A ball getting tangled in the ivy at Wrigley is also covered by the rule book and thus an automatic double not a ground rule double.

giuseppe
Guest
giuseppe
4 years 5 months ago

Hmm. The vines at Wrigley are specifically mentioned in Wrigley’s ground rules so it is a ground rule AND an automatic double. So, RobBob is right and right. Is there ivy at any other stadium?

BlackOps
Guest
BlackOps
4 years 5 months ago

What’s the minimum height of outfield walls per the rulebook? I imagine teams would lower them to that height, which could lead to crazy dives into the stands! What happens if a guy catches a ball but lands over the wall? They could also make ballparks bigger, with more chances for ridiculous Willie Mays-like catches.

This is fun. Although the ground rule triple sounds awesome as well.

Preston
Guest
Preston
4 years 5 months ago

This was a fun article. I really enjoyed it.

Jorgath
Guest
Jorgath
4 years 5 months ago

If you do that list of parks prone to ground-rule doubles, my eyeball tells me that Camden Yards will be one of the top 5…

Anon
Guest
Anon
4 years 5 months ago

Seems to me the practical answer to the issue of whether a ground-rule double should clear the bases is to have the rule be that if a runner on 1st is more than halfway to 2nd when the ball is struck he is waved all the way in by rule. Every runner that is running on the pitch is going to be more than halfway to 2nd when the batter hits it and is going to score on that play something like 99% of the time anyway. Even a Jim Thome probably scores on that one most of the time. If a runner starts and stops on the pitch, he isn’t going to be halfway.

The ONLY time I can see that being an issue is on 3-2 pitches where the runner starts late. That could be a problem as he would likely only be about halfway at contact and now you start running into the problem of certain runners probably couldn’t score. Most still probably would but Thome probably isn’t.

Jay Levin
Guest
4 years 5 months ago

There is a very easy way to simplify the rule. The runner on first base scores on a rulebook double when there are two outs, but otherwise is awarded third base.

Jay Levin
Guest
4 years 5 months ago

I am deeply, deeply skeptical that more than a handful of rulebook doubles would be stopped by fielders desperately trying to keep balls from going over the wall. The fielder is by definition out of position on those plays.

bstar
Guest
bstar
4 years 5 months ago

Exactly. Most g-rule doubles are line drives/fly balls that can’t be caught before they hit the ground. I think making these balls a home run would make a mockery of the game, personally.

I would change the runner-on-first rule to ump’s discretion. Like someone pointed out, we don’t want a runner scoring from first on one of those ground balls down the left field line that a fan touches at Fenway. Leave it up to the umps to decide.

Jim
Guest
Jim
4 years 5 months ago

I saw this article and just had to read it. This may be the dumbest and biggest waste of an article in the history or journalism. Is this seriously what passes as a story these days? Ya, let’s call a 4 hopper that goes out a play a home run. Super idea.

Abe
Guest
Abe
4 years 5 months ago

This sounds much more like something that Fangraphs would make fun of Bleacher Report for than actually writing a semi-serious idea.

Horrible idea, although scoring from 1B is a good idea.

Dan G
Guest
Dan G
4 years 5 months ago

The rule is fine as is, including a ball bouncing off a head or glove being called a home run. That said, it would be interesting to see if an analysis shows that runners from 1st would have scored more than 50% of the time – I’d be in favor of automatic doubles giving the runner 3 bases if it goes over the outfield fence in fair territory and two bases in every other situation – stuck in fence, through scoreboard, or hop into the stands in foul territory.

kick me in the GO NATS
Guest
kick me in the GO NATS
4 years 5 months ago

In my opinion, off Jose Canseco’s head is the best place in baseball to get a home run. Lets keep the ground rule double!

John
Guest
John
4 years 5 months ago

What if the number of bases awarded is in relationship to the number of stolen bases the player has? If a player steals a bag every .25 games (40 steals per season) they are awarded 3rd base on what is now a ground rule double. So as long as a player swipes a bag every 4 games, he will be awarded the extra base, and if he is on 1st when the ball was hit, he is awarded the 3rd base as well. As a result, you should see an increase in the number of steals, which adds more action to the game. I honestly don’t believe this will change anything in the way teams/managers approach the game, but just a thought.

Llewdor
Member
Llewdor
4 years 5 months ago

I see how other sports constantly tweak the rules to adjust the outcomes on the field, and I hate it. Keep the same rules basically forever, and watch the sport evolve through innovation, not micromanagement.

mncliff
Guest
mncliff
4 years 4 months ago

The ground rule double is among the worst plays in baseball. Imagine taking a very well hit baseball, out of the reach of an outfielder, crowd on its feet, hitter making the turn at first, and the ball bounces out of play. All that excitement gone simply because ground crew has left the warning track hard as concrete and MLB has no interest in recognizing and correcting this spectator buzz-kill. Does anyone have statistics identifying what parks have the most GRD’s? Thanks.

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