Home Plate Plays

As Scott accurately summarized, last night the Padres were blown out by Milwaukee 10-1.  The Padres had only one good look at that game, loading the bases in the second inning with two out and the score tied.  Sadly Will Venable reprised his first-half role instead of the Good August Venable, swinging and missing at 3 high fastballs to end the inning.

Two batters earlier, the Padres attempted to score Alexi Amarista from third on a bunt play by Eric Stults.  Amarista was ruled out during the run of play, but how the play unfolded prompted Buddy Black to discuss it with home plate umpire Paul Schrieber.  Schrieber agreed to review it.  The home manager is challenging the tag play at the plate, right?  No; it was announced as a crew chief review of rule 7.13.  I’m not an old man with an onion tied to my belt who frequently opines about how things used to better, but … things used to be better.

Replay was (at least to me) introduced to allow teams recourse if a play call was obviously blown, or if it was close enough to warrant a more deliberate review.  Fair or foul?  Sliding catch or trap?  Did the runner get in ahead of the tag or not? Umpires get the VAST majority of these calls correct, but the game is played fast and sometimes the critical piece of information isn’t clearly seen in real time.  No problem. On plays at the plate, however, reviews have devolved into determining if the runner had a clear path to the plate, rather than if the catcher actually tagged the guy or if the runner actually touched home plate.

On the Amarista play above, there was a reasonable doubt if Mark Maldonado tagged Alexi as he went by.  If he didn’t, there was some question if Amarista caught the back point of the plate with his hand whle sliding by.  Amarista tried to go around Maldonado, like thousands of baserunners have for decades, especially when the catcher has the ball in hand while you, the baserunner, are still 10 feet from the plate.  There’s nothing wrong with or unsafe about this play.  That the catcher’s position relative to allowing the baserunner ‘a clear lane’ became the central issue last night continues to blow my mind. Three weeks ago the Marlins lost a game to Cincinnati on a similar review.  Zach Cosart was waaaay out, as the throw home beat him by a significant distance, but the umpires ruled Marlin catcher Jeff Mathis inappropriately blocked his path to the plate so he was awarded home.  How is that fair?

The point of this game is win by scoring more runs than your opponent.  One of the ways you score more is to prevent the other team from scoring.  Blocking the plate to prevent runs is a part of the game.  There were reasonable accommodations for the baserunner in place prior to 2014; for example, the catcher is not allowed to block the plate without the ball, although some bend/bent this rule pretty far (looking at you, Mike Scioscia).  The catcher still needs to be able to do his job though.  Catchers show indecision now on where they can stand to make a play at the plate, meaning it’s easier for the runner to score than it used to be.

This rule is called the Buster Posey Rule for good reason.  Posey was horribly injured in a 2011 collision with the Marlins’ Scott Cousins, a vicious collision many (including me) felt was unnecessary.  Catchers should be protected from needless head-hunting like that.  There are other ways to do so, however.  If blowing up a catcher earned you a 50-game suspension without pay, that’d stop the nonsense pretty quickly wouldn’t it?  Hefty fines could do it too, levied against the player, manager, and team initiating the contact.

Based on last night, the advantage on plays at the plate has swung to the runner.  It’s getting to the point that managers should ALWAYS send the runner from third with less than two out; if he’s safe, great, but if he’s out, you’ve a reasonable shot at getting the call overturned on review thanks to Rule 7.13.  I don’t think that was the intent of the rule, but that seems to be how it’s starting to play out.

Agree/disagree?  Leave your thoughts in the comments.

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