How the new catcher rule affects the Chicago White Sox

On Tuesday, February 25th, the MLB came out with a new rule hoping to help protect its catchers from serious injury. This rule, which is being used as a one-year experiment, states: “a runner attempting to score may not deviate from his direct pathway to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate).”

There are two side notes that go along with this rule. The first side note states, “the failure by the runner to make an effort to touch the plate, the runner’s lowering of the shoulder, or the runner’s pushing through with his hands, elbows or arms, would support a determination that the runner deviated from the pathway in order to initiate contact with the catcher in violation.” The second side notes states, “unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score.”

In a nutshell, this rule states that catchers cannot block the plate before they have possession of the ball and that runners cannot go out of their way to try to dislodge the ball. Under this rule, collision plays will only be allowed if the catcher has the ball and is blocking the runner’s direct path to home plate. All other plate collisions are illegal. This rule is intended to prevent runners from specifically targeting the catcher for forced contact.

Said new union head Tony Clark: “We believe the new experimental rule allows for the play at the plate to retain its place as one of the most exciting plays in the game while providing an increased level of protection to both the runner and the catcher. We will monitor the rule closely this season before discussing with the commissioner’s office whether the rule should become permanent.”

Though I firmly believe that player safety is critically important, I question this rule for two reasons.

  1. This rule makes the umpire’s job even more challenging. In the case of a play at the plate, the umpire has to be aware of multiple scenarios and address all of the following questions: Is the runner staying in a direct path to the plate; did the runner touch home plate; did he touch the plate before the catcher tagged him; did the catcher block home plate before he received the ball; did the catcher hold on to the ball? The umpire has to be aware of all these factors before he makes the call in a split second.
  2. Selfishly, I don’t like this rule because it does not play to the strength of the Chicago White Sox. The White Sox are a physical team. In their probable starting lineup, four players weigh in at 230 pounds plus (Dayan Viciedo, Avisail Garcia, Jose Abreu, Adam Dunn). Their strengths are not speed and quickness but rather, power and strength. In my opinion, this rule neutralizes any advantage they might have on the base paths.

Dunn, who weighs in at 285 pounds, voiced his displeasure with this comment, “I see leg and fingers [injuries]. Guys are going to have to slide more [as opposed to running through the catcher] and so they’re probably going to do a lot more headfirst sliding.”

“For me, especially when I was on second and got pinch ran for, I’ll always tell Robin, ‘Ball might beat me, but I’ve got a decent chance of scoring still,’” explained Dunn. “I can see myself getting pinch ran for quite a bit more. I’m pretty much useless [on the base paths with this rule].”

“Guys pulling up and just letting the catcher tag you; that looks pretty bad,” he continued. “I think you’re going to see a lot of that because if you’re 10 to 15 feet away from the plate, where normally you had at least a chance to score with contact, you really have no choice other than to pull up. You’re just going to run and let him tag you and it will look like you’re not trying.”

[Previewing the Chicago White Sox rotation]

As a fan, I like the idea of being proactive and limiting the chance of injuries. However, this experimental rule could have been better tested if it was first implemented in the minor leagues. This way, MLB officials would be better able to observe and monitor the effectiveness of the rule, and how challenging it would be for umpires to apply the rule. But with the way the rule is being applied for one year, I predict there will be much controversy on the MLB, its players, and especially its umpires. After all, they are trying to tweak one of the most exciting plays in the game.  Here’s hoping I am wrong.

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