Ban on home plate collisions could be coming soon

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Home plate collisions like the one we saw between David Ross and Alex Avila in Game 5 of the ALCS on Thursday may soon be a thing of the past.

ESPN’s Buster Olney was told by team officials that they expect the topic of banning home plate collisions to be raised again in meetings this winter. While it’s no sure thing that a rule change is made for 2014, it sounds like it’s just a matter of time before they are eliminated from the game for good.

Given how quickly sentiment within the sport about collisions is shifting — particularly as information about concussions has come to light, including the cost of concussion-related lawsuits faced by the National Football League — some officials talk of change as inevitable and predict that it could come swiftly.

“At this point, I don’t know who would argue to keep it, or what their argument would be,” said one team official who believes general managers will address the topic at their meetings next month. “There is no reasoned argument to keep it [in the game].”

This is nice to hear, as plays like we saw between Ross and Avila — who both missed time with concussions this year — are unnecessary and dangerous. Avila ended up leaving Game 5 with a strained patellar tendon, but things could have been much worse. Here’s another look at the play:

Olney was told by team officials that the rule change will likely reflect how the play is used at every level below professional baseball, namely that the baserunner is given an avenue toward the plate and is not allowed to target the catcher. And that sounds reasonable enough. There are plenty of managers and executives on the side of banning home plate collisions, including Mike Matheny, Jim Leyland, and Bruce Bochy, so let’s hope logic and safety prevails. And soon.

No one pounds the zone anymore

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“Work fast and throw strikes” has long been the top conventional wisdom for those preaching pitching success. The “work fast” part of that has increasingly gone by the wayside, however, as pitchers take more and more time to throw pitches in an effort to max out their effort and, thus, their velocity with each pitch.

Now, as Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer reports, the “throw strikes” part of it is going out of style too:

Pitchers are throwing fewer pitches inside the strike zone than ever previously recorded . . . A decade ago, more than half of all pitches ended up in the strike zone. Today, that rate has fallen below 47 percent.

There are a couple of reasons for this. Most notable among them, Lindbergh says, being pitchers’ increasing reliance on curves, sliders and splitters as primary pitches, with said pitches not being in the zone by design. Lindbergh doesn’t mention it, but I’d guess that an increased emphasis on catchers’ framing plays a role too, with teams increasingly selecting for catchers who can turn balls that are actually out of the zone into strikes. If you have one of those beasts, why bother throwing something directly over the plate?

There is an unintended downside to all of this: a lack of action. As Lindbergh notes — and as you’ve not doubt noticed while watching games — there are more walks and strikeouts, there is more weak contact from guys chasing bad pitches and, as a result, games and at bats are going longer.

As always, such insights are interesting. As is so often the case these days, however, such insights serve as an unpleasant reminder of why the on-field product is so unsatisfying in so many ways in recent years.