2014 Preview: with a new rule, plate collisions will be a thing of the past . . . maybe

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In addition to expanded replay, another significant change is in place for the 2014 season: a new rule intended to cut down on collisions at home plate. The sort of which led to Buster Posey’s broken leg a few years ago and countless catcher concussions over the years. The basics of the rule are as follows:

  • 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). If, in the judgment of the Umpire, a runner attempting to score initiates contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate) in such a manner, the Umpire shall declare the runner out (even if the player covering home plate loses possession of the ball).
  • Unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score. If, in the judgment of the Umpire, the catcher, without possession of the ball, blocks the pathway of the runner, the Umpire shall call or signal the runner safe.

It’s not a perfect rule. Many assumed, before it was announced, that the rule would prevent catchers from ever blocking home plate, whether they have the ball or not. As of now they can still do it as long as they have the ball. If so — and if the runner isn’t overly obvious in his efforts to knock the ball loose — we will still likely see some serious physical contact at the plate, with a ball-possessing catcher being hit by a plate-seeking runner.

Still, it’s something. It will prevent runners from lowering that shoulder and hitting a sitting duck catcher. And it will prevent catchers from setting up as some sort of fortification guarding the plate as they wait for a throw. Injuries should be reduced.

I say “should” because, unlike the replay rule, there is considerably more uncertainty as to how this rule will play out in practice.  Just yesterday, while watching the Tigers-Braves spring training game, ESPN commentator, former catcher and former manager Eric Wedge said that, were he on the field, he’d still block the plate without the ball. His thinking: make a tag any way you can and put the onus on the umpire put a run back on the board if he decides you violated the rule. It’s not irrational to think you can get away with it sometimes given how many things an ump has to look at on such plays and given that, under this rule, you are allowed to block the plate sometimes. It’s possible some baserunners will think the same thing and try to knock balls loose in more subtle ways than before.

I predict that we’ll get more contentious and controversial plays out of this new rule than the replay rule. But as baseball officials will always tell you, they’d prefer incremental change over wholesale change and then tweak later if necessary. There will probably be some tweaking in the future.

Clayton Kershaw’s initial prognosis: 4-6 weeks on the disabled list

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Some seriously bad news for the Dodgers: Ken Rosenthal reports that the initial prognosis on Clayton Kershaw is that he will miss 4-6 weeks with his bad back. A final determination will be made after he gets a second medical consultation.

Kershaw exited Sunday’s start against the Braves with back tightness after just two innings of work. He was seen talking with trainers in the dugout after completing the top of the second inning and did not return to the mound for the third. Kershaw has a history of back problems. Last year he missed over two months with a herniated disc in his back.

Assuming the preliminary schedule holds, Kershaw would be on the shelf until late August at the earliest, but more likely early-to-mid September. The Dodgers currently hold a 10.5 game lead in the NL West so they can withstand his absence. But if they have any hopes of advancing in the playoffs, they’ll need a fully armed and operational Clayton Kershaw to do it.

David Price was a complete jackass to Dennis Eckersley

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In late June, Red Sox pitcher David Price confronted Hall of Famer and NESN analyst Dennis Eckersley during a team flight to Toronto. The circumstances of the argument were not clear at the time and at least one report said that it was a “back and forth,” presumably about some critical comments Eckersley made on the air about Price. We learned a few days after that it was less of a “back and forth” than it was Price merely berating Eckersley.

Now, via this story from Dan Shaugnessy of the Boston Globe, we get the true flavor of the exchange. It does not reflect well on Price or his teammates:

On the day of the episode, Price was standing near the middle of the team aircraft, surrounded by fellow players, waiting for Eckersley. When Eckersley approached, on his way to the back of the plane (Sox broadcasters traditionally sit in the rear of the aircraft), a grandstanding Price stood in front of Eckersley and shouted, “Here he is — the greatest pitcher who ever lived! This game is easy for him!’’

When a stunned Eckersley tried to speak, Price shot back with, “Get the [expletive] out of here!’’

Many players applauded.

Eckersley made his way to the back of the plane as players in the middle of the plane started their card games. In the middle of the short flight, Eckersley got up and walked toward the front where Sox boss Dave Dombrowski was seated. When Eckersley passed through the card-playing section in the middle, Price went at him again, shouting, “Get the [expletive] out of here!’’

Assuming this account is accurate, Price’s behavior was nothing short of disgraceful. Disgraceful in that Price was too much of a coward to take his issues up with Ecklersley one-on-one. Beyond that, it’s classic bully behavior, with Price waiting until he was surrounded by lackeys to hurl insults in a situation where Eckersley had no opportunity to effectively respond.

But it’s mostly just sad. Sad that David Price is so painfully sensitive that he cannot handle criticism from a man who is, without question, one of the best who has ever played the game. One of the few men who has been in his shoes and stood on that same mound and faced the same sorts of challenges Price has attempted to face. And, it should be noted, faced them with more success in his career than Price has so far.

No one likes criticism, but David Price is at a place in his life where he is, inevitably, going to receive it. And unlike virtually every other person who may offer it to him, Dennis Eckersley knows, quite personally, of what he speaks.

Shame on David Price for acting like a child. Shame on his teammates for backing him up. Shame on John Farrell and the rest of the Red Sox organization for not sitting Price down, explaining that he messed up and encouraging him to apologize. And, of course, if he apologizes now, it’s not because he means it. He’s had a month to reflect. It’s simply because his disgraceful behavior is now all over the pages of the Boston Globe.

What a pathetic display.