Utley collision 3

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.

Tigers to give Omar Infante some work in center field this spring

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 11:  Omar Infante #4 of the Detroit Tigers follows through on an RBI single scoring Prince Fielder #28 during the eighth inning against the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field  on September 11, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images)
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Veteran Omar Infante has spent the overwhelming majority of his career as an infielder, but the Tigers plan to give him some playing time in center field this spring. The Tigers’ center field situation is still murky and adding more versatility would increase Infante’s odds of making the roster.

Infante, 35, signed a minor league deal with the Tigers in December. He played 39 games for the Royals last season, batting .239/.279/.321 in 149 plate appearances while playing second base exclusively. Infante last played in the outfield in 2010 with the Braves, and last played center field specifically in ’09 with the Braves.

The Tigers currently have Mikie Mahtook, Tyler Collins, and JaCoby Jones at the top of their center field depth chart. It is not what one would call “optimal.”

Report: Orioles close to acquiring Vidal Nuno from the Dodgers

ARLINGTON, TX - AUGUST 30:  Vidal Nuno #38 of the Seattle Mariners pitches against the Texas Rangers in the bottom of the seventh inning at Globe Life Park in Arlington on August 30, 2016 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun reports that the Orioles are close to acquiring pitcher Vidal Nuno from the Dodgers in exchange for pitcher Ryan Moseley.

Nuno, 29, went to the Dodgers from the Mariners in the Carlos Ruiz trade this past November. He and the Dodgers avoided arbitration last month, agreeing on a $1.125 million salary for the 2017 season. The left-hander finished the 2016 campaign with a 3.53 ERA and a 51/11 K/BB ratio in 58 2/3 innings spanning one start and 54 relief appearances.

Nuno will provide the Orioles starting pitching depth and could serve as a valuable left-handed option out of the bullpen.

Moseley, 22, played his first season of professional baseball in the New York Penn League last year. In 12 relief appearances, he put up a 3.20 ERA and an 18/9 K/BB ratio across 19 2/3 innings. The Orioles selected him in the eighth round of the 2016 draft.