Clean up your baserunning rules, MLB


Obviously, 7.13 — the new, experimental plate-blocking rule — has been a big topic of conversation this year and will continue to be so. The rule has clearly done what it was designed to do — prevent collisions at home plate — while being unclear about everything else. I imagine it will get some clarifications this winter. But it’s not the only thing that needs touching up.

For instance, this happened in the Yankees-Orioles game Wednesday night.


Stephen Drew was called out for running inside the line on his little dribbler here. Though he wasn’t inside the line. He was on the line running directly to first base.

I’ve always been of the belief that baserunners are given too much leeway in this particular situation; right-handed hitters often get away with running a foot or more inside the line, and no matter how egregious the line taken, there’s usually no call at all unless the ball pegs the runner; if the catcher throws over the head of the first baseman or misses wide, he’s almost always out of luck.

Of course, there’s a good reason for runners to run inside the line even if there is no throw to interfere with; the bag is in fair territory.

There’s an easy fix for this, one I advocated last year before I even knew the product existed; a double-wide first base bag that extends into foul territory. The fielder gets the fair side, the baserunner gets the foul side. Not only does it settle plays like this once and for all, but it should reduce collisions at first base.


Collisions are a big pet-peeve of mine, as many know. That’s why I’m happy about Rule 7.13, even if it needs work. Another rule that needs work: 7.09(e).

(e) If, in the judgment of the umpire, a base runner willfully and deliberately interferes with a batted ball or a fielder in the act of fielding a batted ball with the obvious intent to break up a double play, the ball is dead. The umpire shall call the runner out for interference and also call out the batter-runner because of the action of his teammate. In no event may bases be run or runs scored because of such action by a runner.

That’s the double play rule. It’s the lone rule that covers the baserunner barreling into the second baseman or shortstop on a double play. Notice how it doesn’t say anything about being within an arm’s length of second base. There’s nothing like that. Essentially, the rule, as it’s written, makes it clear that if a baserunner intentionally attempts more than a routine slide into second to try to break up the double play, he’s out and the batter is out.

Personally, I’d be happy if that was the way it was called on the field, too. I don’t like baseball being a contact sport. I don’t like preventable injuries. I realize this puts me in the minority. I don’t expect baserunners breaking up double plays to be declared illegal anytime soon… except it already is illegal. It’s just one of those rules that’s completely ignored. And it’s not the only one. After all, it’s not like 7.13 was simply created out of thin air; it was always illegal for catchers to block home plate without the ball. It just wasn’t one of those rules that was ever applied.

MLB has several rules that could use a once over, few more than the double play rule. My suggestion would be to tear it up and create a new rule that states that the baserunner has to show intent to slide into second base while breaking up the double play. If he’s not at least reaching towards second base while sliding wide or if he’s unable to hold the bag while oversliding second base, then it should be an automatic double play.

For instance, we all remember last week when Nick Ahmed gave the Diamondbacks a victory by deflecting a double play relay with his arm in a game against the Pirates. Regardless of that deflection, it should have been an illegal slide anyway.

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That was pretty willful and obvious, was it not?

So, new commish, whoever you may be, don’t skimp and address only 7.13 this winter. There are other rules, between the lines, that need fixing.

2018 Preview: New York Mets

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2018 season. Next up: The New York Mets.

Things couldn’t have gone much worse for the Mets in 2017, so the fact that they won 70 games is actually remarkable. Their hailed rotation was a shambles, as Noah Syndergaard made only seven starts. Zack Wheeler put up a 5.21 ERA over 17 starts; Matt Harvey was even worse with a 6.70 ERA across 18 starts and one relief appearance. Steven Matz compiled a 6.08 ERA in 13 starts. Just about the only consistency the club had came from Jacob deGrom, who finished with a career-high 3.53 ERA in 31 starts.

The rotation, as of right now, is healthy, save for deGrom, who has been battling a minor back issue during this spring. But so far, so good for everyone else. Well, there was Jason Vargas, who signed a two-year, $16 million deal with the Mets last month and suffered a non-displaced fracture of the hamate bone in his non-throwing hand. He underwent surgery and is expected to return shortly after the start of the regular season. But I mean, at least they still have everyone else!

Well, Michael Conforto is still recovering from shoulder surgery last September. The Mets are targeting May 1 for his return. That’s everyone, right? Wright? Where’s David Wright? The third baseman underwent two surgeries in September and October last year for his shoulder and back and still isn’t feeling well enough to play baseball, so the Mets shut him down for eight weeks.

The Mets haven’t had a legitimate full-time third baseman since 2014, Wright’s last full season. No Mets third baseman has played more than 55 games in a season at third base in the last three seasons. So the club went out and signed Todd Frazier to a two-year, $17 million contract. Frazier split last season with the White Sox and Yankees, hitting a combined .213/.344/.428 with 27 home runs and 76 RBI. While Frazier is now 32 years old and has seen a decline in power, he did set a career-high in walk rate last year at 14.4 percent and he’s still a solid defender. Frazier is still more than a capable player and he’ll look like a Greek god at the hot corner compared to what the Mets have trotted out there lately.

Shortstop at Citi Field now belongs to 22-year-old Amed Rosario. Among the top prospects in baseball, Rosario struggled last year, batting .248/.271/.394 across 46 games. Rosario has the most upside of any position player on the Mets’ roster, so his success will play a rather large factor in the team’s success this year. He can be a doubles and triples machine and a big threat on the bases if he gets his feet underneath him against big league competition.

Asdrubal Cabrera will handle second base. He’s been, quietly, quite good for the Mets over the last two seasons, offering a solid offensive approach along with his versatility – he played second and third base as well as shortstop last season. Now 32 years old, Cabrera hit .280/.351/.434 with 14 home runs and 59 RBI last season, which is more than enough when manning a position in the middle of the infield.

At first base, the Mets were able to pluck Adrian Gonzalez off the free agent wire. Gonzalez had gone to the Braves in the Matt Kemp trade, but the Braves quickly dropped him. The 35-year-old had a nightmarish 2017, compiling a .642 OPS in 71 games as he was bothered by back issues throughout the year. He became overshadowed in Los Angeles by Cody Bellinger, who won the NL Rookie of the Year Award, so the Dodgers had no reason to keep him around. Dominic Smith had been another first base option but he suffered a quad injury early in spring training and likely won’t be ready by Opening Day.

Travis d’Arnaud will get the lion’s share of starts behind the plate, backed up by Kevin Plawecki. d’Arnaud provides power, which is always nice to have from a catcher, but he doesn’t hit for average or draw walks, so his batting average and on-base percentage are underwhelming. And while d’Arnaud hasn’t been anything to write home about stopping the running game, he’s regarded as a good pitch framer.

In left field will stand the Mets’ biggest offensive threat, Yoenis Cespedes. Sadly, the slugger was limited to 81 games last year as he battled various leg injuries. When he was in the lineup, he hit .292/.352/.540 with 17 home runs and 42 RBI in 321 plate appearances. Among hitters who have taken at least 1,000 plate appearances since the start of the 2015 season, only 21 have put up a higher weighted on-base average than Cespedes (.368), who finds himself just ahead of Carlos Correa and just behind Corey Seager on that list.

Juan Lagares and Brandon Nimmo will share center field for the time being. Nimmo is having a big spring, putting up a .283/.361/.585 line with eight extra-base hits and 10 RBI in 61 spring plate appearances. He’s likely to bat leadoff against right-handed starters. Lagares isn’t having nearly as good a spring (.483 OPS) but will be in the lineup against lefties and will provide value with his Gold Glove-caliber defense. It’s also quite possible the Mets will trade him as they have gotten some interest lately.

Jay Bruce returns to right field after inking a three-year, $39 million contract in January. The slugger put up a solid .254/.324/.508 line last year between the Mets and Indians with 36 home runs and 101 RBI. Though he struggled – for the most part — in his first go-around with the Mets in the second half of 2016, he’s good for at least 25 home runs and 90 RBI if he can stay healthy, which the soon-to-be 31-year-old has been able to do in recent years.

New manager Mickey Callaway says he plans to use a closer-by-committee which will include Jeurys Familia, Jerry Blevins, A.J. Ramos and Anthony Swarzak. It’s a committee that could certainly have success, but Familia and Ramos are both coming off of down years and Swarzak has been slowed in spring training by a calf injury. The Mets will also have Paul Sewald, Hansel Robles, Rafael Montero, Seth Lugo, and Robert Gsellman providing help from the ‘pen. Wheeler could as well if the Mets determine he can provide more in a relief role than in a starting role.

With all their warts, the Mets do have a competitive roster. The starting rotation has the potential to be really good, led by a now-healthy Syndergaard and followed by deGrom. The offense should be a buoy in the midst of all of the other displeasing variance the Mets will likely wade through during the season. The bullpen won’t be world-beating but will likely not be a serious source of concern given their options. FanGraphs is projecting the Mets to win 82 games while PECOTA has them at 81, which means they’ll be in the mix for the NL Wild Card. That sounds about right to me, but ultimately I think they’ll fall just a bit short of .500.

Prediction: 79-83, third place in NL East.