Should MLB opt for safer bases to reduce sliding-related injuries?

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Steve Wulf has a very thought-provoking article over at ESPN in which he discusses the recent spate of diving-related injuries and possible solutions. On the list of players suffering base-related injuries are Nationals teammates Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman, Orioles third baseman Manny Machado, and Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig.

The bases, Wulf writes, haven’t always been hard:

[…] it is worth noting that the base Jack Corbett was inserting into the diamond 70 years ago was much more pliable. So was the base Pete Rose was reaching out for when he first popularized the headfirst slide. Over the years, as the convenience of rubber took precedence over the safety of canvas and plastic, the bases have become harder while the players diving and running into them have become bigger and faster.

The bases used today are known as Jack Corbett Hollywood Bases. They’re hard to move with the physical movements natural to baseball players, but easy to take away if you’re a groundskeeper.

What’s incredible is that, as far back as 40 years ago, a safer base was created and scored high marks in a two-year study performed by Dr. David Janda of the Preventive Sports Medicine Institute in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The base, called the Rogers Break Away Base, had three sections which included a base top which snapped on to rubber grommets connected to a base plate. According to the study, injuries were reduced by 98 percent and healthcare costs related to the injuries declined by 99 percent.

Why wouldn’t baseball immediately fund and implement safer bases? Two groups: umpires and groundskeepers. Umpires worry that changing the bases will affect their ability to correctly make calls. Though, with the addition of instant replay, this concern may be a moot point. Groundskeepers like the current bases because they’re very easy to pop in and out.

But umpires and groundskeepers aren’t responsible for the billions of dollars the sport generates. Fans don’t buy tickets to watch Joe West umpire or Jeffrey the Groundskeeper spritz water on the field before the game. They don’t buy jerseys with umpire Bob Davidson’s last name on the back.

Players, managers and coaches, and front office personnel all have problems with the bases as they stand now. In Wulf’s article, Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins said, “I’m all for a new base.” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said that the Hollywood Bases are “from hell as far as I’m concerned.” Rays GM Andrew Friedman said, “There’s 0 percent that the bases can’t be improved [upon].”

Per Wulf, newer, safer bases could be tested in the minor leagues or in the Arizona Fall League. Positive results and reactions could spur the joint safety committee and the MLB players association to reexamine the sport’s use of the hard base.

I’ve paraphrased a lot, but go read Wulf’s article. There’s a ton to learn in there.

Phillies walk off winners thanks to a poor decision by Marcell Ozuna

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The Phillies’ bullpen, which has not been good as of late, gift-wrapped Monday’s game for the Cardinals. Starter Nick Pivetta was brilliant, fanning 13 while allowing two runs in 7 1/3 innings. But things unraveled after he left the game. Victor Arano took over for Edubray Ramos to start the ninth inning with the Phillies leading 4-2, but he allowed a one-out single and a double. After striking out Harrison Bader, Arano appeared to strike out Yairo Munoz for the final out of the game, but the ball trickled through the legs of catcher Andrew Knapp, allowing a run to score and the tying run to move to third base. Lefty Adam Morgan came in to face pinch-hitter Kolten Wong. Wong tied the game up, sneaking a single into center field.

In the 10th inning, Jake Thompson gave up the go-ahead run on a leadoff home run to Tommy Pham. It seemed like it was just going to be another one of those losses that have become increasingly common for the Phillies lately. But the Phillies’ offense didn’t go down quietly, even though it hadn’t put a runner on second base since the start of the second inning when J.P. Crawford doubled. In the bottom half of the 10th, Hoskins blooped a single into shallow left-center to start the inning. Hoskins moved to second base on a ground out from Odubel Herrera. Matt Bowman intentionally walked Carlos Santana, then struck out Jesmuel Valentin. That brought up Aaron Altherr, who replaced Nick Williams after Williams took a baseball to the face off of the right field fence. Bowman fell behind 2-1, then threw a 90 MPH fastball that Altherr lined into left field. Rather than keep the ball in front of him, Marcell Ozuna decided to dive for the ball to make the final out, but he missed. The ball trickled past him, allowing the tying and the game-winning runs to score, giving the Phillies a come-from-behind win.

On the list of people happy to see Ozuna miss that ball are Altherr (of course), Arano, Morgan, and Thompson. But perhaps no one was happier than manager Gape Kapler. The win might help take the heat off of him somewhat after another poor performance from the bullpen. When a team struggles, everyone wants a scapegoat and Kapler is an easy target. He has been all year, undeservingly.

Phillies radio broadcaster and former major league reliever Larry Anderson said after the bullpen meltown, “Not everybody can pitch in the ninth inning. And I know Gabe Kapler thinks they can, but they can’t.” Aside from Ramos and Seranthony Dominguez (who was unavailable after throwing 52 pitches between Saturday and Sunday in Milwaukee), no one in that bullpen has been reliable. The closer, Hector Neris, just got optioned to Triple-A. You work with what you have, and right now, Kapler doesn’t have a whole lot. Thankfully for him, he wasn’t punished with another loss thanks to Ozuna.