Rules Committee needs to take long look at home plate collisions
Brett Hayes' agent didn't call for a rules change. The media didn't turn Hayes' injury into a referendum on safety issues in baseball. None of that happened for Carlos Santana, either. Who is Brett Hayes? Precisely the point.
Hayes, the Marlins rookie, gave his shoulder and Santana, the Cleveland backstop, his knee last year to the hazards of catching -- and specifically, to home-plate collisions. And now that the 2010 NL Rookie of the Year has a broken leg, people want to talk about what to do about home plate collisions.
Runners have been plowing into catchers for more than a century. Only now that the rising stardom of the Giants' Buster Posey has been halted do people start questioning if these injuries are avoidable. That may not be fair to a guy like Hayes, who took an unnecessary shot from the Nationals' Nyjer Morgan last year and suffered a separated shoulder.
The first thing everybody has to do is calm down. Posey was hurt not entirely because of the collision itself, but because he happened to leave his left leg beneath his haunches after dropping the throw from the outfield. That small, inadvertent move left him vulnerable to the injury upon being pushed back.
Okay, the second thing to be done is to have the Official Playing Rules Committee study this one philosophical question: Should running into the catcher be allowed at all? Don't give me a rules change that allows such contact depending on the position of the catcher or when he has the baseball. Don't ask a speeding runner to make the split-second calculus of whether a collision is illegal or legal based on such nuances.
It's this simple really: Should the major leagues employ a "slide or avoid" rule that amateur baseball uses? The reason amateur baseball uses such a rule is for one reason: safety. Should MLB put safety above what has been the accepted risk of competing at the highest level?
That's not a question for the media to answer or for Posey's agent to answer. It's a question for the Rules Committee, which should take its time studying the issue and talking to the brightest minds in the game about it. It's an important question that deserves more than an emotional knee-jerk reaction.
The fact that running into the catcher always has been allowed is not a reason itself to keep playing this way. There was a time you could put a runner out by throwing the ball at him. There was a time when dugouts had no protective railings and screenings. There was a time when you could put tobacco juice on a ball before you pitched it.
I'm not sure what the answer is, other than this: the answer is not a rule with "conditions" attached to it. Either you allow runners to keep plowing into catchers or you adopt a slide or avoid rule.
Memorial Day is almost here, and that means one thing in Major League Baseball: Top prospects will be arriving any day. This is the favorite time of year for clubs to bring up their best prospects because, if they've done their calculations correctly, they won't accrue enough service time to be among "Super Two" players -- the few players who get four cracks at arbitration instead of three. It's a calculation that means millions in savings.
It's not entirely coincidental that over the previous three seasons, the following players all have made their debut between May 25 and June 10: Stephen Strasburg, Mike Stanton, Jose Tabata, Jake Arrieta, Matt Wieters, Andrew McCutchen, Gordon Beckham, Tommy Hanson, Clayton Kershaw, Jay Bruce and Carlos Gonzalez.
So who's next to come out of the calendar's sweet spot for promotions? Look for Brett Lawrie to be playing third base for the Blue Jays any day now -- just two years out of playing high school ball in Canada. Lawrie, 21, is tearing up the Triple-A Pacific Coast League: .337/.398/.628 at Las Vegas, with 12 homers in 46 games.
"Really, it's not about Super Two," Jays manager John Farrell said earlier this week. "We wanted him to play third base every day. He moved around before between catcher and second base, and we just wanted him to get comfortable enough at third base. If not for that, he would have been here already."
When asked if Lawrie would arrive in another week or so if only to be clear of Super Two status, Farrell said, "Maybe -- if he's not here sooner. He's been terrific. Have you seen this kid play? Just wait until you see him play. He's something special, and because he's Canadian, this will be a very big deal for us and our fans."
Last winter Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopolous finally succeeded in a year-long effort to get Lawrie when he traded pitcher Shawn Marcum to Milwaukee. Lawrie had been the Brewers' first-round pick, and 16th overall, in 2008. Lawrie has tremendous power and strength, but is also one of the fastest runners in the Toronto system. Moreover, he has "off the charts makeup," Farrell said, and plays the game extremely hard.
To be fair, many callups are not influenced by Super Two status (Cole Hamels, Tim Lincecum, Jason Heyward, Zach Britton, etc.) And Farrell made it clear that changing positions, and not service time, kept Lawrie in Las Vegas even this long. In any case, it's an exciting time of year for top prospects, which could include first baseman Anthony Rizzo of the Padres and third baseman Mike Moustakas of the Royals. The best of the bunch, though, could very well be Lawrie.
That's right, the slugfest -- at least 10 runs per side, or baseball's version of the double-double - is becoming extinct in the Era of the Pitcher. More than one-quarter of the way through the season, there has been only one game in which the losing team scored 10 runs or more. That was way back on April 1, in the second game of the season, when the White Sox beat the Indians, 15-10. It now stands as a truly aberrational game.
At this rate, we'll get four such slugfests the whole season -- which would be the fewest since 1989. Every season since then has included at least 11 double-doubles. Here are the seasons with the most double-double slugfests:
Gee, think steroids had any effect on offense? Now check out the seasons with the fewest slugfests and you'll find baseball played during wartime and the deadball era: