Category Archives: Baserunners

MLB’s Home Plate Collision Rule

There has been a lot of discussion over the past few years about creating a rule to prevent collisions at home plate between runners and catchers. That rule has been put into effect for the 2014 season.

If you don’t mind reading rules in rulebook language, you can read it here. If you want to read the Standard English version, keep reading. If you want a video of me reading the Standard English version, it’s at the end.

Let’s take a look at what it says:

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).

So what can the runner not do?

He cannot lower his shoulder or push through with his hands, elbows, or arms towards the catcher.

What happens if he does initiate contact with the catcher?

First, the umpire will call the runner out. Second, the ball is dead. Third, all other runners will have to return to the last base they touched before the collision.

Does the runner have to slide?

No. Technically, this rule does not require the runner to slide as many rules in lower level of play do. As long as you don’t touch the catcher, you can still run around him or jump over him, but if you aren’t Ichiro, the best way to avoid being called out under the rule is probably by sliding.

The rule gets technical about what a slide in this situation would require:

A slide requires that a player’s buttocks or legs (if a feet-first slide) or his body (if a head-first slide) makes contact with the ground before he makes contact with the catcher.

The final part of the rule is directed at the catchers, who unless they are in possession of the ball “cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score.” If he does block the path without the ball, the runner will be safe.

Part two for the catchers:

It shall not be considered a violation… if the catcher blocks the pathway of the runner in order to field a throw, and the umpire determines that the catcher could not have fielded the ball without blocking the pathway of the runner and that contact with the runner was unavoidable.

Just like when a runner is running from first to second, if the second baseman is making a play on the ball, the fielder has the right to make the play and the runner has to get out of the way. In much the same way, the catcher here fielding a throw has the right to field the throw.

Finally, yes this type of play will be reviewable under the new instant replay rules.

All-in-all, the runner cannot initiate contact with the catcher, and while he is not required to slide under this rule, it is probably the best way to make sure you aren’t called out.


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World Series Obstruction?

The obstruction call was kind of a big deal last night:

The Play

(If that doesn’t work, try this one or this one.)

The Cardinals and Red Sox are tied 4-4 in the bottom of the 9th inning. There is one out and an 0-1 count on St. Louis’ batter, Jon Jay. Catcher Yadier Molina is on third base, and Alan Craig is on second.

The 0-1 pitch is hit to the right side, and second baseman Dustin Pedroia who is playing up on the grass makes a good throw home to Jared Saltalamacchia. At this point Jon Jay has reached first base safely on a fielder’s choice.

Saltalamacchia tags out Molina who was coming home from third base for the second out of the inning. And he immediately throws the ball down to third base to Will Middlebrooks. The throw was wide and Middlebrooks dove in an attempt to catch the ball, but he was unsuccessful and the ball rolls into left field. As Middlebrooks is diving, Craig is sliding into third base.

As Middlebrooks is lying on the ground, watching the ball go into left field, Alan Craig attempts to run home, but trips over Middlebrooks’s legs. Third base umpire Jim Joyce immediately points at the play and calls obstruction.

As we’ll see in the rule in a second, as soon as Joyce calls obstruction the ball is dead. Obviously in the mass-confusion the play continued and Craig was thrown out at home plate, and everyone within a two block radius that had facial hair ran onto the field to argue, but that was ultimately irrelevant.

The Rule

Rule 2 defines obstruction as “the act of a fielder who, while not in possession of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball, impedes the progress of any runner.”

But Middlebrooks didn’t do it on purpose!

I can see some people arguing both sides: That it was incidental contact and that Middlebrooks actually raised his feet off the ground on purpose in an attempt to do just what happened—and tangle Craig’s legs up with his. Whether it was done on purpose or not is irrelevant, there is nothing of intent in the rule, all he had to do was impede the runner’s progress. And being that Craig fell on all fours, it’s safe to say his progress was clearly impeded.

Who says Middlebrooks was not “fielding the ball”?

Who is to say that Middlebrooks wasn’t trying to get up to retrieve the ball? Wouldn’t that make him “in the act of fielding the ball”? The next part of the definition tells us that he is not.

“It is entirely up to the judgment of the umpire as to whether a fielder is in the act of fielding a ball. After a fielder has made an attempt to field a ball and missed, he can no longer be in the ‘act of fielding’ the ball.”

And as if that wasn’t enough, it goes even further: “For example: an infielder dives at a ground ball and the ball passes him and he continues to lie on the ground and delays the progress of the runner, he very likely has obstructed the runner.”

If you want to claim that Middlebrooks was fielding the ball then you could also claim that Pedroia or the right fielder was too. I mean Saltalamacchia could’ve run out to get the ball in left field, if he takes out Craig on the way so what, he was in the act of fielding! No, you have to draw the line somewhere. The rules have decreed that the line is drawn when the ball gets by you.

It’s obstruction. What’s that mean?

Well we jump to our next rule, 7.06a, which says, “When obstruction occurs, the umpire shall call or signal ‘Obstruction.’” Jim Joyce did just this when Craig fell by pointing at him.

The rule continues, “If a play is being made on the obstructed runner, which in this case it was, the ball is dead and all runners shall advance, without liability to be put out, to the bases they would have reached, in the umpire’s judgment, if there had been no obstruction.”

And it further clarifies that, “The obstructed runner shall be awarded at least one base beyond the base he had last legally touched before the obstruction.”

How is the play scored?

Because Middlebrooks was called for obstruction he is therefore charged with an error (as per rule 10.12c) on the play and Craig’s advancement from third base to home place is on the E5.

Umpires are often criticized for blowing calls, however, as we have seen, this was not one of them. This was as big of a situation as could have existed and the umpires were not only able to get the call correct, but call it as soon as the incident happened and in perfect accordance with the rules.

I can’t read, can you do a video explaining the play?

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Substituting And Eliminating The DH

A not-very-common occurrence took place at a game I was at the other day, involving the switching of defensive positions as well as the designated hitter.

The players relevant to our example are:

  • DH – Doug
  • 1B – Frank
  • C – Charles
  • P – Paul

Frank doubles late in a close game, but his manager decides to pinch run for him with a faster player off the bench named Usain. Despite Usain’s speed, the team is unable to score and jog back out to play defense in the bottom of the inning.

Based on each player’s talents, the manager decides to move Charles from catcher to first base and inserts the designated hitter Doug into the game to catch. The reason this situation rarely pops up is because moving the designated hitter to a defensive position eliminates the designated hitter from the lineup.

Per rule 6.10:

The Designated Hitter may be used defensively, continuing to bat in the same position in the batting order, but the pitcher must then bat in the place of the substituted defensive player, unless more than one substitution is made, and the manager then must designate their spots in the batting order.

This means our pinch runner, Usain, cannot simply rotate into the DH role as if it were another defensive position. The pitcher, Paul, must now bat in Frank/Usain’s spot in the order. Usain is out of the game—unless he is brought in to pitch.

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Are You Out of Your Baseline!?

There was a play last night in the Cardinals-Giants game where about 8,000 things seemed to happen back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to… you get it.

One of those things is a perfect example to illustrate the oft-misunderstood “running out of the baseline” rule.

You can watch the video here.

San Fran base runner Gregor Blanco, realizing that John Jay has just made one heck of a catch turned and ran back toward first base. Jay gets up and hurls the ball toward first base where Blanco, at first glance, seems to avoid the tag attempt from first baseman Allen Craig.

Subsequent replays have shown that Craig did tag Blanco who should have been called out. But regardless of that, should Blanco have been called out anyway for being out of the baseline?

I say the rule is often misunderstood is because most people assume the “baseline” is a straight line from one base to the next and you cannot run more than three feet on either side of it. This is not the case.

Surely you have seen a batter launch a ball into the gap and take a wide turn around first base, out into the grass in foul territory. He was way beyond three feet and nobody was complaining he wasn’t in the base line.

So what’s the rule? “Any runner is out when… He runs more than three feet away from his baseline to avoid being tagged unless his action is to avoid interference with a fielder fielding a batted ball. A runner’s baseline is established when the tag attempt occurs and is a straight line from the runner to the base he is attempting to reach safely…” (Rule 7.08a1, emphasis is mine).

To reemphasize, the line is not from base to base, but rather from runner to base. Also as it states, this rule applies only if a tag attempt is being made. Otherwise a runner is free to go anywhere on the field he wants. By the rule, a runner on first base could take his leadoff in right field.

Blanco’s baseline was established the moment Craig started moving toward him (essentially the same instant Craig caught the ball), and Blanco without question moved toward the outfield in an attempt to avoid the tag.

Blanco’s and ‘his baseline’ are established when Craig tries to tag him.

The call as to whether he went more than three feet is extremely close. Considering that Blanco is 5’11” it would be about three feet from the middle of his chest to the end of his fingers. After Blanco gets past Craig and is lying on the ground reaching for the base, he is unable to reach it. If the baseline was from base to base, he would clearly be out of the baseline and clearly should be called out. But again, it is not from base to base.

When Craig first started attempting to tag Blanco, Blanco was about a foot to the outfield side of the base-to-base line, meaning his baseline gives him about an extra foot of leeway on that side of the base. Which makes it an extremely difficult call to make when he slides past Craig and his outstretched arm is about a foot from first base.

Blanco is clearly outside the base-to-base line, but that is not the rule.

Like last week’s “outfield fly rule” call, this play is close enough that I can see how an argument could be made for either side. If I had to pick one or the other, though, I would say he was out of the baseline (his baseline, that is).

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Running Out of the Baseline

It’s often misunderstood, even for experienced players and fans as to how far a player can run out of the baseline. The confusion is not so much due to the distance (three feet on either side) as much as where the “line” is.

The rule states that as soon as a fielder attempts to tag out a runner a path is formed between the runner and the base he is attempting to advance to. The runner has three feet on each side of the line that he must stay within.

Primarily the confusion enters the situation when people think the line is formed in a straight line from base-to-base, when for the purposes of this rule it is actually from runner-to-base. This means that technically a runner can lead off a base anywhere on the field he wants stand (although he must be careful not to stray too far from a base and get picked off).

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Passing Runners and Sharing a Base

Two base running topics that pop up every once in a while, but seem to confuse everyone anyway are when two runners end up on the same base and when one runner passes another.

When two runners end up on the same base it is the lead runner that is entitled to the base; therefore the trailing runner upon being tagged shall be called out. The exception to this rule comes in the event of a runner being forced by the batter. If a player starts out on first base and remains there for whatever reason while the ball is put into play, the defense has the option to touch second base with the ball (getting the common putout) or tagging the runner.

One aspect of this rule makes it one of the oddest to think about—the out is not automatic. In the hypothetical event that two runners end up on the same base and the defense tags neither of them, then neither one is out. Pushing this situation to its extreme would allow for the bases to be filled with every runner in the lineup and allow a batter to hit a 9-run home run (Double Grand Slam? Ultra Slam?). Any defensive team that wants to win would never allow this to happen—two runners ending up on one base is essentially a free out for the defense so they would never turn it down. Also the umpire would have the option at any time to make some type of judgment to return the game to normality.

Passing Another Runner

If one runner passes another on the base path, the runner who did the passing (generally the faster runner) is the one that gets called out. It’s to his advantage to try to run back to the previous base, because as we see above if he ends up on the same base as the runner in front of him he will be out anyway.

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A companion stat to putouts is that of assists. Assists are credited to a player who have contributed to a play in which a batter or runner is putout, but is not the fielder who actually did the putting out.

For example, a groundball that is fielded by the third baseman and thrown on to the first baseman to get the force out at first base will result in the third baseman being credited for the assist (and the first baseman credited with the putout).

Credit is also given to a fielder that would have contributed to a putout had it not been for an error. For example, a groundball that is fielded by the third baseman and thrown on to the first baseman who commits an error by dropping the ball and allowing the batter to reach safely would still result in the third baseman being credited for the assist.

The final part of the rule states that an assist is also awarded to a player that assists on a play that results in a runner being called out for interference or for running out of line. This may seem redundant, but technically there are no fielders physically putting the runner out in these situations (although the closest fielder will generally receive automatic credit for the putout), so the rule book clarifies just in case there is any confusion.

The second part of the assists section clarifies three situations that are not considered assists.

First, the pitcher does not receive credit for an assist on a strikeout unless he helps to put out a runner at first base on a dropped third strike (in the event the ball bounces back to him, for example).

Next, the pitcher isn’t credited with an assist on a play that the catcher catches a runner stealing or picks a runner off. A quick throw down to the first baseman after a pitch that renders a runner with a leadoff out will see the catcher credited with an assist, but not the pitcher.

Finally, a wild throw by a fielder (whether or not it is an error) is not an assist if a runner is later put out on that play.

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