Much ado about the rules

The rules debate has played a prominent role in the 2012 postseason. With the infield fly rule controversy, players diverging from basepaths into hard collisions, many rules have come under renewed scrutiny in recent weeks. While some of this is surely the result of fans and pundits reacting to adverse outcomes locally, much of the debate provides an interesting platform to progress the game on a fundamental level.

While some rules certainly need to be implemented or abolished outright (replay), and others need to be tweaked (collisions), the question of how to approach rules on an individual basis becomes an interesting debate.

In a case like the infield fly rule, the rule, on the surface at least, seems to have a deserving place in the game. The ability to essentially force an error for the greater good of the defense with no adverse consequences tilts the game in favor of the defense by putting baserunners at their total mercy. The rationale behind it is clear.

However, one could also argue that it’s entirely within the defense’s right to do that. If the pitcher has been able to force an infield fly, the offense ought to be at the mercy of the players behind him. It’s chincy, sure, but if you don’t like it, hit it further than that and until you do, don’t complain.

An interesting example of rules which are constantly broken was raised by Tom Tango at the The Book Blog earlier this week. Mr. Tango raised the rule which states a pitcher must keep a foot on the rubber through the duration of his delivery, and produced four images of prominent pitchers who do no such thing. The interesting issue with this rule is that, if a manager or player were to consistently protest a pitcher’s delivery, eventually it would have to be enforced and the offender would be called for an illegal pitch every time he breaks the rule.

Now, in this case it would be easy enough to argue that it is a victimless crime. The difference between a pitcher dragging his foot off the rubber mid-delivery and a pitcher leaving his foot back is virtually negligible. Surely if it were anything more than semantics it would be an issue raised more often. However, it also necessitates the question of how to enforce these rules. If, in this case, the back foot is a non-issue, why keep the rule in place? Or, if it ought to be there, why not enforce it stringently?

It’s easy to go down the rulebook and pick through what we think should be changed, implemented or abolished. Instant replay surely seems to be a no-brainer at this point, even with the theoretical delays it may pose. Perhaps a limited challenge system like the one used in the NFL would do well in this context with an extra umpire—much like soccer’s additional official—brought along strictly for manning the replay booth to cut down on conference delays. If a call is worth making, surely it’s worth getting right.

Additional examples may include the two mentioned earlier, the infield fly or pitchers’ deliveries—or perhaps abolishing collisions at the plate to cut down the risk of Ray Fosse or Buster Posey calibre injuries. Many would argue that you can’t bowl over a player at any of the other corners of a diamond, and home plate should be no different.

These are issues which must be looked at closely, and there are many more out there.

While the postseason has, thus far, provided a seemingly unusual amount of controversy in this context, it is equally an opportunity to be seized by baseball brass in order to guide the game forward. The NHL has made many strides on this level with their annual Research and Development Camp, which is held each year prior to the pre-season. The camp is used as a litmus test for rule change ideas with non-NHL players, and has birthed many ideas on how to alter the game of hockey.

Perhaps it’s time for Major League Baseball to pony up and do the same if we are to avoid confusion and vitriol when the most important games of the year are to be played.

If these rules have been subject to such criticism in a relatively short period of time, it’s only a matter of time before others leave us scratching our heads. Any problem can be addressed at a press conference after it happens, but the real work ought to be done in cutting them out before they rear their heads.

What rules would you readers like to see changed, implemented or abolished?

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Comments

  1. Randy Schau said...

    Two rules:

    1) A batter shall be declared out if, during a swing, he releases his bat and it ends up in the stands.

    2) Absent deception, unnatural speedup, special circumstances, etc, a pitcher may pitch whenever he is ready to do so and it is the responsibility of the batter to be prepared; the pitch shall be declared a ball or a strike whether or not the batter is in the batter’s box.

  2. asym said...

    How about time limits on commercials during half-inning breaks?  I’ve seen innings end faster than 2 TV ads.

    As for infield fly, it’s fine.  It was called when it was apparent that the ball had peaked, the infielder was easily close enough to obtain 2 outs.  Those that scream loudest rarely have a clue.

    Instant replay?  Most blown calls are unimportant – that missed tag at second allowing the Tigers to add a run meant nothing since the Yankees never scored.  1-0 or 2-0 or 3-0 are all wins.  All those screaming about instant replay have forgotten how often their team got away with something – Jeters fake of HBP, that catch in the stands without a ball.  Umpire errors cut both ways, live with it, it’s part of the game.

  3. Paul G. said...

    The difference between a 1-0 and a 3-0 game are significant when it comes to tactics in the late innings.  Do not fall for the pre-determined outcome fallacy.  So, yes, I vote for instant replay but only if they can do it in a timely fashion.  I don’t want the manager to come out and argue, and then all the umpires to gather for a conference, and then for all the umpires to exit the field for their special booth, and then wait for them for several minutes before they finally make the call.  Five man crews with one covering the instant replay booth should work.  Other options would work as well.  Heck, playing the replay on the stadium scoreboard might suffice.

    I agree that the infield fly rule is fine as is.  However, when the ball can be caught in what is clearly the outfield by an outfielder with “ordinary effort,” it tortures the definition of “infield fly.”  The wild card game call was dubious at best as the ball was clearly in the outfield, the play was difficult for the shortstop, and the umpire called it far too late to be useful after he got fooled by the shortstop’s optimism.  I seriously doubt they could have turned a double play on that unless the runners were not paying attention which is true of any fly ball in the outfield.

    Yeah, so while I would not change the rule, I think some umpire instructions are in order.  First, infield flies should only be called my umpires in the infield.  The call was made by the left field line umpire manning an unfamiliar position.  Second, if an outfielder could just as easily make the play as the infielder and this is a ball clearly in the outfield (not some mile high pop-up), that’s not the infield.

    Also, anyone who suggests that the third-to-first pickoff move should be a balk should be immediately fired for obviously having nothing useful to do.  Anyone who suggests that the third-to-first pickoff should be a balk because lefty pitchers cannot do it should be fired for having the intelligence of a rotted banana.

  4. Yehoshua Friedman said...

    I would like to see the discontinuity in DH/no-DH between the leagues solved in the following way: a pre-game coin-toss between the managers. The winner calls for either DH or no-DH. If you have Zambrano pitching, you will call for no-DH. The managers will have to bring two lineups to home plate, adding pre-game suspense. The lopsidedness of rosters in interleague and WS play will evened out without a draconian decision of all or nothing. A team will have to decide whether they want to keep that overaged slugger around when he can DH only about half the time.

  5. bucdaddy said...

    Ban batting gloves, the source of too much fiddling around between pitches. We can then enforce this: If the batter steps out of the box with no one on base, call a strike. Second offense, same batter, he’s out, and so’s the next guy. If the pitcher doesn’t deliver to the plate w/in 12 seconds and no one on base, call a ball. Second offense in the same at bat, team at the plate gets a fourth out.

    Commercial breaks shall be limited to 60 seconds.

    No ticket anywhere in any ballpark shall cost more than $25. All unsold tickets after the first pitch shall be put on sale for $5 regardless of seat location. All rain delays of more than 90 minutes shall result in every fan still there at game’s end getting a voucher for a free ticket.

    And while I’m dreaming …

    All college football games shall begin at noon in the home team’s time zone. All college teams shall play on Saturday. All the big bowl games shall be played on New Year’s Day.

    No college basketball team may play any game, actual or exhibition, before Thanksgiving Day.

    All NFL games shall be played on Sunday, with a one-game allowance for Monday night.

    The NBA and NHL seasons shall be shortened by 20 games, minimum, and the playoffs limited to the top eight teams.

  6. Oxymoronic said...

    1) Require pitchers who step to a base with a runner on base to have to throw to that base; this eliminates the soon-to-be-illiegal fake 3rd throw to 1st move and the ridiculous inside move to 2nd base without making a throw.

    2) Treat visits by catchers to the mound the same as a visit by a coach – 2nd one in an inning requires a change; there is no need for a catcher to visit every other pitch and since there’s no penalty, no reason to think that will change.

  7. Dennis said...

    1.  No Divisions.  Top four or five teams in each league make the playoffs.
    2.  No game shall ever proceed if both Joe West and Bob Davidson are in the same umpiring crew.
    3.  If a batter makes an attempt to bunt the ball with a runner on second and nobody out, the manager shall be ejected for conduct detrimental to the game ( managing without a brain stem.)

  8. Clark Addison said...

    1:  An unsuccessful pickoff attempt shall be considered a Ball.

    2:  Any four-pitch walk is treated as a ground rule double.

    3:  Upon receiving the ball, the pitcher shall have 20 seconds to deliver the ball to home plate.

    4:  Excepting injury, the umpire shall not call time for the batter.

    Keep the game moving, and disincentivize the intentional walk (the worst play in sports).

  9. Marc Schneider said...

    I like Clark’s 3 and 4 above and Randy’s rule about bats going into the stands.  Not only should the hitter be out, but the fan should be able to keep that bat, not be given a substitute. 

    Also, while not a big deal, eliminate the dropped third strike rule; if a guy strikes out, he should be out regardless of whether the catcher catches the ball.  Of course, runners could still advance if the catcher misses the ball.

    Require relief pitchers to face at least two hitters rather than one.  This would eliminate 45 year-old left-handed specialists who come into the game for one hitter. If you can’t get guys out who hit opposite, you shouldn’t be pitching in the major leagues.

    Eliminate the September roster expansion.  It’s ridiculous to play all year with 25 players and then, in the heat of the pennant race, have 40.

  10. Mitch said...

    I concur with the dropped third strike rule, and nearly all of the above that speed up the pace of the game. To paraphrase Bill James from years ago, change the rules so they “stop screwing around and play baseball.”

    Also:

    -anytime the first 9 innings of a nationally broadcast game between the Red Sox and Yankees goes over 3.5 hours, both teams shall be declared losers, and all viewers shall be given a free subscription to MLB.tv.

    -after a two-strike count, three consecutive foul balls is recorded as a strikeout.

    -all managers and coaches, regardless of age or weight, shall be required to sprint to the mound.

    -if a pitcher pitches to a 3-0 count, then a 3-2 count, and eventually walks the batter, the pitcher shall be ejected.

  11. bucdaddy said...

    Addendum to my “dreaming” rules:

    TV timeouts shall be banned. In pro football, the two-minute warning shall be banned. Presumably, all the literate gentlemen who spent time as student-athletes in their grand universities can read a clock and know when there are two minutes left. All coaches in football and basketball shall be given one timeout per game. Using that timeout to freeze the shooter or kicker shall result in a seven-point penalty (football) and five free throws and the ball (basketball). Spiking the ball to stop the clock in football shall be a 50-yard penalty. Deliberately fouling to stop the clock in basketball shall result in the same penalty as for freezing the shooter.

    There’s no reason to take two fine, flowing, exciting games and dice up the last two minutes into three-second segments. Who thinks watching coaches coach and players shoot free throws is great TV?

  12. Paul G. said...

    Marc Schneider’s suggestion about roster expansion is a good one.  There was much bellyaching about that issue this year.  One suggestion, that Michael Kay at the YES Network repeated ad nauseum, is to allow roster expansions but force the manager to declare the 25 players eligible for the game before the game starts.  That will still allow the team to use more than 25 players in September but avoid the multitude of pitching changes and pinch runners.

  13. Marc Schneider said...

    I think it’s a bit naive to think that pro sports will ever eliminate TV timeouts, including the two-minute warning.  The two-minute warning is specifically intended to provide time for additional commercials.  That’s why you have commercials after every kickoff and punt even if there has been a commercial right before. Considering how important TV revenue is to sports leagues, it’s pie in the sky to expect that commercials will ever be reduced-although I suppose in some distant future where everything is pay on demand, it could theoretically happen, but don’t hold your breath.

    What bothers me more than the commercials, in baseball, is the constant stepping out of the box by hitters and pitchers waiting for the return of Halley’s Comet to throw the ball, especially during the playoffs.  Stay in the box and throw the ball.  I wouldn’t mind a limit on throws to first base-if you are that concerned about the runner, don’t let him get on base in the first place.

    Someone also made an interesting comment about limiting the number of foul balls after two strikes.  In the early days of baseball, they had a similar rule.  If you had that rule, it would cut Yankee-Red Sox games in half.  But I have to say, I was at the Nationals-Cardinals game a couple of weeks ago where Jason Werth hit a walk off homer after fouling off 8 or 10 pitches.  That was incredibly dramatic and exciting and I would hate to eliminate something like that.

  14. mockcarr said...

    Enforce the rule against blocking the plate (base) without the ball, that will help eliminate collisions.

    Allow the home plate umpire an earpiece signalling when Questek or similar approved pitch tracking system indicates a pitch is a strike. It can’t take any longer than McClelland to call pitches that way.

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