The New Rule Limiting Home Plate Collisions
Here from mlb.com is the new rule MLB has adopted to reduce the number of home plate collisions. The new rule does not explicitly ban home plate collisions, as collisions may occur when the catcher has possession of the ball before the arrival of the runner and then moves to block off the plate.
How the new rule will be enforced by home plate umpires remains to be seen. The new rule expressly leaves to the “judgment of the umpire” whether a base runner has “deviated from his direct pathway to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher” or the “catcher without possession of the ball, blocks the pathway of the runner.”
The former new rule clearly bars a base runner, let’s say for example Prince Fielder, intentionally trying to light up a catcher, or a catcher from making blatent attempts to block home plate before he receives the ball. However, it seems to me that most home plate collisions occur with the ball arriving to the catcher at about the same time the base runner arrives with the catcher receiving the throw immediately in front of home plate leaving little option for the base runner except to run through the catcher. It’s not at all clear whether or not these collisions will now be called a violation by either the base runner or the catcher. It may well depend on who the particular umpire it is judging the play.
The new rule contains a comment stating that in terms of whether the base runner has violated the rule, factors will include whether the base runner tries to the touch the place or lowers his shoulders or pushes through with his hands, elbow or arms when “veering toward the catcher.” Again, this seems to imply that the base runner commits no foul if he runs through a catcher so long as he maintains a straight line to home plate. Comments also state that runners who slide and catcher who leave a lane to the plate open for the base runner cannot be in violation of the rule.
The new rule sounds pretty tepid to me, and I don’t think it will prevent a majority of the home plate collisions that occur under the old rules. It seems to me that MLB and the players’ union seem to be of two minds about the problem: on one hand, there is concern about preventing injuries to runners and catchers; but on the other hand, there is a desire to keep at least some home plate collisions because they are exciting and some catchers think they have an advantage due to their ability to block the plate.