May 2018 - Tip of the Month
"Clear The Zone"
There have been plenty of rule changes over the past few years in regards to the responsibilities of a runner and a catcher during a play at home plate. And while there is still certainly an expectation of marginal contact, the goal has always been to maintain some level of safety while giving every catcher an opportunity to make the play.
This all came to a head during a game between the Cubs and Pirates yesterday where Cubs' 1B Anthony Rizzo took out Pirates catcher Elias Diaz during an attempted double-play.
At the time, MLB ruled it a clean slide and all of the runs counted. Today, however, MLB changed their tune, referencing their own rule-book after review.
According to MLB Rule 6.01(j), a bona fide slide "occurs when the runner (1) begins his slide (i.e., makes contact with the ground) before reaching the base; (2) is able and attempts to reach the base with his hand or foot; (3) is able and attempts to remain on the base (except home plate) after completion of the slide; and (4) slides within reach of the base without changing his pathway for the purpose of initiating contact with a fielder."
It's that last part that creates the issue for Rizzo. He intentionally changed his pathway to home-plate with the intention of breaking up the play. He admitted as much in the post-game interview today as well. So, the wrong call was made and Rizzo's slide was on the border of a dirty play, but "not egregious", as MLB has said.
The issue at hand here is that, even if you consider the fact that Rizzo's slide was illegal, Diaz's approach to this play left him particularly vulnerable.
Now, I don't mind that he started behind the plate. This is something TCC teaches as well. However, you do need to be exceptionally aware of the timing during this play for that approach to work. The problem is that his body direction was more towards the 3B line and then forward towards 2B than it was away from the play and in the direction of his throw to 1B.
If he had setup on the right side behind home plate, and worked his body more towards the right 1/3 of the field, he may avoid contact here.
One other approach, which just so happens to be the one we default to in our program, is to make this play as a 1B would. The right foot on the top right-hand corner of the plate, the left just slightly in front of the plate, but non-committal in terms of body direction. We let the throw determine the direction we lunge in and come off the plate the moment the ball hits our glove. Our body will be moving forward towards the throw, but also working up the line towards 1B. We obviously need to maintain an acceptable angle inside the line to avoid hitting the runner heading to 1B, but this allows us to clear the zone more effectively. Here's an example of what this looks like.
Catchers, the most important thing to keep in mind is that it's our job to minimize the frequency that contact occurs in this situation. The runner is coming, we have to get out of the way.
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