If Manfred handed me the keys, these MLB rules would be altered yesterday.
Many were skeptical about the 2023 rule changes coming to Major League Baseball, myself included. We're in late-August now, and while many baseball fans love to besmirch the name of Commissioner Rob Manfred (myself also included), it's safe to say the rules have worked. The pickoff limit has increased stolen bases, one of the more exciting parts of the game. Game times are down. Batting average is up. More people are showing up to the ballpark. The adjustment period has been shorter than most people expected.
But there's always room for improvement. America's pastime can still be modified to induce less moans and groans from players and fans alike, many of which are caused by these somewhat nonsensical rules.
Here are three MLB rules that need changing.
Runner's Lane Rule
You know a rule is bad when you're taught your entire playing career to do something that breaks the rule. Even the youngest of baseball players learn to run straight through first base when there is a play there. You hit a groundball in the infield, you put your head down and run down the line as fast as you can in an effort to beat the throw.
Except, in some cases, that's a punishable offense. By the letter of MLB law, a runner should be called out when:
In running the last half of the distance from home base to first base, while the ball is being fielded to first base, he runs outside (to the right of) the three-foot line, or inside (to the left of) the foul line, and in the umpire's judgment in so doing interferes with the fielder taking the throw at first base, in which case the ball is dead; except that he may run outside (to the right of) the three-foot line or inside (to the left of) the foul line to avoid a fielder attempting to field a batted ball;
Rule 5.09(a)(11) Comment: The lines marking the three-foot lane are a part of that lane and a batter-runner is required to have both feet within the three-foot lane or on the lines marking the lane. The batter-runner is permitted to exit the three-foot lane by means of a step, stride, reach or slide in the immediate vicinity of first base for the sole purpose of touching first base.
For the TLDR crowd, essentially, once a runner gets to the halfway point down the first base line, if there's a play at first, he must be within the two lines that run towards the bag. They form the "lane." If he's not and he interferes in any way with the throw to first, which usually would come from the pitcher or catcher in these situations, he's out.
These plays happen a handful of times per season and almost always lead to an ejection or two. In the picture above, Dustin Pedroia is expected to complete his swing, which will naturally take him a few feet towards the pitcher, then veer to the right over the next 45 feet in order to get both feet within the runner's lane, then extend his left leg to step on the bag as he's crossing it. Touching first is the only reason he can leave the runner's lane.
Dumb. Nonsensical. Get rid of this stupidity.
You should be able to run straight through first base as fast as you can (ya know, like you're taught to do since goddamn tee-ball). The runner can't diverge onto the grass or intentionally interfere with the throw on his way to first. This is an umpire judgment call that shouldn't be hard to make; the guy is obviously going to swerve right or left if he's trying to mess with the throw. MLB pitchers/catchers and first basemen are very capable of executing this play without a runner interfering. If the throw hits the runner, it's because THEY fucked up.
These types of plays should not result in the runner being called out:
Blocking the Plate
Before I go further, I'd like to make it very clear that I have a massive amount of respect for catchers. As I touched upon in our Baseball Personalities by Position article, many of my best friends on various teams I've been on have been catchers.
Having said that...
The "Buster Posey Rule" needs amending. Specifically, the second comment of Rule 7.13, which reads:
(2) Unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score. If, in the judgment of the Umpire, the catcher without possession of the ball blocks the pathway of the runner, the Umpire shall call or signal the runner safe.
Notwithstanding the above, it shall not be considered a violation of this Rule 7.13 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.
The first part of Rule 7.13 is good; basically, the runner can't go out of his way to initiate contact with the catcher. The comment above seems to make sense, only it leaves far too much of a gray area when it comes to the catcher getting into the runner's way while fielding the throw.
Seriously, what in the shit are Jonah Heim and Gary Sanchez supposed to do in these situations? How do these examples not constitute getting in the way in order to field the throw? That's supposed to be legal. This rule was enacted in 2014 in order to protect catchers, but in the process, it's made it more difficult to be a catcher.
You can either change the rule or send a memo out to umpires, telling them to watch the throw instead of the catcher. Who cares what the catcher is doing when the runner is 50+ feet away? The throw determines the position of the catcher. If, after seeing the throw, the umpire determines that the catcher fielded it where he did in order to block the plate, then fine, runner is safe. But in cases where the catcher clearly had to move in order to catch the ball and apply a tag, the runner should be out. And if what the catcher did had no bearing on the play, i.e. the runner was hosed, then he's out. He was blocking a ghost.
OR, let's just keep the part where the runner can't go looking to deck the catcher and get rid of the other stuff. This is a janky, but important, rule that is clearly hard for umpires to judge consistently.
E1 = ER
Small one here, but it's always bugged me. Even the most casual of baseball fans know that the pitcher is not held accountable for runs scored as a result of errors made in the field. Those aren't earned runs that negatively affect his ERA, those are unearned runs. So, for example, if there are two outs with a runner on third base, and the hitter hits a pop-up to the first baseman, who drops it, thus allowing the runner to score, that run does not count against the pitcher.
But what if the hitter instead hits a pop-up to the pitcher, and HE drops it. The scoring rules say this too is an unearned run. I say you're the damn pitcher and if it's you who made the mistake, you should be held accountable.
A run scored as a result of an error by the pitcher should be an earned run.