Wednesday, February 22, 2012

To block the plate or not to block the plate?

One of the hottest topics across the baseball universe as pitchers and catchers have reported is surrounding whether catchers should block the plate. The Giants suffered a major blow last season when their budding superstar Buster Posey was bowled over at home plate by outfielder Scott Cousins. As a result of the collision Posey suffered a broken leg and ligament damage that required multiple surgeries to repair the damage. The Giants offense suffered without their star and the manager of the Giants felt that changes needed to be made for 2012.
On Monday Giants manager Bruce Bochy announced that Posey would no longer be blocking the plate. He told reporters that the decision was "out of Buster's hands," and he went on to say, "As a manager, that's my job. I certainly don't want people to think he's backing off on his own. It's something we'll work on with him this spring." Bochy is a former catcher so there might be lessons he could teach his young catcher about the art of making plays at the plate.

The Twins have millions and millions of dollars tied up in their MVP catcher so the thought of Joe Mauer getting taken out at the plate is a scary thought for fans to process. Twins General Manager Terry Ryan told the Star Tribune that Mauer wouldn't be told to stop blocking the plate. The Twins claim that their All-Star catcher knows plenty of techniques to help protect himself in event of a collision. But even knowing this, there will be a collective gasp from Twins Territory every time there is a collision involving Mauer.
The debate over plays at the plate has intensified with the spotlight shining so brightly on Posey's return to the Giants. Executives from across baseball have discussed a potential rules change and it seems there are strong opinions on both sides of the issue. Regardless of all of the talk, it seems that a rule change will not be coming in the near future. Even though the play at the plate can be dangerous, it is part of the history of the game and it is very hard to make a significant change to the rules in baseball. 

After Posey's ugly injury last year, I wrote a piece about the debate over collisions at home. In that post I took a look at the history of plays at the plate. The most famous home-plate collision came in the 1970 All-Star Game when Pete Rose charged into Ray Fosse. Fosse's left shoulder was injured on the play and he, at age 23, was never the same player again.

At the end of July in 2004, the White Sox and Twins found themselves in the heat of a pennent race. That heat would turn into an all-out fire when Torii Hunter leveled White Sox catcher Jamie Burke on a play at the plate. Burke would suffer a mild concussion as a result of the hit he took at the plate. The Twins would be spirited by this play and some look at the collision as the turning point for the team on the way to their third consecutive AL Central Division Championship.
In the end the question still remains, should catchers block the plate or should they try to avoid collisions?

The moral of the story seems to be for catchers to be smart about how they go about blocking the plate. If catchers are taking the proper precautions and setting themselves up in the proper position, the risk of injury can be greatly reduced. Sometimes the speed of the play and the throw to the plate can put a catcher in a precarious position. It is important for the catcher to also know the tendencies of the runner who is coming in hard. Will that runner slide to try and avoid a tag or is that runner not planning on slowing down until he crosses the plate?

Teams like the Twins and the Giants have a lot invested in keeping their catchers off of the disabled list. The debate will continue in regards to plays at the plate but for now it looks like they are still part of the baseball world. 

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