Jonathan Lucroy Commits the Gravest of Catcher Sins so Jake Marisnick Gets Suspended
Baseball is slowly shedding the fundamentals that made it such a fun game to watch for more than a century. First, it was the erosion of the sacrifice bunt. Second, came the sudden disappearance of its cousin, the sacrifice fly. Now we are in an age where apparently home runs are the only way to score runs. But it is not just offensive fundamentals that are falling into the abyss. Good baserunning is now the ire of Major League Baseball. The breakup slide is outlawed. So too are basic defensive fundamentals. People think, so what? Stop yelling at clouds. But there is more to this problem; the lack of fundamentals is not just something to bemoan, it is actually dangerous. Case in point, Jake Marisnick trucking Jonathan Lucroy.
It was absolutely horrible to see the Angels’ catcher leave the game on a cart with a broken nose and concussion. That much is obvious. It was also an affront to baseball when Marisnick was called out on the play. Emotion in baseball–just as in politics–makes for bad law.
With all of the talk about the injuries sustained by Lucroy and whether or not Marisnick attempted to evade (he did), there has been a conspicuous lack of chatter about what Lucroy did wrong. Now that MLB has handed Marisnick an egregiously wrong-minded two-game suspension, it is time to discuss how Lucroy literally tossed his fundamentals aside and got injured in the process.
Jonathan Lucroy Sheds His Mask and His Fundamentals
First, let’s watch the play in question:
If the above video did not make it clear, the most important piece of equipment for a catcher when it comes to protecting himself is his mask. Not the cup, not his shinguards, and definitely not the chest protector. Want to argue? Not sure why? Watch the clip again. Is Jonathan Lucroy wearing his mask on the play? No. He is not. Bad move. He put himself in harm’s way when he tossed aside his mask.
Like it is with most important things in life, there are concrete rules when it comes to the mask. I.e., basic fundamentals. The vast majority of fans think there is only one rule when it comes to catchers and their masks; take them off when the ball is in play. Nope. Incorrect. Thanks for playing and don’t forget to grab your prize as you leave.
The rules for masks are as follows for balls in play: popup (take the mask off, locate the ball, toss the mask aside in the opposite direction of popup), bunt or playable ball in front of the plate (take the mask off, and toss aside). This is where people get the idea, “always take your mask off.” If you are fielding the ball as a catcher, it is usually a good idea to do so. But the catcher is not only involved in plays where he is fielding the ball. Catchers–like Jonathan Lucroy above–are also involved in plays at the plate and other scenarios where the mask is as important as a soldier with his flak vest.
Here are the rules for masks on balls in play when the catcher is not immediately involved in fielding the ball: nobody on (shed mask, back up first), man on first (leave the mask on until certain first out is made, then backup first, otherwise stay put and keep the mask on), a man on at least second (leave the mask on, stay put), man on at least third (leave the mask on, stay put). For the majority of plays where the catcher is not directly involved in the play, the catcher is to leave his mask on.
Breaking Down How Jonathan Lucroy Ended Up in Harm’s Way
This is Catching 101. If there are men on base and you are not catching a popup or fielding a bunt, you leave the mask on. Simple as that. Did Jonathan Lucroy abandon his fundamentals and put himself in harm’s way? Oh, buddy did he. Watch the clip until the end to see how quickly he shed those fundamentals.
The reason for keeping your mask on is painfully obvious to anybody watching the clip above. Protect. Your. Face.
No mask. No face protection. Clear and present danger to the money maker. You are opening yourself up to a broken nose (check) and a possible concussion (double-check). If a runner is barreling down the line and all things go wrong–like a throw from the right fielder drifting up the line–at least you have your mask on to protect yourself. As is made blatantly clear by the yellow circles in the above video, if the mask is gone your face is exposed, and sometimes a runner cannot help but make contact with the most vulnerable part of your body; your face.
Jake Marisnick tried to avoid Jonathan Lucroy. Watch again as Marisnick jab steps towards foul territory (three-second mark in the video below) when he thinks Lucroy is shifting towards the foul side of the line.
Look at how Marisnick plants his right foot, setting him up for a move to the fair side of the line
In this still, you can see Lucroy shifting his body weight into foul territory. Marisnick thinks Lucroy is going to be in foul territory so he decides to make an inside move. But Lucroy moves up the line as the ball has a two-seam bounce and spins towards Marisnick
Now Marisnick has no options. Lucroy is giving him less time to avoid contact and Marisnick is stumbling because his trajectory is taking him directly into Lucroy. Not only that, but Marisnick is getting low because his initial thought was, “headfirst slide to the inside of the line.” He has to scrap this option in the blink of an eye or else he is putting himself in danger. And yet, Marisnick still tries to avoid Lucroy.
Look at Marisnick’s left foot. He is jab-stepping again trying to set up a spin move to foul ground or anything else where he does not make contact with Lucroy. You can tell because that is exactly what happens.
In real-time it looks like Marisnick just trucks Lucroy. However, Marisnick only makes contact with Lucroy’s head because he is trying to spin away from contact. In fact, that is exactly what happens. Marisnick spins after plowing into the face of Lucroy. There is simply no time and not enough space for the move. Marisnick was put in an impossible situation and all of his efforts to avoid contact actually brought him directly into the worst possible path. The one where Marisnick meets Lucroy’s unprotected face straight on.
The Callousness and Correctness of Saying; Jonathan Lucroy is at Fault
That is the crux of the issue, however. Into Lucroy’s unprotected face. Lucroy literally tossed aside his fundamentals. Catching 101: Leave Your Mask On For Plays at the Plate. If the mask is on, Lucroy might still have a concussion. Probably not, but there is still a chance. No broken nose though. And Marisnick probably shatters a forearm or his own face in the collision.
Fundamentals are important. Even in the baseball of 2019, fundamentals are still worthwhile. They are there to safeguard you in case everything goes wrong on a play. In case every minute detail goes against you and plants you firmly on the tracks as the train is coming through. But even MLB does not care for the fundamentals. They would rather suspend a player two games when he tried to do everything to avoid contact. As callous as it sounds, there were two players involved in the play and only one of them is to blame for Lucroy’s injuries… and it was not Jake Marisnick.