The Buster Posey Rule Had Led to A Breakdown in Catchers Protecting Themselves
On May 25, 2011, the baseball world started its precipitous slide to improve “player safety.” The impetus was Buster Posey getting positively bundled on a collision at the plate by Scott Cousins in an extra inning game. Posey broke his leg and had to miss the rest of the season. In the aftermath, baseball decided to reinterpret Rule 7.08 (b), “A runner may not run out of a direct line to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher, or any player, covering the plate.” This reinterpretation is now colloquially known as the “Buster Posey Rule.” If a player wants to score, he must stay in a direct path to home plate. Notice, it does not ban collisions at the plate, meaning collisions at the plate are still an acceptable baseball move and it actually does not matter if that is a catcher or any other member of the defense. However, like most attempts to improve player safety, the Buster Posey Rule has had unintended, and detrimental, side affects. Most notably, the average major league baseball catcher no longer has any idea how to protect themselves on a play at the plate (just like Buster Posey dramatically failed when he got injured).
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The Buster Posey Rule is back in the spotlight because Anthony Rizzo decleated Austin Hedges in a home plate collision Monday night in a game between the Cubs and Padres. Hedges did not break his leg, but is more than likely going to miss Tuesday night’s game with a thigh bruise. While Rizzo definitely deviates at the end to make contact with Hedges, Hedges does an atrocious job of protecting his body. Watch the video below
Austin Hedges; You Are Doing it Wrong
First off Don Orsillo is a broadcasting deity. Secondly, when you watch the video you will notice Hedges is waiting for the collision. Anybody that tells you a catcher is a dead duck at home plate collisions when the ball gets there before the runner is dead wrong. With the exception of plays where the runner barrels into the catcher when the ball has yet to arrive, the catcher can always protect himself and should actually be an aggressor in the collision. A catcher can, and should, deliver a tag that punches with the force of their entire body, but you will rarely see that happen in an MLB collision. Now that the most pivotal myth of baseball collisions is out of the way, let us dig into why the Buster Posey Rule has led to a collection of catchers who are asking to get pummeled at home.
Step One: Get In Front of the Plate, On the Mound Side
When it comes to this important first step, Hedges is about near perfect. You want to be out in front of the plate so as to force the runner to aim for the back side of the plate. This accomplishes two things (1) it narrows down the runner’s path so you only have to worry about him going for one portion of the plate instead of protecting the entire plate (sometimes runners do not follow the desired path as we will see) and (2) it gives you room to get your momentum going into the runner so you can prepare for the hit and deliver a blow of your own.
Step Two: Jab Step in Front of Plate with Left Foot Slightly Open, Slam and Slide Right Knee Across and Down
Well, would you look at that. We are already ready to die. This is exactly where the Buster Posey Rule is killing catchers. Now, instead of Hedges getting into a protective position and ready to uncoil like a rattlesnake, Hedges is sitting here like a prairie dog about to get murdered. Hedges did a great job catching the double bounce throw (including off of the mound, not easy). However, once he gets low to get that second bounce, he does nothing to protect himself. Rizzo (a mountain of a man) is already aiming inside for Hedges because the catcher has the ball and Rizzo wants to dislodge it (again, he’s a massive human being, the odds are there).
This above position by Hedges is asking for injury. Right leg is extended, left knee is jutted out past the hip. ANY contact here is going to hurt. Moreover, Hedges has NO MOMENTUM or defensive posture. All he is is a car on the train tracks and the old Wabash Cannonball is going full steam ahead. The Buster Posey Rule says Rizzo should be trying to avoid Hedges at all cost, and Hedges, because he thinks the rule protects him, is in about as vulnerable a position as possible. If I am Rizzo and I do not think I can avoid the tag here, I am going center mass on Hedges
Step Three: Put Hand Inside of Glove, Get in Position to Launch Out
Or… ya know… don’t. This is a pretty good catcher’s position… for blocking a curve in the dirt. Hedges here has now put himself in an awful position. The good thing here is the catcher realizes it so he tries to get as low as possible to minimize the impact and surface area for the collision. But Rizzo (a giant) is moving at full speed and has bad intentions. Hedges is relatively motionless and giving Rizzo two options: destroy me, or weakly try to slide for the outer part of the plate (again, great job by Hedges limiting where Rizzo can go). A big ol’ boy like Rizzo? Which option do you think he is taking?
Step Four: Control Ball with Bare Hand INSIDE Glove and Deliver Two-Handed Shiver While Exploding Out of Crouch
Hedges Actually does a decent job of spinning the right side of his body so as to not be completely immobile for the moment of impact. Again, the Buster Posey Rule though says Rizzo should have made a straight line for the plate. But notice the difference in open plate between pictures three and four. In the third picture there is not much of a plate to attack so Rizzo decides to attack Hedges. Hedges spins his body in the opposite direction of where he should be going. A catcher is supposed to move across and up through the baseline. Hedges crosses left and then pivots right. He had time to get into a good position, but because the Buster Posey Rule states the runner should only be going in one line, he assumes Rizzo will try to avoid the collision and does not realize he error until it is too late and he can barely do anything to protect himself.
Step Five: Deliver the Shiver
Whoops. Rizzo clearly wins this battle. Ironically, the position Hedges is in in this still is the EXACT form a catcher desires on Step Two, but on the front corner of the plate, ready to deliver a powerful hit, not ready to crumble in pain…
Step Six: Stand Over Runner Like a Linebacker Who Just Delivered Massive Hit
Step Seven: Head to Dugout and Celebrate with Teammates
So clearly I am having fun with the last two at Austin Hedges’ expense. I only laugh because I have been on the receiving end of countless collisions. Some you cannot prepare for, others, like this one, you do not have to be roadkill. But the Buster Posey Rule has produced a crop of catchers that are begging to get injured during every collision. Hedges is lucky here because he apparently only has a thigh bruise, but it could have been so much worse.
Buster Posey Was to Blame for His Own Injury
This is where people get it twisted. Because Buster Posey, a perennial All-Star, got injured six years ago, they assume it was the runner’s fault. This could not be further from the truth. Posey put himself in one of the worst positions I have ever seen a catcher undertake on the fateful play. First the video
While the video is bad, the stills are worse.
Again, Posey, just like Hedges, is in a great spot, picture perfect in fact, to begin with. Notice, he is only giving Cousins the back part of the plate and he is in a stance where he can use a quick jab step and knee slide to get into pummel position.
The throw here is only slightly off and Posey is in a decent spot, but then all hell breaks loose.
This is the step that most catchers forget to concentrate on because there is a 200+ pound human being bearing down on them. Catch. The. Ball. When catchers fail to make a clean catch, nothing but bad stuff tends to happen after on plays at the plate.
Sometimes the simplest things are the ones that save you. Posey does not look the ball into the glove. He is already turning his head to prepare for impact. He does not catch the ball and now he is at the mercy of Cousins.
In plays at the plate, the lower body is the most important factor. All of your strength in these scenarios comes from your lower half. To be low is to be good. You want to explode out of the lower crouch. Notice Posey is actually in the midst of his left leg jab step, but without the ball, Posey will soon forget all fundamentals… and Cousins is a man who needs to score.
This is really bad form from Posey. Any football coach will tell you to explode from the hips. Posey is extended past his hips and the moment of impact has yet to happen. In other words, this is one object moving at full speed and another that is overextended. This is not a good time to be Buster Posey.
Posey is stock still right here. His body is in a spot where any impact that moves his upper half backwards and towards his lower half is going to result in severe damage. Cousins (rightfully) hits Posey clean to make sure he clears him away from the plate and ensures he will score.
Cousins gets him right about shoulder height and the impact turns Posey until a pretzel. The impact results in a broken leg and a new interpretation of rules for collisions at the plate. While my body ached for Posey then, and still does to this day, Posey was the one that put himself in the bad spot. The only thing that was different was Posey got severely injured.
Nobody wants to see players injured, but sports are not inherently safe. That is part of the reason we play sports. We want to test the limits of what our bodies can do and what are bodies can take. If you have never been hurt playing sports, you did not play them hard enough. Broken bones, concussions, pulled muscles, these are all part and parcel of playing sports. Getting hurt sucks. Getting injured is even worse than that. But the feeling of accomplishment after coming back from an injury is unlike anything else.
Baseball, and other sports, are trying to regulate injury out of their pastimes. But that is to miss an integral part of their identity. Sports are inherently dangerous and part of the reason we play them. Now a standard collision at home plate has one team crying momma to Major League Baseball. Middle infielders can turn double plays without any caution. These used to be spots where games are won and lost. This past weekend Mookie Betts threw out George Springer on a play at the plate. Springer was out by roughly 15 feet and slid about eight feet in front of the plate, conceding the out. It was just a mid-June game so Springer made the right move to not contest the out more fiercely, but if Springer does that in October, I am certain fans of the Astros and fans of baseball will wonder what is happening to the sport.
People always ask “why can you barrel into a catcher at home, but not at any other base?” The answer is simple. Home is the only place where you can actually score in baseball. First, second, and third are all weigh stations on the runner’s journey home. The whole point of baseball is to score runs. One side is doing everything they can to score, the other is doing everything they can do deny that possibility. If you look in the rulebook you can actually pulverize any player that blocks home. If MLB decides that collisions are no longer going to be a part of the game, they might as well let you score a run for leaving more men on the basepaths at the end of the game. To win the game, you can to score more runs than the other team. In order to score more runs you have to get home. If you are the catcher, you better do everything in your power to make sure that does not happen. To ban collisions is to eradicate something that is the most important factor of the game itself. Scoring runs should be the hardest thing to do in baseball. If there are injuries in the pursuit of the endeavor then good, baseball is doing something right. Scoring runs and denying that possibility is the essence of baseball and should always be the hardest thing to do in the sport. It was the pugnacious and famous Leo Durocher who said it best,
“If I were playing third base and my mother were rounding third with the run that was going to beat us, I’d trip her. Oh, I’d pick her up and brush her off and say, ‘Sorry, Mom,’ but nobody beats me.”