Over the last decade, Major League Baseball has taken steps to make the game safer for players on the field, not only instituting a seven-day disabled list for concussions but also crafting a pair of somewhat nuanced rules in order to avoid unnecessary collisions both on the pivot at second base and also at home plate.
On Monday, Anthony Rizzo seemed possibly to violate those rules, barreling to the plate in order to prevent Pirates catcher Elias Diaz from throwing to first to complete a double play. Rizzo ultimately succeeded: his collision with Diaz caused an errant throw, allowing two runners to score and turning a likely Cubs victory into a sure thing as the team went up 5-0 in eighth inning.
Did Rizzo actually do anything wrong, though? To answer that question, we actually have to consider two separate rules. To begin, let’s go with MLB’s slide rule first. The rule addresses the allowable — or, as they call it, bona fide — slide, which requires that a runner:
- Begins his slide (i.e., makes contact with the ground) before reaching the base;
- is able and attempts to reach the base with his hand or foot;
- is able and attempts to remain on the base (except home plate) after completion of the slide; and
- slides within reach of the base without changing his pathway for the purpose of initiating contact with a fielder.
Here is Rizzo’s slide.
In terms of the rules as stated, Rizzo abides by the first two conditions; as for the third part, that doesn’t apply in this situation, as the play occurs at home. Regarding the fourth condition, one sees that Rizzo does slide within reach of the base; however, he clearly changes his pathway to initiate contact with Diaz. In this case, the league agreed, confirming that a violation occurred. The gif above shows Rizzo running in foul territory down the line for most of the play before jumping into fair territory right before he reaches home plate. The gif below shows Rizzo’s first step into fair territory.
Here’s another view from behind the catcher that shows just how far into fair territory Rizzo ventured for the purpose of making contact with Diaz.
It’s difficult to get a sense of how this play compares to other similar ones, because the circumstances that facilitated it just don’t happen that often. A search of Baseball Savant for this year reveals just three successful bases-loaded double plays that started with a throw to the catcher and just eight force outs at home with the infield in. Also complicating matters is that the rule above is designed mostly to protect fielders at second base. In those situations, the thrower is facing the runner. Here, Diaz doesn’t have the benefit of having Rizzo in front of him. Whatever the case, it is hard to argue that Rizzo didn’t change direction to make contact with the fielder, which is a violation. It might not necessarily be the precise play the league imagined when crafting the slide rule, but Rizzo’s actions are still illegal under the rule as written.
Even absent a violation, it would be difficult to argue — and perhaps disingenuous to say — that the play wasn’t a dangerous one. I looked through the other 10 plays this season similar to Rizzo’s and there was just a single slide, and that one went right into the plate. While not directly applicable here because Rizzo was not trying to score, this play still violates the safety aspect of the Posey/Avila rule designed to avoid collisions. In fact, Rizzo violated the design of the Posey rule in the exact same manner as he did a year ago. Here was the collision with Austin Hedges.
Just like Sunday, Rizzo deviated from his course right near home in order to make contact with Hedges. That collision was more violent because Hedges was facing Rizzo with his knees on the ground, but Rizzo’s movement are the same. He didn’t go knee first into Diaz, but his failure to execute a proper slide is notable in both instances. The rule to avoid collisions notes what makes a proper slide.
A slide shall be deemed appropriate, in the case of a feet first slide, if the runner’s buttocks and legs should hit the ground before contact with the catcher.
Here’s what Rizzo looked like when he made contact.
Here is the view from another angle.
That’s a dangerous slide and one that would violate the Posey rule if it were applicable. It’s only not applicable because Rizzo was already out and so he instead violated a different rule. MLB, with the help of the players, has tried to make changes to avoid precisely the type of play Rizzo committed. Two plays is hardly a trend or pattern, but given Rizzo’s lack of remorse last season, it can’t be that surprising to see it happen again. Joe Torre indicated Rizzo had violated the rule, but let him off with a warning. After getting that warning last season, here’s what Rizzo said:
“I could have gone in with my shoulder like a linebacker and really took a shot,” Rizzo said. “I went in, kind of last second slide, not really sure where to go, and that’s (Torre’s) understanding of it, too.
Joe Maddon felt the same way.
I’m not going to just concede and just pay lip service to something I don’t believe in. I’m just not going to do it. So I’m really just telling you what I think. That’s what I saw. It was a good baseball play.
“That’s how you should teach your kids to slide and break up a double play — the catcher’s gotta clear a path,” Maddon said. “You have to teach proper technique. He’s gotta get out farther, he’s gotta keep his foot on the plate clear because that’s absolutely what can happen. And you know why? Because it happened to me and the same thing happened — the ball went down the right field corner. My concern there was that they were going to attempt to review it in the same way you review it at second base, whereas there’s no base sticking up that you can hold on to.
Just like he was a year ago, Maddon was wrong, and Rizzo again defended his actions immediately after the game in an interview with Jesse Rogers (Full interview here).
“Just playing hard,” Rizzo said. “Never want to try to hurt someone. They’re playing as hard as they can over there, we’re playing as hard as we can over here. You gotta break up a double play. Fortunately, we broke it up, everyone comes out healthy, but I thought it was a good play.”
At this point, why would Rizzo think otherwise? He committed a more egregious offense a year ago, was told by the league what he did was against the rules, and came away not with the sense of having been warned but of having done nothing wrong. The league backed away from enforcing the slide rule almost immediately after implementing it; however, the effect wasn’t that noticeable, as most players simply opted to comply with the rule. Compounding Rizzo’s failure to change, his manager believes the rules that have been enacted to protect players on double plays and at the plate “have no place in our game,” so Maddon likely hasn’t taken Rizzo to task to follow the rules as written.
We now have two similar, dangerous plays committed by the same player in the span of a year. A year ago, the league found Rizzo violated the rules, but ultimately he faced no consequences. While the umpiring crew ruled no violation occurred on the field, the league has said a violation occurred. Rizzo moved at the end of the play to make contact with the catcher and made that contact with the catcher with an unsafe slide that could have been incredibly harmful. The league needs to take action against Rizzo in the form of at least a fine and should probably do the same with Maddon if it wants one of the game’s premier managers to fall in line with reasonable rules to help keep players safe and prevent unnecessary injuries.
Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.