Baseball’s Worst Rule is Dead

11 days ago, I wrote about baseball’s new definition of a catch, and how the interpretation of the rule created some ridiculous problems for baserunners on fly balls to the outfield. Applying the transfer rule from the infield to the outfield was an unmitigated disaster, and simply made the game worse. In that piece, I guessed that, due to the slow pace of change in MLB, we would have to live with the rule for the rest of the year, and return to sanity in 2015.

In reality, though, we only had to live with the rule for those last 11 days, because according to Ken Rosenthal, MLB has already reversed course and the old definition of a catch will return to MLB in time for tonight’s games.

Starting Friday night, umpires will rule on catches the way they did in the past, using more of a common-sense approach rather than following the letter of the law, according to major-league sources.

A catch, forceout or tag will be considered legal if a fielder has control of the ball in his glove, but drops the ball after opening his glove to transfer the ball to his throwing hard, sources said. No longer will the fielder be required to successfully get the ball into his throwing hand.

This is the only reasonable definition of a catch, and kudos to MLB for fixing this so quickly. They aren’t exactly known for swift action or reasonable timelines on obvious decisions, but it took them less than a month to realize they had made a mistake and reverse course on their error. For as much grief as MLB got for changing the rule to begin with, they deserve credit for fixing it in an unexpectedly quick fashion.

I do wish we would have seen someone try the “drop the ball on purpose” play, though. Oh well.

We hoped you liked reading Baseball’s Worst Rule is Dead by Dave Cameron!

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Phil Livingston
Guest
Phil Livingston

I disagree with this. How much of an affect did the outs that were or were not made because of this rule have on the wins of said teams? What about the teams that haven’t dealt with this yet that probably would have later in the season? My opinion is that they should have waited until after the season. Although I do commend the swift action, I think this is one situation that should have been handled in the offseason.

Evan
Guest
Evan

That’s like hitting your thumb with a hammer and then deciding to hit the rest of your fingers so they don’t miss out on the experience.

MustBunique
Member
Member

Your thumb loves this line of thought, because even though it got smashed it would endure the potential of more smashings just so that fancy ring finger and all its bling just might get a taste.

No, wait! The thumb doesn’t want to get hit again, either!

Westside guy
Member
Member
Westside guy

… and then including all your toes for good measure.

Schuxu
Guest
Schuxu

Actually you feel less pain in your thumb when you hit your other fingers. So in some way this analogy supports Livingstons opinion.

Dustin
Guest
Dustin

Yes, it’s best to leave a rapist free until everyone has been f-ed. It’s only fair.

chuckb
Guest
chuckb

Rape is not a crime about sex. It’s a crime about power. Rape victims, therefore, have not had sex with their rapist. I know you weren’t meaning to imply that there was some sort of consensual act going on, but I just felt like it was important to clarify that there is a huge distinction between rape and sex.

arc
Guest
arc

This is neither the time nor the place, but despite its prevalence the “rape is about power” theory is unscientific nonsense.

…Baseball!

Dustin
Guest
Dustin

Who was talking about sex? I’m talking about getting F-ed.

Kazinski
Guest
Kazinski

Feminist theory is the opposite of sabermetrics.

Baltar
Guest
Baltar

Feminist bullshit. Rape is all about sex. Power can be one of the motivations for sex, rape or not.

The Foils
Member
Member
The Foils

Only thing dumber than some of the responses was eliciting them, Chuck.

BenRevereDoesSteroids
Member
BenRevereDoesSteroids

Chuckb,

Why did you feel it necessary to clarify something that he didn’t even bring up (being here, whether or not rape is about power)? Its like you left winged sociologist types actually have an autoreply when you see the letters R-A-P-E.

I’m not trying to tell you not to advocate feminist theory. If you want to, by all means go ahead. But when you spout out cookie cutter responses at the mere mention of a feminist trigger word, you are starting to make yourself a cheesy TV caricature of a feminist. And nobody actually likes to spend any time around those people, even if its on a Fangraphs comment section.

Yeah
Guest
Yeah

The Foils you’ve said it better than I could. Let’s keep the uglier parts of the internet out of fangraphs. Go baseball!

Spa City
Member
Member
Spa City

“Rape is about power, not about sex” is just a cliched saying that people throw around. Robbery is not about forcibly taking money… it is about exerting power over the victim. Whatever… I don’t really care – I am just bored and taking out my boredom on the internet. I’ll move on.

Guy with a little sense
Guest
Guy with a little sense

It’s inappropriate to make rape analogies. “Getting screwed” by a stupid rule is analogy enough.

Garrett's Mom
Guest
Garrett's Mom

Otters rape baby seals

Wally
Guest
Wally

Interspecies rape, whoa

Eminor3rd
Member
Member
Eminor3rd

I cannot follow this line of thinking — it seems very much like cuting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. If something is wrong and problematic and you can fix it, you fix it. Mistakes are unavoidable, the best blanket policy for mistakes is to minimize their effect. Allowing bad things to continue for the sake of consistency is insane.

Emcee Peepants
Guest
Emcee Peepants

It’s as Anne as the nose on plain’s face…

JimNYC
Guest
JimNYC

I sorta-kinda agree, and sorta-kinda don’t. Like, baseball is all about its own history, and comparing its current players to previous players — more so than any other sport — and mixing up rules does kind of prevent you from being able to make analogies across time periods.

Like, as a kid, the first “star” baseball player I learned about was Ross Barnes, because I read a chronological history of baseball and he came first. It’s a shame to have to wonder what Ross Barnes would do in a modern baseball game, since his main skill is no longer legal.

Anon21
Member
Member
Anon21

Sorry, but that’s a real dumb opinion you’ve got there, Phil. Because teams have already been screwed by the bad rule, we should keep it around until the end of the season so that it will randomly affect the outcomes of additional games? You do realize that just because the Indians (for example) were screwed once by this rule, that doesn’t give them immunity to being screwed 20 more times by the same thing over the course of the season, while the Tigers (for example) never have it affect the outcome of the game?

Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, but this is worse than usual.

Tom
Member
Tom

You know the phrase “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”? The other side of the saying has just as much wisdom. If it’s broke, fix it.

psualum
Guest
psualum

I thought it was “if it is broke, sweep it under the rug and hope it doesn’t effect a big moment in the season and then quietly change it back in the offseason without admitting wrongdoing”.

Baltar
Guest
Baltar

If it’s fixed, don’t break it.

baycommuter
Guest
baycommuter

Or you can do what the NFL did with the tuck rule, leave a stupid rule in place for 10 years because they didn’t want to admit it tainted New England’s first championship, before quietly changing it.

LaLoosh
Guest

just falls under the “you can’t satisfy everyone” category…

Jaunty Rockefeller
Guest
Jaunty Rockefeller

I think the correction was warranted, but Phil’s perspective isn’t totally looney tunes. Teams are in a zero-sum competitive environment that is given structure by the rules. A change in the rules changes the environment. You might say that the effects of the rule were felt equally by all teams, but I don’t know whether as an empirical matter that’s true, though I’d be surprised if it were. At any rate, there’s at least a non-negligible chance that the effects of the rule asymmetrically benefited or harmed certain teams. Preserving the status quo until next season reduces this chance, because the likelihood that the rule randomly benefited or harmed certain teams goes down as the number of games played goes up. Ultimately the rule was so wrongheaded that I think it undermined the integrity of the game, especially with the risk that someone like Joe Maddon would exploit the strategic opportunity pointed out by Dave. But changing rules or interpretations of rules midseason inescapably carries with it risks to the competitive environment, even if those risks are outweighed by other considerations.

MrMan
Guest
MrMan

I think eliminating the rule, so that it only affected ~15% of the games played, creates a more even playing field than keeping the rule for consistency sake.

Anon21
Member
Member
Anon21

“I think the correction was warranted, but Phil’s perspective isn’t totally looney tunes.”

Well, it kind of is, unless you have some reason to think that “outcome-swaying dropped catches” will even out over the course of a season.

“the likelihood that the rule randomly benefited or harmed certain teams goes down as the number of games played goes up.”

So too does the likelihood of the aggregate effects of the pernicious rule change swaying the outcome of one or more playoff races. At this point, probably no team has lost more than one game, net, due to the bad effects of the rule change. Keep going, and a team could drop three or four games due to the effects of the rule. Sorry, but it is crazy to insist on holding on to the wrong rule for the whole season.

Jaunty Rockefeller
Guest
Jaunty Rockefeller

I largely agree, but it’d be pretty easy to check whether the rule has had a random or systematic effect one way or the other, and what the magnitude of the effect was. Who knows, maybe a certain ump was calling it one way while all others were not, and maybe that ump worked a disproportionate number of games between divisional rivals. I doubt it, but somehow I also doubt that Joe Torre knows, either.

tz
Guest
tz

And in the grand scheme of themes, no more unfair than the impact of the unbalanced schedule on the wild-card races, or even the timing of when you play the teams in your division (playing a decent foe in April when they’re still going for it vs. in September when they’ve thrown in the towel)

IDontThinkSo...
Guest
IDontThinkSo...

I honestly cannot understand your logic as you defended a completely looney stance with one just as looney.

You both are saying hundreds of games should have had their outcomes altered on the off chance that all teams will have a roughly equal amount of games screwed up by the time the season is over. You claim this would be for the integrity of the competitive environment.

But seriously, what kind of environment do you really even have when you stubbornly have hundreds of games screwed up in desperate (and rather naive) hopes said screwed up outcomes might equally distribute over a longer period of time? Or what would you say about the integrity of the overall environment when every night the lead story is the two or three instances of this from that specific days games? You think the any environment will really survive everyone from commentators and fans to managers and players spending an entire year talking about how the suits in charge of the rule book have no clue what they are doing and are ruining the game?

Then what do you do in the playoffs? Do you spend all season with an unbelievably messed up rule that changes the outcome and affects the way players play the game (like the couple situations we saw where people were not attempting to turn two on fear they might not transfer the ball cleanly) then switch at the drop of a hat and have the rule change for the playoffs? Or do you allow the foolish rule to influence playoff games this year too?

Going into today’s games there were 331 games on the books. We have probably seen about 2 instances of this a day since the season began, which works out to about 50 games prior to this morning. If roughly correct, then 50 of 331 Games is 15% of games being affected. The thing is, at the start of play there were another 2099 games left to be played. That 15% then becomes another roughly 315 instances we should have probably expected to see the rule being a problem.

Overall that is about 360-370 times the rule would have probably come into play if left for the year. There are only 30 teams though, and 2 teams need to be on the field at the same time. Even if somehow spread perfectly evenly among them all, that becomes each team seeing roughly 24 of their games where this foolish rule, one even you admit needs to go away, would have been an issue just to make sure we didn’t change the rule in the middle of the season.

Again, how do your environment concerns stand up when it would have been expected that on average roughly 24 of each teams 162 games would see this ill-conceived rule become an issue one way or another had it stayed in place?

And all that is without even getting into the completely inevitable situation where some teams will see about 40 such games to other teams seeing in the range of 10 (162 games is way too small of a sample size to eliminate luck. In reality, we might go 5-10 years before teams truly saw a rather equal amount of such instances.)

m_pemulis
Member
m_pemulis

Everyone is hating on this guy (and his logic is certainly flawed), but you all know that if the commissioner of one of your fantasy leagues changed a rule mid-season, you’d have a fit.