Chris Coghlan, the Takeout Slide Rule, and Catcher Collisions

Injuries are an unfortunate part of most physical activities, and Major League Baseball is no exception. Players tear hamstrings running, their ACLs changing directions, and hurt their shoulders and elbows throwing. To the extent possible, those involved in the game do their very best to prevent injuries. Trainers and teams go to great lengths to strengthen and stretch out players so as many injuries as possible can be prevented. Innings and pitches are monitored to try to keep pitchers healthy.

Often, we might feel like throwing our arms up in the air and declare that prevention is impossible, but teams generally try to keep their players healthy. Whether the incentive is to achieve a greater moral good or keep valuable employees productive is debatable, but whenever an injury occurs that might be prevented, it draws attention. The attention does not focus entirely on the actual injury suffered, but whether it is possible to prevent similar future injuries. Chris Coghlan’s slide on a double play — a slide which resulted in a season-ending injury to Jung-ho Kang — is an example of the type of play and injury that spurs debate.

The takeout slide has long been part of baseball. Grant Brisbee evaluates them from time to time when discussing the unwritten rules of baseball, and has cited, for example, Hal McRae’s practice of merely running over the fielder at second base without even attempting to slide. After McRae, umpires tightened up enforcement of the rules, which read (7.09(f)):

(f) If, in the judgment of the umpire, a batter-runner willfully and deliberately interferes with a batted ball or a fielder in the act of fielding a batted ball, with the obvious intent to break up a double play, the ball is dead; the umpire shall call the batter-runner out for interference and shall also call out the runner who had advanced closest to the home plate regardless where the double play might have been possible. In no event shall bases be run because of such interference.

Edit: Rule 6.05(m) is more applicable in this situation (H/T @betterrulebook), which reads,”A preceding runner shall, in the umpire?s judgment, intentionally interfere with a fielder who is attempting to catch a thrown ball or to throw a ball in an attempt to complete any play: Rule 6.05(m) Comment: The objective of this rule is to penalize the offensive team for deliberate, unwarranted, unsportsmanlike action by the runner in leaving the baseline for the obvious purpose of crashing the pivot man on a double play, rather than trying to reach the base. Obviously this is an umpire?s judgment play”

As a matter of practical application, players are generally allowed to take out the fielder so long as they are within an arms length of the bag when they slide. Under the current application of the rule, Coghlan’s slide was legal. Still, as the image below shows Coghlan was pretty far out of the baseline and that his leg was fairly high. (The image hopefully isn’t too cringeworthy — the worse, side-angle footage was purposely avoided.).

The intent of the slide is not to injure an opponent, but for to compel him to leave his feet so that any throw to first does not have the force necessary to get the runner out. It does not always work.

Although the intent of the slide might not be to cause injury, due to the nature of the play, the risk of injury is present on all takeout slides, and it does happen, both to fielders and runners. Coghlan’s slide was pretty far from the bag, but no farther than Kang himself has previously slid — and compare the height of Coghlan’s legs above to Adrian Beltre’s on this play:

This is not to say that Beltre is a dirty player or that Kang is to blame for his injury, but only to point out that, at the moment, these actions are an accepted part of baseball. While all will not agree, it seems reasonable that if injuries could be prevented without ruining the fabric of the game, rules should be implemented to do the same. The recent lesson here comes from the rules surrounding catcher collisions.

Back before the 2014 season — following a notable injury to star Buster Posey and amidst increasing awareness to concussions throughout all sports — Major League Baseball instituted experimental rules to help prevent catcher collisions. The rules touched on the main causes of catcher collisions — that is, catchers blocking home plate without the ball and runners mauling catchers regardless of their position in relation to the plate. To address these issues, MLB created two main rules:

• 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. If he does, the umpire can call him out even if the player taking the throw loses possession of the ball.

• The catcher may not block the pathway of a runner attempting to score unless he has possession of the ball. If the catcher blocks the runner before he has the ball, the umpire may call the runner safe.

It is important to note that MLB did not actually outlaw collisions at home plate. They addressed the principal causes of collisions, instructed teams on the same, and while the rule did cause some confusion in its first year, the rule appears to be by and large successful.

Unfortunately for our concern regarding the takeout slide, the same factors at home plate do not exist at a force at second base. Where the catcher can get in front of the plate once he has the ball, at second base, almost all takeout slides occur after the fielder has the ball. This makes the second option, arguably the more important and successful of the rules, untenable for takeout slides.

The first change does make a lot of sense. Others have called for changes in past years or discussed the potential for changes, and Mike Bates requested today that the first rule above also apply to the takeout slide. Colleges have already taken action. Below is Rule 8, Section 4 for NCAA baseball:

SECTION 4. The intent of the force-play-slide rule is to ensure the safety of all players. This is a safety and an interference rule. Whether the defense could have completed the double play has no bearing on the applicability of this rule. This rule pertains to a force-play situation at any base, regardless of the number of outs.

a. On any force play, the runner must slide on the ground before the base and in a direct line between the two bases. It is permissible for the slider’s momentum to carry him through the base in the baseline extended (see diagram).

Exception—A runner need not slide directly into a base as long as the runner slides or runs in a direction away from the fielder to avoid making contact or altering the play of the fielder. Interference shall not be called.

1) “On the ground” means either a head-first slide or a slide with one leg and buttock on the ground before the base.

2) “Directly into a base” means the runner’s entire body (feet, legs, trunk and arms) must stay in a straight line between the bases.

The NCAA rule goes on with a chart and explains that the runner’s momentum can carry him through the bag, that pop-up slides are legal, and that the penalty for violating the rule with or without contact is declaring both the runner and batter out. The above rule only applies to force outs so those players attempting to go for a double or steal a base can still try to avoid tags by moving their bodies wide of the bag and reaching out with their arms like on this Jason Heyward steal.

This rule will not eliminate the risk of injury entirely. The Beltre slide from above would likely still be legal. The Brett Lawrie play from earlier in the year would likely still be legal, but if it meant an automatic out, players would likely stop the type of takeout slide that hurt Kang, and it could also help prevent runner injuries as well considering the plays of Neil Walker (here) and Peter Bourjos (here). The takeout slide is not going to be eliminated, but it will not even be altered without a change to the rules. The outside the baseline, legs out swipe serves no purpose for the runner other than to impede the thrower after the out is made. Potentially injurious plays should be prevented if they have virtually no effect on how the game is played. Telling players to slide directly into the bag is an easy fix and hardly affects the game at all.

Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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7 years ago

When I saw the play live, in real time, I thought it was a clean play, and maybe its the angle, but that GIF looks pretty bad. It appears as though Coughlin can barely reach the bag, and that’s where I think his slide went too far. I’m not sure I’d want to see things go so far as you make a player slide directly into the base, but I think the NCAA rule makes allowance for the option to slide away from the defender. Can’t really make an argument against MLB adopting the NCAA rule…

7 years ago
Reply to  Rainmaker

Bruce Bochy could have Buster Posey start at shortstop today and the rule would be changed by tomorrow.

7 years ago
Reply to  Rainmaker

That GIF looks like he could totally touch the bag. There’s nothing out of the ordinary with that slide.

7 years ago
Reply to  francis

You’re right there is nothing out of the ordinary about the play, but that’s not the issue. Does it make sense to take this type of slide out of the game? Yes it does, you could still slide to avoid the tag, you can still do a pop up slide, slide all you want, but don’t slide away from the bag and into the defender causing injuries for the sake of a potential throwing error, even if you are within arms reach.