Oakland GM Billy Beane has ordered his catcher, Kurt Suzuki, not to block the plate if there is going to be a collision at home. It’s been a hot topic in the league following Buster Posey’s season-ending injury last week following a collision, with many calling for reforms to the rules to protect catchers.
I think Beane’s approach, though, is how it ultimately needs to go–put it on the individual teams to decide. Plays at the plate are part of the game, though we can massage and enforce how much the catcher can block the plate before the ball arrives. You certainly cannot ask a runner to take a different approach if someone is trying to prevent them from scoring. The onus is on the catchers.
Billy Beane has decided that the potential risk of losing a front line starter at catcher is not worth the extra risk associated with potentially saving a few runs over the course of a season. Nothing is preventing Suzuki from making a tag at home after receiving a throw, Beane just doesn’t want him making a human wall in the runner’s path. How many runs do we think are actually saved over a season by the act of a catcher having a leg or body blocking the front of home plate while waiting for the ball to arrive? I’m not just talking about total plays at the plate, but rather the difference between having the catcher stand slightly to the side and make the tag rather than block. I can’t imagine the difference is more than a handful of runs per year.
I bet Beane has looked into that answer, and he doesn’t think it’s even close. In looking at Suzuki’s baseball-reference page, he has been 33, 3o, and 12 runs above replacement the last 3 years, and is 10 runs above replacement in 2011. Some might view it as anti-competitive to instruct the catcher not to engage in a tactic like blocking the plate that could potentially save any run, but organizations make decisions all the time to balance the immediate gratification of maximizing win probability in the short term, with a longer view of maximizing wins over time. This includes pitch counts, managing a bullpen and not overusing a reliever, and resting starters.
Beane’s decision on blocking the plate is no different.
[photo via Getty]