The 2014 season will be interesting for catchers around Major League Baseball due to the new experimental rule involving home plate collisions.
This MLB.com story outlines the highlights of experimental rule 7.13:
* 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.
* All calls will be based on the umpire's judgment. The umpire will consider such factors as whether the runner made an effort to touch the plate and whether he lowered his shoulder or used his hands, elbows or arms when approaching the catcher.
* Runners are not required to slide, and catchers in possession of the ball are allowed to block the plate. However, runners who do slide and catchers who provide the runner with a lane will never be found in violation of the rule.
* The expanded instant replay rules, which also go into effect this season, will be available to review potential violations of Rule 7.13.
The Orioles are taking an interesting approach to the rule. They are having their catchers take throws from just behind the plate. In the past, we've seen catcher Matt Wieters often take a throw from just in front of the plate and make a backward sweep tag of a runner. With the new rule in effect this year, that is going to change.
Wieters provided this take on the O's approach to the new rule:
"The way we thought of it is there is no reason why home plate should be any different than second or third," Wieters said. "We feel we have one of the best taggers in the game in our shortstop, J.J. Hardy, so why can't we try and emulate how he tags guys at second. Everyone slides in there and no one gets hurt. Why not try and do something like that at home plate?
"This is what we've implemented and (bench coach John Russell) came up with the idea of having us stand behind the plate and we still can reach and tag anywhere around the plate. As a catcher, it actually gives you more time to read the throw and get a better hop.
"If you catch the ball in plenty of time, you can take a step forward (to block the plate) to make the tag and be sure to get them out. If not, you still have enough reach to tag them from behind the plate on a bang-bang play."
Wieters likes the new rule and admits, without naming anyone specifically, that some players have taken unnecessary shots at him back there before.
"There are guys in the game who you know are going to try and run you over, no matter the situation or the score," Wieters said. "I think that is the main thing with the rule, stopping unnecessary contact at the plate."
But, as Wieters pointed out, there still can be some contact on plays at the plate.
"If you are blocking the plate, the way the rule is now, the runner can still run over you," Wieters said. "This year, you really have to be able to protect yourself as some players are still learning the rules. An injury can happen if a catcher thinks he is not going to get hit and you still can get hit.
"From a player's standpoint, any time you can get more safety in the game, it's welcomed. But at the same time you will have to make an adjustment and figure out a way to where you can play the game at a comfortable level."
There are sure to be some plays at the plate this year that will be tough for umpires to rule on. If there is a collision, did the runner have the chance to avoid the catcher? Did the catcher block the plate at some point before he had the ball?
This rule is experimental and it's clear that baseball officials, in conjunction with the players association, reserve the right to change this rule for the 2015 season. So we'll see how it goes. Wieters, of course, is as curious as anyone.
"We'll see how it is called," he said. "You want consistency and to know, 'I can do this, I can't do this.' Until we have experience with it during the season, we may not have that."