The next time you see a play at the plate, focus on the catcher’s left foot.
If the catcher’s left foot is in on the foul line or
in fair territory, he’s "showing the plate." That means the catcher is leaving the runner a clear path to the back part of home plate; no collision is required. But if the catcher is straddling the line with his left foot in foul territory, he’s "blocking the plate." The catcher is blocking the runner’s path to the plate and there’s probably going to be a collision.
Here’s what happens on a typical play at the plate:
Catchers usually come out in front of home plate, plant their left foot on the third base foul line—toes pointing toward third base—and point their right foot toward the person making the throw. This position makes sure the runner has somewhere to go; the back half of the plate is unprotected. The catcher receives the throw and then pivots to his left—toward foul territory—and attempts to tag the runner. Because he’s got a path to the plate the runner doesn’t have to collide with the catcher and the catcher doesn’t have to worry about taking a hit. Everybody knows where everybody is: the catcher’s in fair territory, the runner’s in foul territory.
Now let’s go back to the play that got this conversation started; the Buster Posey play. (If you haven’t seen it, look it up on the internet; type in "Buster Posey injury" and there it is.)
Posey positions himself out in front of home plate, but note where the throw comes from—right-center field. Throws from the right side of the field are more dangerous for a catcher than throws from the left side. If the throw is coming from left field a catcher can see the runner coming. If the throw is from the right side—and this throw came from right fielder, Nate Schierholtz—the catcher is looking away from third base and can be hit without warning.
Unfortunately for Posey the throw from Schierholtz also arrived late and hit the lip of the infield grass. If an outfielder can give the catcher a nice, long hop off the infield grass the catcher has time to adjust. Hit the lip of the infield grass—the area right before the dirt cutout around home plate—and the catcher has to stay locked onto the ball in order to field the hop; he can’t get ready for a collision. In this case Posey swiped at the ball, missed it and in the process went down on his left knee.
There are a couple things worth mentioning here: if the catcher keeps his left foot pointed toward third base, the shin guard will help protect him. But get the foot turned sideways and the leg is exposed. While trying to catch the ball Posey got turned sideways, knew the hit was coming and tried to get turned back toward third base, but he was still down on one knee. The runner—Miami’s Scott Cousins—hit Posey up around the shoulders and Posey’s left ankle got trapped and twisted underneath him as Posey fell over backward.
Afterwards, Cousins was quoted as saying he thought it was a "clean baseball play" and went on to say: "I felt like he was blocking the dish. It's the go-ahead run to win the game, I got to do whatever I can to score."
But replays show Posey was not blocking home plate. Posey started the play with his foot on the foul line and, even after going to one knee, remained out in front of the plate; Cousins had a clear path to home plate, but still ran into Posey.
And that’s how we got where we are; major league baseball does not want runners plowing into catchers when they don’t have to—especially when the catchers are All-Stars.
Nobody’s quite sure how this rule will be interpreted once games start and umpires have to start making calls, but if you want to know whether a home plate collision was the catcher’s fault or a runner going out of his way to knock someone over, focus on the catcher’s left foot.
How Alex Gordon threw out another base runner
In the fifth inning of Monday’s ballgame Detroit’s Nick Castellanos hit a single to left field. The hit came off a 77-MPH curveball thrown by James Shields. The low velocity meant that the right handed Castellanos would pull the ball down the left-field line and that meant Alex Gordon had to hustle over in that direction to field the ball.
Gordon ran a good route and here what the means: if you’re lazy and run directly to that ball you’ll be moving laterally andaway from second base when you pick it up. Running a good route means you have to expend more energy, get behind the spot where you’ll intersect the ball and then pick it up moving forward and, if at all possible, toward
Base runners—at least the good base runners—are taught to advance an extra base when the outfielder is moving away from the base the runner is headed for. If the outfielder is moving toward that base, shut it down. Nick Castellanos made a bad decision when he turned for second base; Alex Gordon has two Gold Gloves for a reason.
In the fifth inning of Monday’s game Gordon made a decent start on a third.