Chopcast: New home plate rules, Braves news and notes

BY foxsports • February 25, 2014

When asking Braves veteran catcher Gerald Laird about the then-prospective new rules regarding catcher-runner relations and home plate collisions last Wednesday, it became immediately obvious that any decision made by baseball would not come without second guesses. Those rules, including mandates on when a runner can collide with an opposing catcher and how much of the plate that catcher must give up when he does not have the ball, passed on Monday -- and now another of the sport's experiments begins.

And that's exactly what this is at the moment: an experiment. A one-year experiement.

Nothing is set in stone, but very little will come without controversy.

The good news: every home plate call as it pertains to the new rules will be subject to MLB's brand new instant replay system. The bad news: The instant replay system itself is still in its infancy and experimentation mode (just ask the managers or the TV networks this spring training), and there could potentiallty be a host of home plate calls, some of the most influential calls in the game as they directly influence the scoreboard, under review, especially early in the season. So just what are the new rules? Well, here's a basic four-part layout, courtesy of MLB Network:

-- A runner may not initiate contact with the catcher unless the catcher blocks the plate with possession of the ball

-- The runner will be called out if he deviates from his direct path to the plate to initiate contact with the catcher

-- The runner will be called safe if the catcher, without possession of the ball, blocks home plate

-- It will not be considered a violation if the umpire determines that the throw makes contact unavoidable

The rules are being passed in the spirit of player safety, intending to cut down on the number of collisions and protect both runners and catchers alike. Reading into the comments made across the league, it's clear the official interpretation of the rules is still to be determined and that to even get to this point took plenty of work by both baseball and the players' union. However, it will not be welcomed with open arms.

"(Collisions) are a part of the game," Laird said on Wednesday, before the rules passed. "I understand they are doing this to protect us, but how many home plate collisions are there for guys in a season? Two? Three? If that. ... It's a tough situation."

More questions and controversy are bound to arise.

For instance: How much of the plate must a catcher give up to not be considered "blocking the plate without the ball"? What constitutes a "deviation from a runner's direct path"? Can a runner just stop in his tracks if a catcher is impeding his path without the ball? If so, how far up the third-base line could that runner stop and ask for a mandatory run? If these rules are meant to promote player safety, why is the only consequence of initiating contact with a catcher not blocking the plate an out? If player safety is paramount, why are collisions allowed at all? Don't the majority of collisions take place when a catcher already has the ball or when he is pulled into the runner's path by a throw anyways?

Overall: How substantial is this change? Finite (or simply less vague) answers will not come until umpires begin making calls and split-second interpretations on the field, starting Wednesday with the first spring training games. The Chopcast team discusses the new rules -- as well the Braves' spring training rotation, Mike Minor's status, the Braves Hall of Fame inductees -- in the latest episode: 

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