Just a few quick things this morning, issues that have my attention right now:

Stop the Bellyaching About Replay: I can’t believe the number of people complaining about the expanded instant-replay system in the early going. I’ll confess that challenges have been considerably more frequent than I anticipated, but because a good number of them have overturned wrong calls, all that really means is that a substantial number of umpire mistakes are being corrected.

The system is not as quick or as neat as it ought to be. The farce of managers coming out to mount pseudo-arguments while their staff scrambles to determine whether a challenge is worthwhile will eventually force a shift away from the challenge model, though. In the meantime, please remember that this is better than the old status quo, however imperfect even this may be.

The Easy Fix for the Transfer Rule: A rule clarification made in the hopes of avoiding controversy even after replayed calls has ended up doing the opposite. A new interpretation of the rule governing catches of fly balls has a lot people upset. Here’s the key language:

If a fielder has made the catch and drops the ball while in the act of making a throw following the catch, the ball shall be adjudged to have been caught. In establishing the validity of the catch, the fielder shall hold the ball long enough to prove that he has complete control of the ball and that his release of the ball is voluntary and intentional.

(Source: Jason Collette, on Twitter)

That obviously contradicts itself. If the fielder has established control of the ball, is clearly in the act of transferring from glove to hand to make a throw and drops the ball, the first sentence indicates an out, but the second one says no catch.

The fix here is easy, though. They simply need to remove the final clause of the second sentence. It should read, simply, “In establishing the validity of the catch, the fielder shall hold the ball long enough to prove that he has complete control of the ball.” While the provision about release being voluntary and intentional has some use (that part isn’t meant to refer to the transfer phase, but to the catch itself), it only confuses the issue.

The rule should include some mention of exactly when “the act of making a throw following the catch” begins. I would say it’s when the hand enters the glove to grab the ball. If, as some players do, the fielder elects to flip the ball from glove to hand instead of going in after it, a dropped ball should be ruled a non-catch. That’s Little League-level instruction. You don’t flip the ball in that circumstance, lest it fall.

Two more things to clarify:

  1. If a fielder should initially appear to make a catch, but drop the ball before going into the glove with the bare hand, the result should be a call of no catch, and a dead ball. Each runner gets one base advancement. This would eliminate a problem that has drawn the ire of Dave Cameron at FanGraphs, whereby a fielder could drop the ball intentionally and throw out a confused runner on a force.
  2. A catch of a batted ball isdifferent than a catch of a throw from a teammate. We need to be able to say much sooner whether a batted ball “shall be adjudged to have been caught,” so it’s important that any ball controlled by the fielder be called a catch as soon as possible.On throws, though, and especially on double-play relays, it seems to me that dropping the ball at any point in the process likely means that thew fielder never truly controlled the ball. I would be in favor of a clarification stating that, if a shortstop dropped the ball in the course of going glove-to-hand in an attempt to turn a double play, no out would be granted.

As sticky a problem as this has been early, I think people are making too big a deal of it. The changes I list above are simple and something like them will be made very soon. In the meantime, this is actually a fairly rare issue. It’s been uncommonly common in the early going, but that may be because players are hyper-aware of the rule and are handling the ball less instinctually than usual on catches. It may also be because it’s April, and it’s cold in a lot of places, and wet in several places, and players aren’t getting the easy grip on the ball that they’re likely to get as the season wears on.

Roster Rules: Mike Matheny let Trevor Rosenthal bat with the winning run in scoring position in the 10th inning on Friday. Rosenthal is a relief pitcher, usually a one-inning guy, who had already pitched one inning. A single would have won the game for the Cardinals, who were hosting the Cubs.

Matheny, though, had few bench options: It was basically Pete Kozma or bust, and those are pretty much the same thing. So he let his pitcher bat, and not only did that pitcher make the final out of the inning, but he also allowed the Cubs to score three times in the following frame, losing the game.

That situation is one of several very good reasons that the NL needs to adopt the DH, already, but it’s also an indictment of the way too many teams think about their rosters. The norm these days is to carry just a few weak bench players, while loading your bullpen with seven one-inning arms. That paradigm robs the game of nuance and of overall quality. It’s time for MLB to seriously consider a drastic step: forcing teams to carry 11 pitchers or fewer.

Now, that’s never going to happen. For one thing, teams would just start finding ways to designate a pitcher as, for instance, a backup catcher, using him only in “emergencies” (but really, whenever they want). For another thing, the league is run by the owners; there hasn’t been a true steward of the game in the Commissioner’s chair since Fay Vincent, and Bud Selig just this side of killed him. No one at the Major League Baseball head office has any interest in restricting the freedom of teams to do anything in the name of improving the game from a purist perspective.

Still, something has to change. I love baseball dearly, and this isn’t the sort of thing that drives me away, but the increasingly creaky rosters teams tolerate are making the game less interesting, less exciting and (most of all, I think) less urgent. Matheny’s conservatism was typical; it feels less and less like most managers have the smell of blood in their nose. Nobody looks for ways to put teams away. Nobody comes to the park every day fighting off an ulcer from their last loss. Not everyone can be Sparky Anderson, but right now, too many managers are the antithesis of Anderson, and the biggest reason is that they have so little to work with at the bottoms of their rosters.

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