You know, they say the internet is a great place to post unpopular opinions based on nuanced personal beliefs, so I’m sure the following point will be warmly received: I don’t actually mind when a replay review overturns a safe call at a base when a player who beat the tag is ultimately shown to have momentarily popped off the base by a centimeter while the tag was still applied.
(Brett: Yes, that is me booing you, Michael.)
But I’m also not a heartless monster. I *do* understand the beef other fans have when that happens, and I normally do go in for the whole “spirit of the rule” argument. Challenges and replays were obviously not intended to find the split second after a player beats a throw to a base to be called out because they popped up a little bit, so it’s annoying when it happens that way (… unless the Cubs benefit, then obviously it was really smart of Javy to keep that glove on his leg all the way through the slide, right?).
For me, part of the reason I think it’s okay when the replay plays out like this is because I believe often the runner made a choice to slide in later, to get there a little sooner, despite the increased risk of popping off the bag by doing so. Why should they get the added benefit of a quicker arrival with none of the risk?
Well, fret not. No matter which way you fall on this, you might not need to worry much longer. There’s actually a solution already in the works. And we looked right over it. Or, at least, I did.
Last week, MLB announced a series of experimental rules for the 2021 Minor League season that would, among other things, examine the impacts of killing the shift, reducing pickoff attempts, instituting pitch clocks, and more at various levels of the minors. MLB is clearly eying some changes in the near future (the CBA is up after this season) and this is how you test things out without risking a big league season by mistake.
One of the rules I had given very little attention was “Larger Bases,” mostly because the reasoning provided by the league is only half the story:
Triple-A (Larger Bases): To reduce player injuries and collisions, the size of first, second and third base will be increased from 15 inches square to 18 inches square. The Competition Committee also expects the shorter distances between bases created by increased size to have a modest impact on the success rate of stolen base attempts and the frequency with which a batter-runner reaches base on groundballs and bunt attempts.
When I first read that explanation, I understood how larger bases would reduce collisions and I had assumed that the “success rate of stolen base attempts” was because of the slightly shorter distance between bases. Obviously, we were talking about a very tiny increase there, but I just assumed the reduction in collisions was the primary angle and the added stolen bases were just gravy on top. But that’s not entirely true.
“The current base, if you don’t hit the front of it and stop, you’re going through it,” Chris Marinak, MLB’s chief operations and strategy officer, told The Post on Thursday in a telephone interview. “And this base is a little more forgiving in the sense that, if you hit the front of it, hopefully there’s more catch on the base. You can actually stop on the bag without popping off. Certainly that’s one of the ideas behind it.”
“Guys really come into the bag hard,” Marinak said. “They’re trying to steal bases. They’re more athletic than they were certainly 75 years ago, or whenever that (base) was designed.”
So there you go.
If the enlarged bases make their way to the big leagues after 2021, and I do expect them to (they’re hardly the most controversial change, and the fact that they’re at Triple-A makes it even more likely), then you can expect (1) reduced collisions, and (2) slightly shorter distances between bags to better incentivize stealing, but also (3) fewer instances of the controversial challenge of a guy popping off the bag. Or, at least that’s the idea! Everybody wins!