You ever notice the newer thing where some runners have started to run through second base in certain situations – like, no slide, running straight through as if it were first base – to try to beat a throw and ensure a runner from third scores or to deny a double-play?
I recall the first time we saw it in 2022 was Nolan Gorman barreling over second base and almost taking out a Cubs middle infielder. I had no idea what he was doing and it just seemed like a needlessly dangerous thing. It was, however, a coached up strategy that we saw picking up steam by the second half of this year, including from the Cubs with Pete Crow-Armstrong on the bases.
From Crow-Armstrong, via MLB.com:
“Everybody knows the general concept of beating the ball to the spot, right?” said Cubs rookie Pete Crow-Armstrong, who tried the play on Sept. 16 in Arizona, his fourth big league game. “How I see it is: You could create contact, somehow force a fumble. And you put the pressure on the defense, seeing you go full-head-of-steam into them. I like the thought of that little added pressure. What I learned is, you’re not automatically out if you go out of the baseline after that play happens, right? You’re not out until they call you out. So it’s such a smart play if you can beat the ball there ….
“It’s funny, man, (first base coach Mike Napoli) — I’ve learned a ton from him. He goes, ‘Hey, we haven’t really talked about this yet, but if there’s a ground ball hit up the middle, you’re going through the bag running.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, I know what we’re talking about here.’ … And it literally happened the next pitch. It’s little moments like that that help me gain info and experience on future baserunning plays I’m gonna be making.”
When you pull the play off and essentially steal a run or prevent a double-play, it really does look like a genius move.
But there’s a big BUT here for me: the play just seems dangerous as hell! You’ve got a guy barreling over second base at the same time a middle infielder is trying to receive a throw from a variety of directions, frequently trying to set himself up for a throw to first base. He won’t always be off to the side in the same way a first baseman is, and one of these times, the guy is going to get absolutely trucked when neither he nor the runner can anticipate the next movement in a fraction of a second. Or a runner is going to take a throw in the face. Or an infielder is going to shred his shoulder when his arm catches the runner on the throw. Or a defender will be sprinting to the base with the ball to tag it for a force out, and he’s going to want to go right over top of the base, too, and BOOM – suddenly, both guys collide at full speed.
There are so many almost-collisions in that video up there of example plays.
I get the strategy of the play, because you’re a lot faster to the base if you don’t have to slow down to slide, and if you’re potentially going to be out no matter what – leading to a run being wiped off the board or a double-play being turned – then why not give yourself up in this way? But sometimes a play, which makes sense strategically, is just too dangerous not to be discussed by the league.
Especially when the play is probably about to get massive league-wide adoption.
“I’m sure that it’s probably league-wide and sport-wide that people are starting to take notice,” PCA told MLB.com. “We’ll probably start seeing it practiced a little bit more in Spring Training and whatnot — but that’s just speculation.”
I bet PCA is right about that, and it’s precisely why the league is ALREADY experimenting with a rule to do away with the play.
In the Arizona Fall League this year, where rules changes are frequently tested out, there is now a rule specifically to address this practice:
“There will be a rule addressing the recent trend of players running through second base on force plays. The baserunning tactic can allow a run to score from third if the runner can beat the throw by sprinting through the bag, negating the force and delaying the tag for the out. It can also technically create replay review issues in which the runner beats the throw by sprinting and is ruled safe despite having run through the bag. In the AFL, runners not intending to reach and stay on the base safely or advance to the next base will be called out.”
If your mind turns like mine, though, you can already see the loophole in that “advance to the next base” language. How about sprinting through second base and taking a nice wiiiiiide turn toward third? How much of a turn will be necessary to demonstrate that you “intended” to advance to the next base? Note the PCA video in the MLB.com article – although he went into the base at full steam, he actually rounded it off a bit to try to keep going to third (which, unpredictably in the moment, brought him even more directly into Ketel Marte). I’m not sure how you legislate that one out of the game.
I agree with MLB that this is a play that is going to need some guardrails, if not a straight up abolition. Moving quickly to test a rule in the AFL is laudable, but I have a hard time believing the competition committee is going to be able to get something workable and consistent in place for MLB Spring Training.
And if not, you should look for this play to happen a WHOLE lot around baseball in 2024 – that’s just how these things go. A team figures something out. They do it solo for a little while, and then a few other teams pick it up. An offseason later, and EVERY team is doing it.
I just hope nobody gets destroyed at second base in the process.