MLB testing rules change after Utley-Tejada collision
By Paul Hagen
BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Major League Baseball was already taking a look at ways to protect middle infielders before Dodgers runner Chase Utley's takeout slide fractured Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada's leg in their National League Division Series.
That play, naturally, focused even more attention on the issue. MLB chief baseball officer Joe Torre provided an update on the situation Wednesday on the final full day of the annual General Managers Meetings at the Boca Raton Resort & Club.
Torre noted that for the second straight year, MLB is experimenting with a rule in the Arizona Fall League that requires runners to slide directly into second base. He compared what's happening now to the groundswell of support for change after Giants catcher Buster Posey was seriously injured in a home-plate collision.
"Second base is similar in a lot of ways," Torre said. "So we're testing, and we're just going to have to see where we go. Basically, it's sort of tied into the neighborhood play with the replay, too, because that was based on the fact that we want to keep the infielders safe."
Discussions will continue at the Owners Meetings in Dallas next week and at the Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn., during the second week of December.
Torre said he couldn't predict whether there will be new rules in place before the 2016 season.
"I don't know," Torre said. "The one thing we don't want is to have guys carried off the field. Even though we've had a lot of criticism on the collision play at the plate, we haven't had anybody carried off the field in a couple years. And to me, that's great."
As a former player and manager, Torre recognizes that baseball is trying to strike a difficult balance.
"We're looking at it," Torre said. "Obviously, you can't lose sight of what the game is about. You don't want somebody not trying to get to second base and not trying to keep the inning going. So it's a thin line that you have to walk. That's why it's really tough to put pen to paper on this. So we'll have some discussion and see what kind of ideas would possibly work.
"[I know] you've got to break up that double play. And the way you do that is keep the guy from throwing the ball. I just thought [Utley] was a little overly aggressive. And in saying that, basically criticizing the play, because Utley was just trying to do his job. He's always been an aggressive player, Hall of Fame-type player."
Torre touched on several other topics Wednesday:
• Pace of play
MLB games were more than six minutes shorter in 2015 than the year before.
"At some of the Minor Leagues, we picked up like 15, 16 minutes. We're seeing what may work," Torre said. "And the players, once they sort of got the hang of it, they were playing along. Hopefully we can continue that. Again, it's not so much the length of the game, it's the dead time we're trying to eliminate. So we're looking at a lot of things to try to keep the game moving."
• The perception that there were increased complaints about the strike zone.
"We're talking about it based on the fact there has been a lot of conversation about it," Torre said. "We've had an awful lot of ejections over the last couple years, and a lot of that's on balls and strikes. When I pose that question to the managers, they're pretty much all in line with the fact that they've got nothing else to argue about [because of replay review]. It's such a passionate game, when you get these tight ballgames, I've never seen so many strike ones be complained about.
"I know it appears that the strike zone was different this year than last year, but it was the same. The same low strikes were called last year and this year. Before that, it was different."
• Complaints about runners sliding safely into a base only to be called out when replays show that their foot popped off the bag for a fraction of a second.
"I've talked to a number of managers about that, and in a lot of ways, they feel that's unfair," Torre said.
"When you're dealing with replay and you're dealing with technology; it is what it is. If you get that separation and the ball is on the runner, you can't ignore that. But we're going to talk about that, because there's been a lot of inquiries about is there any way we can sort of tweak the rule to keep that from happening. Because a lot of times, you're negating good baserunning."
Paul Hagen is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.