The ‘In The Neighborhood Rule’, and Brandon Phillips.

The “In The Neighborhood’ rule….

 In baseball, there is an unwritten rule about whether or not an infielder actually needs to make contact with the base, with ball in hand, in order for a base runner to be called ‘out’. This can be seen on many double-plays in any number of given games. The intent of the ‘in the neighborhood rule’ (as it is lovingly referred to in the parlance of baseball), is to keep a defenseless infielder from sustaining an injury while a base runner comes barreling into him, or taking out his legs with what is known as a ‘take-out slide’. The injury to the infielder could be catastrophic. Picture Prince Fielder somehow thundering around first base in an attempt to stretch a single in to a double,(OK, stop laughing. It could happen…). Prince Fielder is not a small man by any means. I mean, the dude weighs 275lbs! Ok, we have that part. Now imagine that Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros is covering second base on the play. Altuve is not exactly the Incredible Hulk out there, and his tale-of-the-tape reads  5’5” and 175lbs (generously…).  Now imagine the collision that might possibly ensue. Fielder outweighs Altuve by 100lbs, and he is closing at full speed towards second base. Now imagine all 275lbs of Fielder crashing in to poor Jose Altuve’s leg. It is an ugly picture, and it is exactly why the ‘in the neighborhood rule’ exists (or doesn’t exist…). Because runners can and do slide hard into second base, and fielders trying to turn the double play can get seriously injured as a result. So, the fielders are allowed to catch a throw in the neighborhood of the second-base bag without tagging it and still draw a force out. That, my friends is the ‘in the neighborhood rule’ in a nutshell.

 There is also a reason that it called an ‘unwritten rule’. Because nowhere, and I mean NOWHERE in the baseball rules does it say that a player receiving the ball in a force-out situation, only has to be ‘in the neighborhood’ of the base for the base runner to be called out. The rule clearly states that the defensive player receiving the ball must touch the base while in possession of the ball! Many Major League umpires have been interviewed over the years, and they have all said the same thing, that this ‘rule’ does not exist…period. The umpires all say simply that the defensive player either touches the bag, or he doesn’t touch the bag, end of story. But almost every baseball fan that I know of, myself included, know that these umpires are full of pine-tar. Look at the replays! If you study them, you will see that while there are a decent percentage of 2B/SS’s who do touch the base, there are an alarming number who do not. Either way, how often do you see a second base umpire call a runner ‘safe’ because the infielder didn’t touch the base? Not many, my friends…not many. This is the ‘in the neighborhood rule’ applied.

 Now why would I bring this up? Because EXPANDED REPLAY is coming to a Major League ballpark near you very soon, and you can bet your Yogi’s that there will be an increased scrutiny over all ‘questionable’ calls, and plays involving the phantom ‘neighborhood rule’ will certainly be on the list. There will still be no arguments allowed over balls and strikes, but the question of fair or foul, HR or not, catch or trap, safe or out, ketchup or mustard, and many others are all reviewable, and this will certainly include the ‘in the neighborhood rule’ plays. There are those who believe that expanded replay will bring an end to the ridiculous practice of the ‘in the neighborhood rule’, and I fall in to that camp. The rules regarding what constitutes an out are specific and fair. If it is a rule that any other player in any other infield position must follow the rules as they are written, then why should it be OK for the rule to be not-so-much-of-of-a-rule only at second base? I am sure that there will be much more on this issue as we approach the 2014 baseball season…

Are the Reds really going to trade Brandon Phillips?

Ok, he is 32 years old. Yeah, his offensive numbers have declined some, (his .261 batting average and a .310 on-base percentage that was the lowest of his eight-year Reds’ career). For the money that he makes, his 1.7 WAR is awful. But on the positive side of the ledger, we have his 103 RBIs in 2013, and his spectacular, Gold Glove defense. The Reds want Shin-Soo Choo , apparently very badly, and they may be prepared to pay what is likely to approach the $18-million-per-year average recently received by San Francisco Giants outfielder Hunter Pence. Personally, I don’t think that Soo Choo is worth anything near that number, but the Reds seem enamored with him. As much as Phillips has been a human highlight reel on the field and at the dish for the Reds, his past contribution may not outweigh the need for change, if change is what the Reds management believes is needed to improve the club’s chances of advancing further in to the playoffs than they have done the last few seasons. That is always an issue with players that have been around for a long time. Their past contributions versus any future contributions, compounded by age and a diminishing return could potentially leave a team in a sticky situation. Where does a team draw the line on when the scale tips in favor of dealing the player, versus keeping him against the possibilities of diminishing returns? Personally, I do not want to see the Reds trade Phillips, but my favorite team has a guy named Pedroia, so I am good…This will be an ongoing topic on the hot stove this winter….

 The Cincinnati Reds situation is interesting. You have Phillips, Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Ryan Ludwick, Zach Cozart, and a bunch of other guys that make up a pretty good team. Dusty Baker is gone, perhaps not so much because the Reds, although they have made the post-season, have not gone very far, but more because perhaps another voice was needed in the clubhouse. None of the guys that I mentioned in this paragraph are ‘voice of the team’ guys. They are good, perhaps even borderline great players, but none of them are leaders. Someone needs to step up and be a leader, and Phillips is not, and never will be that guy. Phillips has supposedly upset some people in Cincinnati, and with 4 years and $50M left on his contract, the Reds could be seriously considering cutting ties. Are the Reds ready to go to Billy Hamilton as the full-time 2nd baseman?  The Baltimore Orioles could be a potential dance partner, given the free-agent status of 2B Brian Roberts and the injury status of 3B Manny Machado. The Orioles may decide to take a chance on prospect Jonathan Schoop at second  right out of the gate in 2014, but with the pop of Machado’s bat M.I.A., the Orioles would do better to trade for a proven, all-around solid player like Phillips.

 By the way, how is everyone enjoying the NLCS and ALCS this year? They have both been good series to watch, and the teams appear to be evenly matched. Both of these series will go a minimum of 6 games. This is playoff baseball like it should be!

Until next time…

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