Data calls plate-blocking rule change a win for pro baseball players

In 2014, Major League Baseball, in conjunction
with the MLB Players’ Association, instituted a controversial rule change designed to prevent
home-plate collisions. Rule 7.13 states that a runner attempting
to score may not deviate from his direct path to the plate to initiate contact with the
catcher. Similarly, the catcher cannot block the runner’s
path in his bid to score. Some players and managers were initially concerned
that the rule would alter the nature of the game. But data show that in the higher-stakes matter
of player safety, Rule 7.13 is a clear win. Using the MLB Health and Injury Tracking System,
a database recording all injuries to players in the major and minor leagues, researchers
from MLB and the MLB Players Association looked at how the 2014 rule change has altered the
profile of player injuries. Specifically, they compared the incidence
of some traumatic brain injuries, or TBIs, in the seasons prior to and after the change. A mild TBI, or concussion, is loosely defined
as any complex physiological process affecting the brain as assessed by a physician. While baseball players with mild TBI typically
return to play in 7-10 days, there is concern that repetitive impacts have the potential
for long-term consequences. Eleven mild TBIs caused by home-plate collisions
occurred annually before the rule change was made. After, that number dropped to 2 mild TBIs
per year. Meanwhile, the total number of days missed
on average due to those injuries dropped from 276 to 36 annually. And while none of the mild TBIs recorded after
the rule change was season-ending, nearly 20% of those occurring before the change were. The small number of TBIs recorded overall
might not be enough to make any definitive claims regarding that type of injury. Notably, however, the researchers witnessed
a similar trend when widening their search to any injury due to home-plate collisions:
both the annual number of injuries and the time lost to injury dropped significantly. Rule 7.13 doesn’t completely eliminate the
risk of injury. Even with the allowances runners and catchers
now give each other, injuries can and have happened. But the current study and others like it point
to the significant benefits rule changes can provide players. Collectively, they’re a testament to the
ongoing balance stewards of the game must strike between competition and safety.

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