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  • Writer's picturemjdietz17

MLB’s Dumbest “Unwritten” Rule

Updated: Aug 19, 2020

After beating the Rangers single-handedly and jumping to the top of MLB's HR leaderboard, the fun police came for Fernando Tatis Jr.

Last week on the podcast, we talked about baseball’s unwritten rules and we mentioned how things like stealing signs, bat flips, etc can lead to pitchers dealing out some on-field justice. But one of the ones we failed to touch on might actually be the dumbest and it came up last night in the Rangers v. Padres game:

With one out and the bases loaded in the top of the 8th with the Padres winning 10-3, Fernando Tatis Jr. swung at a 3-0 'get me over' fastball from Rangers reliever Juan Nicasio and hit it out to the opposite field for a Grand Slam. For the egregious offense of swinging 3-0 when leading, the Rangers immediately threw a pitch behind San Diego’s next batter, Manny Machado. Even though the ball sailed behind Machado’s head, the umpires convened and failed to eject newly entered pitcher Ian Gibaut nor Rangers manager Chris Woodward. The umps did not even issue any warnings, which in the era of COVID seems like a complete miss. (Update: MLB has now suspended Gibaut 3 games and Woodward 1 game for this incident).

After the game, Padres manager Jayce Tingler stated he believed that pitch to be a ‘purpose pitch’ and Woodward didn’t exactly deny it. The Rangers' skipper said this,

There's a lot of unwritten rules that are constantly being challenged in today's game,” Woodward said. “I didn't like it, personally. You're up by seven [runs] in the eighth inning; it's typically not a good time to swing 3-0. It's kind of the way we were all raised in the game. But, like I said, the norms are being challenged on a daily basis, so -- just because I don't like it doesn't mean it's not right.”

I’m sorry, Chris. Did I miss the part of the game where you pulled Joey Gallo, Rougned Odor and Todd Frazier because your team was waving the white flag in the 8th inning? Did you call over to the Padres dugout and let them know your team was going to stop trying to score against the 28th ranked bullpen (by ERA) who had also just lost All-Star closer Kirby Yates for the season? This game wasn't over.

The Padres themselves came back just last year against Colorado down 11-4 entering the 8th inning. The Friars also blew a 10-run lead as recently as 2016. Seven runs is not insurmountable, because if it was, you wouldn’t have a veteran reliever like Nicasio on the mound and all of your big bats still in the game. And if the Padres were just trying to avoid a save situation and using their best relievers, 3 or 4 runs over two innings is certainly a possibility given the struggles they’ve had with their bullpen so far in 2020. Bullpen management in 2020 is key for everybody.

There are certainly cases where a purpose pitch is warranted, as I argued on the podcast. There remain situations in baseball where a plunking is probably necessary to settle a score and get teams to move on. There are even situations where I even think a ball has to be thrown at an opposing batter. But for swinging 3-0 with the bases loaded? I’m out. Now you’re just a crybaby who is mad his team is giving up too many runs.

The ”rule” can’t be that the winning team lays down before the losing team does. It can’t be that it’s acceptable to hit a HR only when trailing or winning by a little bit. Or when it’s before the 7th inning. Or when it’s a full-moon or something like that. And in a 60 game season, expecting players to give up at bats and potential statistics is asinine. And why should they take against a pitcher with two walks in an inning and in a 3-0 count??

This isn’t little league. These are well-paid, professional athletes who get a good deal of their early career earnings based on the statistics they accumulated during the season. A grand slam in a 60-game season could be the difference in Tatis winning an MVP or just having a ’very good’ year in 2020. And an MVP for a player at his age, pre-arbitration, represents a multi-million dollar difference in pay at some point. Ask Mookie Betts.

MLB’s ”unwritten rules” always pop up at the worst times and derail any kind of causal interest in the sport. You see a lot of MLB people discussing why Tatis should or shouldn’t have been swinging in that situation instead of people just talking about how awesome this kid is. Through just 107 career games, Tatis Jr. now has 33 homers and a .315/.380/.620 slash line. He just turned 21 in January.

Tatis currently is MLB career leader in Slugging Percentage at age 21 with at least 400 plate appearances. His wRC+ ranks fourth behind some slouches named Joe Jackson, Mike Trout and Jimmie Foxx. Tatis is probably the best hitting player to break into MLB at his age since Albert Pujols and, oh yeah, he’s a shortstop!

But instead of talking about all of those things and MLB’s potential next great player, we’re sitting here discussing if Tatis should have kept his bat on his shoulder and BOTH managers come out after the game and say he should have because, reasons. Tatis will probably take a ball to his ribs at some point in the future and MLB will continue to stub it’s toe because that’s what Rob Manfred’s MLB does.

I don’t care if they shorten the games by five minutes or eliminate two more mound visits a game. I care about promoting great athletes and the skill level it takes to play this game. Tatis’ accomplishment last night should have been widely celebrated, inside the clubhouses and out of it. Instead, the focus is on another 'rule' you won't find anywhere except in the minds of stodgy, old purists.

Once again, baseball just doesn’t get it.

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