A Practical Examination of The Unwritten Rules of Baseball

8 08 2012

Baseball is sport full of “unwritten rules;” you hear about them all the time. That’s why we here at Dubsism decided to break down the most common ones to see if they really have practical applications.

Unwritten rules about etiquette:

Pitchers never show up their fielders.

This is just a matter of being a good teammate and showing respect for said teammates.  Hall-of-Famer Gaylord Perry was notorious for using drama-queen body language on the mound; he would often put his hands on his hips and stare down fielders who made errors behind him.  Position players don’t give the “evil eye” to pitchers who just served up a monster home run. There’s no excuse for showing up your own teammates.

Pitchers stay in the dugout at least until the end of the inning in which they get pulled.

Unless you either got kicked out of the ball game, or are having one of those moments where you are throwing the Gatorade cooler out on to the field, this rule is a true one. It’s really about respect for your teammates.  You can’t show that you think the game is already lost.

If one of your players gets knocked down by a pitch, retaliate.  If a pitcher hits one of your guys, your pitcher needs to hit one of theirs. 

This is all about “street justice.” Ultimately, if the guy who got hit scores, that should be revenge enough in and of itself.  As far as the “purpose pitch” is concerned, if you are leaning out over the plate, you deserve to get your tower buzzed. To that end, head-hunting is never cool (unless you are throwing at a Yankee).

When hit by a pitch, don’t rub the mark.

This one is all about intimidation.  It’s a hitter’s way of telling the pitcher that his best shot — intentional or otherwise — didn’t hurt. Pete Rose made a point of sprinting to first base after being hit, to ensure that he stripped all satisfaction from the pitcher.

Don’t admire a home run. 

This rule really is more about respect than anything else. Much like pitchers are discouraged from a lot of jumping about to celebrate a strikeout, hitters need to understand that even titanic, moon-shot homers are merely the winning of one battle in the much larger war.

Don’t step on the pitcher’s mound. 

The mound is the pitcher’s territory. They do whatever they can to landscape it such as they feel comfortable pitching from it.  Position players need to stay off of it.

Don’t stand on the dirt cutout at home plate while a pitcher is warming up. 

The area around the plate is meant only for the hitter, but  only when it is time for him to take his cuts.  If a pitcher be getting loose before an at-bat, it’s strictly off-limits.

Don’t walk in front of a catcher or umpire when getting into batter’s box. 

This is another rule that is all about respect. If the line from your dugout to the batter’s box takes you between the pitcher and the catcher, walk around them.

Don’t work the count when your team is up or down by a lot. 

This is true for both pitchers and hitters.  If the ball game has long since been decided, don’t be the fifth guy out of the bullpen trying to win a Cy Young award by nibbling on the corners; and hitters need to be swinging at anything close.  The ball game is effectively over, so let’s get it over.

Never mention a no-hitter while it’s in progress.

This may be sacrilege in baseball, but I’m not a big believer in superstitions.

Unwritten rules about the actual playing of the game:

Don’t bunt with a slugger at the plate.

Practicality Rating: 9.95

First of all, you pay big bucks for sluggers.  Not using them with runners on base is like going to a brain surgeon for a head cold.  While there are exceptions, sluggers also tend to be the slower guys on the team, so having them drop one in the infield and try to leg something out is a high-risk, low-yield proposition.   Not to mention a slugger is far more likely to to score runners with a solid fly-ball rather than with a bunt.

Don’t help the opposition make a play.

Practicality Rating: 9.9

The prime example is catching a guy falling into a dugout when he still has a chance to make the play. If the ball is in the seats and the opposing player can’t stop in time, it’s OK to keep him from killing himself. But any other time, let the opposing player beware…

Hit the ball where it’s pitched.

Practicality Rating: 9.5

Goddamn the “Mark Reynolds” era where it’s OK for a hitter to swing out of his shoes at every single pitch he sees. There’s nothing wrong with going the other way on a pitch away… if you are one of those hitters who can do it.  If not, there’s also nothing wrong with not swinging at a pitch you know you can’t hit. The only acceptable exception is protecting the plate on a two-strike count.

Don’t hit and run with an 0-2 count.

Shorten that rule to “Don’t hit and run” and you have a golden rule. The “hit and run” is the biggest scam in baseball.  The “hit and run” is a tacit admission that your team can’t score.  Not to mention, I would love to see a stat on how many “hit and runs” end in double plays. We could call it a “Gardenhire.”

Don’t swing at a 3-0 pitches.

Practicality Rating: 9.4

The only exception is if you are 100% certain you can drive the pitch out of the park, and even then if I were the manager, I might bench your ass anyway.  Here’s why.   If the pitcher misses the strike zone, you get first base el free-bo.  If he throws a strike, you pretty much know what you are going to see on 3-1.

Never give up a home run on an 0-2 count.

Practicality Rating: 9.3

This is the pitcher’s version of the immediately preceding rule. There’s almost no reason to throw a strike on an 0-2 count, because hitters are geared to swing at anything even remotely close. Grooving a pitch here only ups your odds of getting taken deep.

If you play for one run, that’s all you get.

Practicality Rating: 9.0

Unless you are the home team playing in extra innings and that one run will win the ball game, this is an exceptionally limited strategy.   This is because by playing an overly-conservative style, you reduce the pressure on the defense to field cleanly and make plays. Errors are a great friend of offense, teams should be aggressive at all times to increase the odds of errors being committed.

Never make the first or third out at third base.

Practicality Rating: 8.8

Another ruled base on some solid rationale. With two outs, runners on second are going to score on base hits anyway. With no outs, there’s no need to run yourself out of a rally.

Don’t bunt for a hit when you need a sacrifice.

Practicality Rating: 8.75

Bunts are useful tools in certain situations, but they are over-used in a godawful way.  Balls hit to the outfield give more advantages to the offense; bunting in the wrong situation just helps the defense.

Don’t play the infield in early in the game. 

Practicality Rating: 8.5

Shifting the infield inward is generally done late in games to prevent a key run from being scored, ostensibly as it makes throwing to the plate easier. However, this shift also reduces reaction time for infielders, which raises  opponents’ batting averages.  It is a risky desperation move for the late innings only.

Don’t take the bat out of your best hitter’s hands by sacrificing in front of him. 

Practicality Rating: 8.25

Opposing pitchers hate facing your best hitters with runners on base, so why do them any favors?  Give hitters in front of your stars every chance to make the pitcher sweat.  Not to mention, they will want to get those preceding hitters out, so they will see pitches on which to make contact. This is the whole concept of “protection.”

Don’t swing at the first pitch after back-to-back home runs. 

Practicality Rating: 8.5

The old-school thought is this is matter of courtesy; it’s respect for a pitcher who is clearly struggling, offering just a sliver of daylight with which to regain his senses. What crap.

First of all, you shouldn’t swing at first pitches anyway.  In an era where pitch counts rule the day, hitters should do everything they can to see as many pitches as they can.   However, with a pitcher on the ropes, swing away if it is fat.  Let him either wear himself out or keep throwing meat.

Take a strike when your club is behind in a ballgame. 

Practicality Rating: 8.25

See the immediately preceding rule. There is an advantage to making pitchers show you as many pitches as possible.  If you’re down by a few runs late in a ball game, the worst thing to do would be to swing at the first pitch you see.  Late in the ball game, the first pitch in an at-bat is rarely the best pitch to hit.

Left and right fielders concede everything to the center fielder. 

Practicality Rating: 7.75

One of the toughest things to watch on the diamond is when two outfielders run into each other trying to get a ball, as well as the opposite when both stop before it.  When such a case happens, the center fielder gets priority. They tend to be faster and have more room to cover anyway, so they’re the guy to grab that fly ball.

In rundown situations, always run the runner back toward the base from which he came

Practicality Rating: 7.25

Get the out where ever you can, and always keep an eye on other runners on base during rundowns.

With runners in scoring position and first base open, walk the number eight hitter to get to the pitcher.

Practicality Rating: 7.00

I have a philosophical objection to intentional walks, except in a few clearly delineated positions. In this case, you can generally get away with this unless you are facing a pitcher who can hit.  If there is nobody out, I’m very reluctant to intentionally walk anybody.

Never give an intentional walk if first base is occupied.

Practicality Rating: 6.5

This may sound funny it the wake of the preceding rule, but if the ball game is one the line and I’m facing a guy who is red-hot, I may put up four fingers and take my chances. I hate letting your star player beat me; he knows how to be a hero.  I’d rather make Joe Blow try to be a hero.

Never put the tying or go-ahead run on base.

Practicality Rating: 6.5

See the immediately preceding rule. I would handle them identically.

Never throw behind the runner.

Practicality Rating: 5.75

There’s times for just about anything. Ian Rodriguez made a career out of picking guys off at first by throwing behind them. But it generally a risky practice.

The leadoff hitter must be a base stealer and the designated hitter must be a power hitter.

Practicality Rating: 4.50

The idea is to put together the best line-up possible.  Build your line-up around the talent you have and not some silly unwritten rule.

Don’t use your closer in a tie game—only when you’re ahead.

Practicality Rating: 3.00

If my closer is the best bet to absolutely get three outs, and I’m in a situation with the ball game on the line, regardless of the score, why would I not use the guy who is my best bet? If I’ve got the heart of the order coming up in the 8th, and scrubs in the 9th, why not use my best guy in the 8th and let my “set-up” guy handle the 9th?

Only use your bullpen stopper in late-inning situations.

See the immediately preceding rule. What if that moment happens in the 6th inning?

Practicality Rating: 3.00

Never let the score influence the way you manage.

Practicality Rating: 2.75

In the early innings, this is true. After the sixth inning, nothing could be more false.

Don’t steal when you’re well ahead.

Practicality Rating:  2.50

If the losing team has “called off the dogs” in a blow-out, then this is an acceptable strategy.  But if the other team is still trying to win, then so should you.

Hit behind the runner at first base.

Practicality Ranking: 2.00

This is the mentality that gets you into that “hit and run” crap (See “Gardenhire”).  If I’ve got a dead pull righty slugger at the plate with a runner on first, I’m noticing the left-field seats are NOT behind the runner.

Don’t go against the percentages.

Practicality Rating: 1.25

Know what the difference is between a .350 right-handed hitter and a .235 lefty? Managers will so often change pitchers in the late inning just because the lousy hitter is a lefty.  Guess what…he’s still a .235 hitter regardless of which side of the plate he can’t hit from.

With a right-hander on the mound, don’t walk a right-handed hitter to pitch to a left-handed hitter.

Practicality Rating: 1.0

See the aforementioned rule and  my aforementioned opposition to intentional walks in general.  If you are in a position to where walking a hitter is to your advantage, then do it.

Play for the tie at home, go for the victory on the road.

Practicality Rating: 0.75

Bullshit, always go for the win if the opportunity is there.

Don’t Bunt to Break Up a No-Hitter

Practicality Rating: 0.5

Screw this…I’m doing whatever I can to win.  If its 1-0 in the 8th inning, I will sacrifice a virgin in the dugout if its gets me baserunners.

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6 responses

8 08 2012
J-Dub

Reblogged this on Sports Blog Movement.

8 08 2012
ChrisHumpherys (@SportsChump)

“If you play for one run, that’s all you get.”

I’m gonna go ahead and forward this e-mail to Joe Maddon.

8 08 2012
Jsportsfan

Intentional walks should be outlawed period. I still think they are bad for the sport. “If you play for one run, that’s all you get.” cost Whitey Herzog a couple of World Series titles in my opinion.

9 08 2012
Matt Lawton, Hero to the AAC

I used to be somewhat of a Gardenhire apologist. I mean he did have an amazing run of well above average success. In the last 2 seasons he has taken a beating over decisions, actions and strategies both large and small.

I have now gone over to the other camp – meaning that I see the general malaise seeping into the Twins everyday routines. The manager is responsible for stopping that.

1) Span gets picked off roughly 50% of the time he reaches first – yet never gets benched for it. Revere is also the superior defensive centerfielder and is put in RF.

2) Losing has become OK. I think Pavano is not the best example of “paragon of baseball righteousness” but at least he still got pissed after a losing effort.

3) Nishioka “playing” second base

4) Watch the games – how many guys besides Revere and Mastroianni run out grounders with anything approaching 100%?

I could go on and on and on and on and on…..

9 08 2012
J-Dub

I owe myself $20. I knew that the mere mention of Gardy would draw fire from somebody in Twins-land…

9 08 2012
Sam's Sports Brief

“Don’t admire a home run.”

That’s a great one, I remember at the beginning of the season, Yoenis Céspedes stared at a monster home run he hit to left field for a good three seconds and he GOT it from his teammates. As they say, “act like you’ve done it before.”

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