Jake Newberry

An old school baseball guy looks at baseball’s new rules – the “disengagement” rule

Growing up, I loved watching home run hitters like Mike Schmidt and Dave Kingman. I remember when the two engaged in a home run contest at Veterans Stadium. I was also there when Schmidt and teammate Greg Luzinski put together a friendly battle to see who could hit more home runs at a small ballpark in Allentown, PA back in 1977. The other guys I loved were the ones who could run. Probably because I was always the slowest kid on the field, I loved to watch runners steal bases. Lou Brock was a favorite of mine and later, Garry Maddox showed his speed on the bases and in center field and I was captivated.

Over the years, baseball has fallen out of love with stolen bases. The love affair with home runs has overcome the need for speed. Highlights show the longest of the long home runs, not the guy stealing second base.

Perhaps stolen bases are going to be more of a part of baseball going further. Consider that baseball has changed the baseballs this season and they are basically “dead.” Just ask Nick Castellanos and Rhys Hoskins who were both robbed of home runs Wednesday night in the Phillies loss to the Texas Rangers. Next, realize that in minor league baseball, the bases are now three inches larger than they used to be, which makes for six less inches between the bags. Plus, in the second half of the season, second base is moving in the minors, which will make stealing bases and going from first to third even easier.

To go along with these moves, there is a new minor league rule that addresses “disengagement.” The rule basically states that with a runner on base, the pitcher has two free chances to either pick him off or to step off the rubber – referred to as “disengage” – per plate appearance. On the third attempt, if they don’t pick the runner off, the move is declared a balk and every runner on base gets to move up. That means that at some point, the runner knows that the pitcher is somewhat limited in what they can do to hold them on, meaning they may be able to put a little more space between them and the base they are occupying.

Technically, the rule is meant to speed up the game. What is will do though is make it slightly easier to steal bases. When combined with the other changes highlighted above, it also makes stealing a little easier. There is some discussion that if the rule gains in popularity, pitchers may have just one free shot at a pick-off or stepping off before they either can’t disengage or have to pick the runner off the base. Combine these changes with the new pitch clock rule and the pitcher is somewhat limited in what he can do to affect baserunners.

Consider that the pitch clock resets when the pitcher steps off or attempts a pick-off throw, the rule will certainly speed up games since it limits the number of times they may do so. If the rule is further amended to allow just one “freebie” it would speed up the game even a little more, meaning that baseball may be all for the readjustment.

It’s too early to really tell the impact of the new disengagement rule. The Phillies are putting a new emphasis on baserunning and stealing bases throughout their minor league system.

The old school guy in me and the contemporary guy in me both like this rule. The old school guy is happy about the potential for more aggressive baserunning and base stealing in baseball. The contemporary guy in me has made peace with the fact that faster games – or better explained, a faster pace of play – is a good thing.

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