Rising Catcher Interference in MLB: Strategy or Safety Hazard?

The Escalating Dangers of Catcher’s Interference in MLB

The art of pitch framing in Major League Baseball (MLB) is under scrutiny. An alarming increase in catcher’s interference calls is putting players at significant risk. In 2023, catcher’s interference was called 94 times, up nearly 20 from the previous year. But why is this happening, and what can be done about it?

A Risky Approach to Pitch Framing

The surge in catcher’s interference incidents is largely due to catchers moving closer to the plate. This tactic was born from the era of pitch framing, where teams deduced that a catcher’s proximity to receiving a pitch could increase the chances of ‘stealing’ a strike. However, it’s a risky strategy. The MLB has advised teams to move catchers further behind the plate to minimize the associated risks.

The Dangers are Real

The potential dangers were recently realized when Willson Contreras, the St. Louis Cardinals’ catcher, sustained a fractured left arm. Despite the MLB’s warnings, catcher’s interference calls continue to rise. This year, we’ve already seen it invoked 33 times, less than two months into the season. If this trend continues, we’re on pace for a record 148 catchers interferences this year.

The Cost of Framing the Lower Strike

While the strategy of framing the lower strike may have its advantages, it’s also inadvertently putting catchers at risk. Contreras was struck by the swing of New York Mets’ designated hitter J.D. Martinez, resulting in a six to eight-week recovery period post-surgery. The Cardinals, known for their defensive prowess, had worked extensively with Contreras to improve his pitch framing skills.

Striking a Balance

While some teams stress the low strike more than others, the increase in catcher’s interference calls is a pressing concern for all. Philadelphia Phillies manager Rob Thomson, a former catcher himself, emphasizes the importance of maintaining some distance from the plate. Self-monitoring has emerged as a viable solution, with teams like the Minnesota Twins keeping a close eye on their catcher’s position every pitch.

Addressing the Issue

As the league and MLB are fully aware of the risks, it’s crucial to find a way to reduce catcher’s interference and the inherent injury risk. Ideas range from establishing a physical line that catchers cannot cross to leveraging automated ball-strike systems. However, these potential solutions are far from perfect and need more refinement before implementation.

Looking Ahead

The rapid increase in catcher’s interference calls is a pressing issue that MLB needs to address urgently. The repercussions of this dangerous trend were starkly highlighted by Contreras’s recent injury. As the season progresses, it will be interesting to see how MLB and various teams respond to this escalating problem and what measures they implement to keep their players safe.