This idea is not my own. Former Miami Marlins’ color analyst Todd Hollandsworth unveiled this lofty idea of injecting life into the game of baseball by removing home plate in a mid-September game. The broadcast team discussed the changes they would make to baseball if they were the Commissioner, with most responses revolving around the shift, the universal DH, and the new extra-inning rule. But Hollandsworth took it up a notch, proposing the most outlandish rule change I’ve ever heard: what if we remove home plate?
But…what if? I started exploring a few of the former player’s suggestions to see if this monumental change is as viable as he was arguing. As much as I didn’t want to entertain the idea, I started thinking about the ways baseball would be different and fell down the rabbit hole. I hope you’ll join me.
What If We Remove Home Plate?
I want to give you a brief recap of where the idea came from. The Marlins’ broadcast team hosts weekly segments where they pose a question to fans and discuss the responses on air. Sept. 14’s #TwitterTuesday revolved around the rule changes you’d make if you were the Commissioner of baseball. Hollandsworth introduced his idea on the pre-game show: third base is the new home plate. (You can watch the video here. His response starts around the 6:30 mark.)
Hollandsworth (T.H.) went into even more detail at the top of the sixth inning with Marlins’ play-by-play announcer Paul Severino (P.S.). Here’s what he proposed, edited slightly for length and clarity:
T.H.: I’ve always had an idea that I’ve kicked around and it answers a lot of questions. I will get right to it. You want more stolen bases, bunts, offense, strategy, and different things that are moving, here’s all you have to do, just one simple thing: you don’t have to make it all around the bases, home to home, to score a run if you eliminate 90 feet. Everything else stays the same. You want to get rid of the over-shifting, that accomplishes it. You want to get rid of that extra-inning stuff, you’re going to have more offense and you’re going to score a lot more runs. //
P.S.: So third base becomes the new home? //
T.H.: Yes, you cross third base and you’ve now scored. //
P.S.: Wow…it’s revolutionary. //
T.H.: All I’m saying is, come up with a reason outside of, ok we’ve done it this way forever, that we don’t want to do it. //
P.S.: Well you’ll admit that it fundamentally changes the entire sport? //
My Initial Reaction
I actually thought he was joking. But then he said he’s kicked this idea around for a while and detailed what “issues” this new rule would solve: the lack of bunting, for one. Todd loves bunting. It’s funny though because Hollandsworth wasn’t a prolific bunter back in his day. In his 12 big league seasons, he laid down 14 sacrifice bunts while blasting 98 home runs. But, I digress.
There are three areas I want to cover if we were to actually remove home plate: extra innings, shifts, and specific players or teams that would be affected by this rule change.
One “issue” solved by removing home plate, Hollandsworth says, is the amount of extra-inning games. This part makes sense. With an offensive boom, we might end up with fewer games that require extra innings. Before you continue reading, please know that I acknowledge that this is a flawed and futile exercise. It’s meant to be fun. Please don’t come at me in the comments.
Sticking with the Marlins, I looked at all of the team’s 17 extra-inning games from last season. I reviewed the play logs, tallied how many runners reached third base, and awarded an extra run for each runner stranded at third. If all things were equal (they aren’t, but humor me), 12 of those games would not have required extra innings. The changes in the final score were sometimes significant, sometimes not so much, but all but one of them would have ended up with the same result.
I think it’s safe to say that the current run-scoring environment would balloon after implementing this change, but I wonder if eventually the novelty would wear off and allow things to normalize.
Hollandsworth touts his radical idea as being able to solve a lot of things, but I don’t think shifting is one of them.
In talking with Zach Hayes (big thank you to Zach for indulging my questions on this bonkers idea), he agreed that shifts probably wouldn’t be impacted in the way that the Marlins’ analyst hoped. The overwhelming consensus is that teams shift based on batted ball tendencies. The strategy goes all the way back to Ted Williams in 1946 when Cleveland stationed their left fielder very shallowly and moved everyone else to the right (pull) side. More recently, batted ball data has enabled teams to confidently deploy shifts on a regular basis.
Left-handed hitters tend to be the most likely victims. The graphic below showcases how teams shift left-handed batters based on different baserunning situations:
- Left: bases empty
- Center: runner on first
- Right: other (runner on second, third, both, etc.)
If you’ll notice, the left and middle charts look a lot alike. The second baseman (orange) moves back and to his left. Some teams slide their third baseman (green) all the way around to the other side of second base, while others push their shortstop (red) there instead. Either way, the positioning is generally the same whether there are no runners on or a runner on first.
The chart on the right shows the defense has adjusted a bit, positioning the third baseman closer to the bag in order to prevent a runner on second from stealing third. This makes sense, but still, teams continue to position three infielders on the right side of second base regardless of where the baserunners are.
There may be a few situations where teams change up their positioning with a runner on first, potentially if someone with Billy Hamilton type speed is on first base with less than two outs. But if there’s a slower runner at first, there might not be a need for teams to change their strategy. Albert Pujols isn’t a threat to go first to third just because he’d now score a run.
I looked at a few different players who tend to almost always see defenses shift against them. Max Muncy usually hits behind players with speed, Trea Turner or Mookie Betts for example, but teams continue to shift him 90% of the time. Joey Gallo is also shifted a ton, 95% in 2021. If he hits a ball on the ground, the vast majority are right into the shift. He also hits behind much slower runners like Anthony Rizzo, Aaron Judge, or Giancarlo Stanton, so I think there’s even less of an incentive here.
I’m not saying the new rule will make no difference, but maybe not to the extent Hollandsworth would like. I’d even venture as far as to say that if removing home plate were to impact defensive positioning in any meaningful way, it might contribute to the innovation of shifts we’ve never seen before.
Who Would Be Affected the Most?
If runners scored once they reached third base, who would be affected the most? I’d expect fast players’ value to skyrocket. Removing home plate might highlight a new offensive superstar. Basketball has the coveted triple-double, but imagine a similar feat in baseball: double-digit triples, home runs, and stolen bases in a season. Of all active players, eight have achieved this hypothetical triple-double.
We also might see a few new names on home run leaderboards if triples become home runs. In 2021, Ozzie Albies and Bryan Reynolds would find themselves just outside the top ten. In 2020, Trea Turner would crack the list with Kyle Tucker not far behind. In 2019, Eduardo Escobar would have hit more home runs than Ronald Acuña Jr. and Nelson Cruz.
Aside from specific players, we might see certain teams benefit from the erasure of the last 90 feet. Those who play in triple-friendly ballparks (Tigers, Rockies, Cubs) would likely gain an advantage. This might leave teams like the Reds, Mariners, and White Sox pondering a stadium renovation that would lend their park to more triples.
One thing I do like about this change is that it shakes up the dynamic of what we consider a “good” baseball player to be. It allows for a variety of skills to contribute to the game we all love. What’s not to like about that?
Come up with a reason — outside of, ok we’ve done it this way forever — that we don’t want to do it.
I actually agree with this sentiment, the fact that this is the way we’ve always done it isn’t a good enough reason for why things shouldn’t change. Sure, his idea is wacky, but so are the rule changes that are being experimented with in the independent and the minor leagues. The distance from the mound to home plate changed for the first time in 128 years. Batters are allowed to steal first base. A home run derby settles games tied after nine innings. If we’ve set aside the long-standing mound-to-plate distance, not stealing first base, and playing extra-innings, what makes removing home plate any different? I’m not sure there’s a good answer.
Removing home plate is radical and silly and will probably never happen…but what if? Is it as ridiculous as it sounds? I’ll let you be the judge.