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MLB sees dramatic increase in Catcher’s interference calls, raising concerns for player safety

Before Opening Day this season, Major League Baseball sent a memo to all 30 clubs about an increase in catcher’s interference. The number of times catchers were hit by opposing hitters’ bats was growing rapidly. There were 94 catcher’s interference calls in 2023, almost 20 more than in 2022.

The reason for this rise was that catchers were moving closer to the plate. In the age of pitch framing, teams believed that the closer a catcher is to receiving a pitch, the better chance he has to “steal” a strike.

This strategy worked well, leading catchers to move even closer to the batter’s box. However, the memo this spring warned teams to stop this practice and move catchers farther behind the plate to reduce the risk.

Despite the warning, incidents like St. Louis Cardinals catcher Willson Contreras sustaining a fractured left arm highlighted the continued risk.

Catcher’s interference calls have been increasing at a historic rate. The average number of calls from 2010 to 2018 was 31, but this year, it has already been called 33 times in less than two months.

MLB is concerned with the significant increase in interferences in 2024 compared to the same point in 2022, and the league is on pace for a record 148 catcher’s interference calls this season. The emphasis on framing the lower strike has inadvertently put catchers’ safety in jeopardy.

“The risk is high,” Cardinals manager Oli Marmol stated. “We just experienced it.”

Contreras was injured by a swing from New York Mets’ designated hitter J.D. Martinez, resulting in surgery and a projected absence of six to eight weeks. Contreras had been working on improving his framing skills, but the risk of injury remains prevalent.

The Cardinals and other teams have been moving catchers closer to the plate to gain an advantage, but this has increased the likelihood of incidents like catcher’s interference.

“The closer catchers get to the hitter, the more likely they are to get the low pitch,” Marmol explained. “You’re seeing more catchers move closer, leading to more incidents of catcher’s interference and backswings resulting in injuries.”

While teams focus on strategies to enhance framing, the risk to catchers continues to grow. Suggestions like setting physical lines behind the plate or enforcing an automated ball-strike system to mitigate the issue have been proposed, but a definitive solution remains elusive.

The importance of balancing the benefits of framing with the safety of catchers remains a challenge for teams as they navigate the evolving dynamics of the game.

— The Athletic’s Matt Gelb, Cody Stavenhagen, Aaron Gleeman, Patrick Mooney, David O’Brien and Eno Sarris contributed to this story.

(Photo of Contreras being helped off the field: Jeff Roberson / Associated Press)


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