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Herz: MLB needs to implement a sacrifice groundout

As a passionate baseball fan for years, there are many strong opinions I have formed about America’s pastime. Though I’ve only been alive to observe two decades of Major League Baseball, I’ve witnessed a lot of major changes in the game. For the most part, I’ve sided with the league in significant alterations, such as implementing instant replay and using a timer in between pitches.

However, there is one thing the MLB has yet to implement that I find completely ridiculous. And that is a sacrifice groundout.

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Though a sacrifice groundout does not yet exist, a sacrifice fly does and has for years. For a fly out to be considered a sacrifice fly, there has to be less than two outs in the inning, the ball has to be caught and a run has to score. The rule exists because it is assumed that the intention of the batter is to make an out in order to score a run.

Since a sacrifice fly is an intentional out and helps the hitting team, it does not count against the given batter’s batting average. Instead the hitter’s average stays the same and an RBI is awarded to him.

While a groundout can have the same exact intentions and results that a sacrifice fly does, any groundout counts against a batter’s average, even when it scores a run. Although a player still gets an RBI (unless it is a double play) this player’s batting average goes down.

This is absolutely absurd. In a sport where the best hitters of all time get out 70 percent of the time, a productive groundout should not hurt a player statistically. Especially when it can have identical intentions as a ball lofted to the outfield that scores a run.

I believe that when a runner is on third with less than two outs and a batter hits a ground ball that successfully scores a run, it should be considered a sacrifice groundout. As a result, it should not negatively impact a batter’s batting average.

This is a necessary rule change. Frankly, it’s surprising that it doesn’t already exist. For example, if a batter steps up to the plate with one out and a man on third, the goal is to score the runner from third. The fielding team has decently similar odds on making an out whether the hitter intentionally hits a slow roller to the right side or a pop fly to the outfield. A ball hit to the outfield in this situation is just as much intentional as putting the ball in play on the ground in order to score a run.

If one were to bunt in this situation, it very well could be counted as a sacrifice bunt and not negatively affect a batter’s average. As opposed to a bunt that rolls a few feet from the batter, a ground ball that reaches the edge of the infield actually gives the runner a better chance to score.

The reason the rule doesn’t already exist has to do with intent. According to the MLB, a ball hit to the outfield in this situation is an obvious attempt to give the other team an out in exchange for a run. The MLB feels that a ball hit on the ground has the intentions of getting a hit rather than sacrificing, which is why it hurts a player’s average.

Though this is true at times, the MLB has an inappropriately broad view of this situation. Undoubtedly, there are certain fly balls that hitters have the intent of getting a hit but instead are credited with a sacrifice.

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Since the MLB chooses to have this general view of sacrifice flies, it only makes their rules more consistent if they do the same with ground balls.

To further explain, the way in which a batter will try to get a runner home varies depending on the given pitcher. Many players pitch in a manner that intentionally produces ground balls, while others aim to get the batter out on fly balls.

Chicago Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks is the perfect example of a ground ball pitcher. According to FanGraphs, Hendricks’ ground ball percentage in 2016 was 49.4 percent. Knowing this, a batter is far more likely to hit a grounder to the right side of the infield in order to bring a runner in from third than he is to hit a fly ball. When facing someone like him, the appropriate description of a sacrifice would be taking one of his typical pitches and doing what hitters typically do with it in order to sacrifice themselves for a run.

The same applies to a heavy fly ball pitcher, such as Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Marco Estrada. His career fly ball percentage over nine seasons is 47.7 percent. Only for him, the majority of these sacrifices would be on fly balls, resulting in a sacrifice fly.

The point here is that the type of sacrifice often has to do with who is pitching. It simply is not fair that hitters are given less of a chance to earn a sacrifice when facing Hendricks over Estrada.

A sacrifice ground out needs to be implemented by the MLB in order to make the rules of a sacrifice more consistent. In doing so, this gives hitters an equal chance of earning a sacrifice no matter what type of pitcher they are facing.

Collegian sports reporter Eddie Herz can be reached by email at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @Eddie_Herz.

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