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Verducci: baseball should think about an “illegal defense” rule to combat shifts

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I suppose General Cornwallis hated it and considered it unsporting for the Continental Army to hide behind rocks and trees and stuff rather than march in formation and fire from established lines during the Revolutionary War. I doubt he proposed some formal rule change about it. But when it comes to baseball, some folks aren’t as easy-going and open to change as the 18th century British Army was.

Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci writes about the prevalence of defensive shifts and talked to many people around baseball who are frustrated by them. He then concludes that something should be done about them. Or, at the very least, we should think about doing something about them:

Support of an “illegal defense” rule – or at least the consideration of it – is gaining some traction in baseball. Such a rule might stipulate, for instance, that you cannot have three infielders on one side of second base. A shortstop would be able to shift as far as directly behind second base on a lefthanded hitter, but no farther.

Is it time for such a rule? My gut reaction is that it is time to at least think about it.

This is stupid for a host of reasons:

    • Shifts stop singles. They don’t stop doubles, they don’t stop homers. They stop singles. So while, yes, shifts have led to a lower batting average, they do not necessarily translate to lower offense. Big bad power hitters’ power numbers are not being hobbled by shifts.
    • What’s really hobbling offense — and making the game one of increasing inactivity — are the massive increases in strikeouts. I don’t have any game film or spreadsheets ready at the moment, but last I checked a shift doesn’t affect strikeout rates. Maybe we should look at how umps are calling balls and strikes on lefties these days (eyeballing it, my verdict is: poorly) or, you know, encourage hitters to be a bit more selective and shorten up their swings;
    • Shifts reward teams with athletic and versatile players, both in the form of defenders who can play out of traditional position and hitters who can hit to all fields. I bet I don’t have to go back too far in Verducci’s archives to see complaints about slow, lumbering take-and-rake dead-pull hitters, inflated offensive numbers and teams not focusing on defensive skills being baseball’s biggest problem. Now it’s this.

But more fundamentally, Verducci — who is considered by many, either on the merits or by virtue of his high-profile job, to be baseball’s top analyst — should know better than anyone that contexts in baseball change all the damn time. Dead ball, crazy ball in the 1930s, station-to-station ball of the 50s, base-stealing and new deadball in the 60s through the 80s and back to crazy ball in the 90s. It’s now swinging back to pitching and defense. Hitters will adjust again, just as they always do, and the cycle will continue ever-onward. Messing with the Rules the way Verducci suggests here is to mess with one of the sport’s greatest traits: evolution and changes over a long timeframe, rewarding those fans who see it happening.

Verducci correctly notes that there have been rules changes in the past such as outlawing the spitball, lowering the mound and installing the DH. But the spitball and DH weren’t solely about offense — the spitball was a safety issue and the DH was in part to boost sagging attendance, which is not a problem today — and lowering the mound was about uniformity and combatting some team’s unfair advantages as much as it was about boosting offense (some mounds, like Dodger Stadium, had been made crazy high). Strike zone rules and interpretations had a LOT to do with low offense in the past as well.

If, as was the case leading up to those alterations of the game, there are other, structural reasons for a rule change, cool, let’s talk about them. But let’s not make as radical a change as the institution of some “illegal defense” rule simply because offense is temporarily down. To do so would be wrongheaded and reactionary. It would constitute the validation of a temper tantrum over some short term frustration on the part of some lefthanded hitters who are no longer getting what they used to get.

Angel Pagan out four to five days with a strained hamstring

San Francisco Giants' Angel Pagan complains after being called out stealing second base against the San Diego Padres during the ninth inning of a baseball game Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, in San Diego. The play was reviewed, and Pagan was ruled safe. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
AP Photo/Gregory Bull
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Giants outfielder Angel Pagan has been diagnosed with a Grade 1 strain of his left hamstring which will leave him out of action for the next four to five days, Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Pagan suffered the injury running the bases during Sunday’s game against the Mets.

The Giants are hopeful that Pagan will avoid needing a stint on the disabled list. For now, they intend to use a combination of Gregor Blanco and Mac Williamson in left field in Pagan’s absence.

Pagan, 34, was hitting well, compiling a .315/.366/.457 triple-slash line along with a pair of homers and stolen bases in 101 plate appearances.

Pablo Sandoval will undergo surgery on his left shoulder

Boston Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval heads to the dugout at the end of the seventh the inning of a baseball game against the Miami Marlins, Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2015, in Miami. The Marlins won  14-6. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
AP Photo/Alan Diaz
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Update #2 (8:33 PM EDT): Sandoval is expected to miss the rest of the season, ESPN’s SportsCenter tweets.

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Update (8:06 PM EDT): Per Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe, Sandoval will be undergoing a “significant” operation and faces a “lengthy” rehab.

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Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval will undergo surgery on his left shoulder, per Jon Morosi of FOX Sports. Sandoval visited Dr. James Andrews on Monday, Evan Drellich of the Boston Herald reports. Sandoval had been on the disabled list since April 13 (retroactive to the 11th) with the shoulder injury.

Sandoval has had a tumultuous 2016 season. He showed up to spring training appearing to be in less than ideal shape. He proceeded to hit a meager .204 in 49 spring at-bats and lost out on the third base job to Travis Shaw. Sandoval went hitless with a walk in seven plate appearances to begin the regular season before the injury woes took hold.

The Red Sox haven’t yet released details, including the timetable for Sandoval’s recovery, so once that is known, we’ll provide updates.

Reds place Devin Mesoraco on the disabled list with a torn labrum

Cincinnati Reds' Devin Mesoraco watches from the dugout during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh, Saturday, April 30, 2016. The Pirates won 5-1. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar
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The Reds have placed catcher Devin Mesoraco on the 15-day disabled list with a torn labrum in his left shoulder, C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer reportsRosecrans adds that Mesoraco and the Reds will discuss whether or not the catcher will undergo surgery.

To fill Mesoraco’s roster spot, the club called up catcher Ramon Cabrera from Triple-A Louisville. Tucker Barnhart is expected to start the lion’s share of games in Mesoraco’s absence.

Mesoraco was scuffling prior to the injury, as he was batting a mere .140/.218/.160 with only one extra-base hit and one RBI in 55 plate appearances.

Dodgers’ Josh Ravin suspended 80 games for using a banned substance

Los Angeles Dodgers' Josh Ravin, right, reacts as New York Mets' Lucas Duda (21) runs the bases after hitting a home run during the seventh inning of a baseball game Saturday, July 25, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
AP Photo/Frank Franklin II
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Update #2 (6:53 PM EDT): Ravin released a statement through the players’ union. Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times provides it:

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Update (6:35 PM EDT): MLB made the announcement.

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Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports is reporting that Dodgers pitcher Josh Ravin will be suspended 80 games after testing positive for a banned substance. When it is made official by Major League Baseball, Ravin will be the sixth major league player to earn a suspension after testing positive, joining Dee Gordon, Chris Colabello, Abraham Almonte, Daniel Stumpf, and Jenrry Mejia.

Ravin, 28, hasn’t pitched this year as he broke his arm in a car accident during spring training, but was expected to return before the end of May. He debuted in the majors last season, making nine relief appearances for the Dodgers. He yielded seven runs on 13 hits and four walks with 12 strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings. Ravin made 22 appearances for Triple-A Oklahoma City as well.

Ravin will be eligible to return in early August.