Rob Manfred created a ruckus yesterday when, among other things, he said that he’d be in favor of a rule which would limit or eliminate the use of defensive shifts.
This idea was first thrust into our consciousness last summer when Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci suggested it. I responded to the idea here. Short version: um, no.
Slightly less short version: the lack of offense in today’s game has many causes, most of which have nothing to do with defensive shifts. Mostly strikeouts. Defensive shifts cut down on singles. They do not stop doubles or triples or homers. You know, those things which are more effective at putting crooked numbers on the board. Also, shifts reward teams with athletic and versatile players who can (a) play great defense; and/or (b) eventually anyway, hit to all fields, making shifts counterproductive. I would think we’d want more athletic and versatile players and fewer lumbering sluggers who cry about it when they’re proven to be physically and mentally unable to hit the ball the other way once in a damn while.
Also, question: how is this even enforced? At what point is shading a guy in the direction in which he tends to hit the ball an illegal shift? A bright line about which side of the second base bag each infielder has to play? That could be problematic given that, for years, many, many shortstops have played certain hitters almost straight up behind the bag. Would we ban only extreme shifts? What are those? And, whatever answer you come up with about that, is this a judgment call we want umpires to be making?
More fundamentally, a rule to eliminate shifts goes against the very nature of baseball. A sport in which strategies and theories have always evolved over time. People thought Babe Ruth’s home run totals were unsporting in 1920 and taking away a key part of the game. Would the mindset which would eliminate shifts now have advocated for making over-the-fence homers automatic outs or partial runs in 1920?
In any event, there is a more detailed handling of it here, but my mind remains the same on the matter a few months later: changing the rules because of a recent change in which teams approach the game, rather than waiting for the game to evolve, as it always has, in the face of changes, is an unnecessary overreaction and shouldn’t be given serious consideration.