It would be a mistake for Rob Manfred to limit defensive shifting

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky
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Earlier today, Craig covered Thursday’s big news item which was that commissioner Rob Manfred wants to implement a pitch clock in the big leagues — a feature that has already been implemented in the minor leagues. That report came from Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY, who also reported that Manfred is considering limiting defensive shifts.

Nightengale points out that baseball is on pace for 28,000 defensive shifts this season, an increase of nearly 12 times the 2,400 shifts five years ago. According to Nightengale, this has “[killed] batting averages for everyone not named Jose Altuve.”

Manfred said of the shifting, “I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing, but it has ramifications for what people see when they buy that ticket to go to the ballpark. We just wanted to point out this whole series of changes that has occurred over time, very naturally, in the game and pose the question of whether or not we should be managing that change more aggressively.”

Surprisingly, shifts have not impacted batting averages at all, really. The league BABIP (batting average on balls in play) per year:

  • 2009: .299
  • 2010: .297
  • 2011: .295
  • 2012: .297
  • 2013: .297
  • 2014: .299
  • 2015: .299
  • 2016: .300

But batting averages have indeed been falling, generally speaking. Why is that? The strikeout rates have been increasing.

  • 2009: .262 average, 18% strikeout rate
  • 2010: .257, 18.5%
  • 2011: .255, 18.6%
  • 2012: .255, 19.8%
  • 2013: .253, 19.9%
  • 2014: .251, 20.4%
  • 2015: .254, 20.4%
  • 2016: .255, 21.0%

Furthermore, as Manfred wants to further shorten games by implementing a pitch clock, curbing defensive shifting would lead to more offense… which would lengthen game times. To put it simply, he wants to address a problem that doesn’t really exist and, in doing so, would only exacerbate another problem.