Atlantic League gets first test of rule banning shifts

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As we noted in the offseason, the independent Atlantic League has partnered up with Major League Baseball to be a lab in which new rules changes are tested out. And by “partnered up” I mean “they’ve been paid some money in order to screw with their product” because Major League Baseball does not care about what happens in the Atlantic League.

One of the rules changes the Atlantic League has agreed to implement is a ban on defensive shifts. The rule it has adopted requires there to be two infielders on either side of second base for each play. Seems straightforward enough, yes? Well, you’d think so. But as Devan Fink of Fangraphs shows in his latest article, it’s a bit more complicated than that.

Fink reports that the shift rule got its first test last week. He has some GIFs of the play in question. James Loney of all people was batting for the Sugar Land Skeeters. He grounded out to second base and was presumably thrown out, but the umps gathered and ended up calling him safe, saying that the second baseman was illegally shifted.

The thing about it: the second baseman was actually on the right side of the infield where he was supposed to be. He was, however, playing out in the shallow right field grass as you often see these days, and the umps ruling was that, because he was so deep, he wasn’t technically on the infield.

All of that required a meeting and some replay and, as Fink notes, they probably still got the call wrong because they’re not supposed to award the batter a base but, rather, the ball is supposed to be dead and a ball charged to the pitcher. It was kind of a mess, which is something you might expect from the early stages of any kind of experiment. You figure that, eventually, they’ll clean that kind of mess up.

In the meantime, I’m struggling to think how this improves baseball any. Because last I checked, no one has been clamoring for more meetings, replays and rules interpretations in the game. To the contrary, the point was to create more action.