This week reports have come out that Major League Baseball and the MLBPA have agreed to ban extreme defensive shifts. I realize this take puts me in the minority but I’m glad Major League Baseball is going to ban the shift. Oh, sure, I know the arguments for keeping the shift, but I’ll go Fire Joe Morgan on them here.
Major League Hitters Should Just Go The Other Way
Granted, MLB hitters are the best in the world. The problem is MLB pitchers are also the best in the world. In fact, MLB pitchers today are much better at two key aspects of pitching than they’ve ever been: velocity and spin rate.
Modern day MLB pitchers are throwing so much harder than they did in the 90s that we’d need to move the pitching mound back a foot just to give hitters the same reaction time they had 30 years ago. And the pitchers in the 90s were throwing harder than the guys from the 80s who threw harder than…you can see where I’m going here.
To think modern day hitters aren’t as good as their predecessors is foolish. Yes they shoot for power more, but they are also facing faster pitches with more movement than ever before. Pitchers who know the defense has shifted behind them and can feed a certain zone until the hitter either strikes out or hits into the shift.
Shifts Have Always Been A Part Of Baseball
To a degree, yes. Back in the 50s teams would shift on Ted Williams. As I was learning the game in the late 80’s and early 90’s players would take a couple of steps here or there against a certain hitter. Some movement has always been a part of the game.
Back then, though, that movement was based on experience and intuition. At best some spray charts that were written out and represented a sliver of a hitter’s plate appearances.
Nowadays the shifts are dictated by a computer that has been fed every at bat of a guy’s career. There’s no human element involved. The computer knows that if you feed a guy enough fastballs on the inner third of the plate he’ll either strike out or roll a ground ball to a certain spot. Oh yeah, that sounds fun.
And the number of shifts has exploded along with the technology. Last season there were over 59,000 shifts in Major League Games.
I’d rather have games decided by the players rather than algorithms. And I’d rather have balls in play.
They Should Just Bunt
I don’t really have much for this one. Analytics have been great in many ways but the bunt seems to have gone the way of the Blockbuster because of them. If the score is close and you can get a free base, take it.
I don’t exactly pay my ticket money to see some of the game’s greatest sluggers bunt, but it is a free base.
You Can’t Change the Game
Yeah, you can. The last time pitchers had this big of an upper hand MLB voted to lower the pitching mound. 1968 will forever be known as The Year of the Pitcher for this very reason.
Just last year MLB cracked down on pitchers using sticky stuff on the ball to gain an unfair advantage. Why? The league and players wanted games decided by skill not who could generate the the best technical advantage.
Skill instead of who can create the best technical advantage? Yeah, it is close to the same thing.
Determining Where Guys Can Stand Is Stupid
That must be why football has illegal formation penalties and the NBA has illegal defense rules.
This Will Ruin The Game
Not at all. Baseball thrived in the 70s after the pitching mound was lowered. The NFL and NBA change rules every single year yet I don’t see them going out of business. Baseball fans are just the most hesitant to change.
The Data Is On My Side
The Athletic did a great piece looking at what would happen if MLB banned the shift using data from a minor league that did just that. There were 22% more hits taken away by the shift than given away by balls going against a shift. Lefties managed a paltry .219 average on balls in play against a shift versus .247 without it. In short, the shift works and it makes baseball less fun to watch.
The most frustrating part of the shift, per those interviewed, is that the ground ball straight up the middle is now an out. The ball every Little League coach and up tells a guy to hit, is an out. In this case, the hitters are doing a great job and they still can’t get a hit.
No wonder they swing for the fences. Anything else and it is an out.
Option 1: A hitter stands in against the hardest throwers in MLB history and faces a defense and pitching strategy dictated by a computer so that even if he does everything right and smacks a sharply hit ground ball up the middle it is an out.
Option 2: Change some rules and put more balls in play. Going against a fairer defensive alignment, guys can look to spray the ball a little more and swing for the fences less, creating even more action in the field and likely reducing strikeouts.
Not really a hard choice there, is it?
When I look at baseball now it is a lot different than the game I came to love. There’s not as much action. Not in the field, not on the base paths, not anywhere. There are entire innings where the fielders have little to nothing to do. And that’s a big reason why the game isn’t attracting younger fans.
I’m all for banning the computer generated shifts and making pitchers pitch a guy without a predetermined sequence and outcome. Let’s get the ball back in play, reward the smack up the middle with the hit it has always been, and make the game more fun.