On just his first day as Commissioner of Major League Baseball, Rob Manfred is already making waves. In a sit down interview with Karl Ravech of ESPN, Manfred proposed some changes that the league could potentially consider over the next couple of years.
Though he made quite a few statements, the one that stood out to most fans was that he was considering banning defensive shifts. Naturally, just like any rule that would change the way that the game is played, die-hard fans lashed out on social media and are already ready to burn him at the stake.
It’s certainly not necessary to get that worked up over it, as this certainly will not “ruin the game” as many have claimed, but that proposed rule change not a great idea by any means.
In his brief explanation of why the rule could potentially be changed, Manfred noted decreasing offensive numbers and longer game times as reasons behind it. While those are both concerning issues that the game needs to face, this would not be the way to go about making improvements.
Though shifts have grabbed more headlines over the past year or two, they are by no means a new concept. They have existed ever since the formation of baseball, but they’ve just gotten much more numbers-driven and a bit more complex over the years.
Despite the shift, the league average for BABIP has steadily risen since the 1960’s and has sat around the .290-.300 range for the past 20 years or so. The problem is not that the batters are hitting into the shift, it’s that they’re hitting the ball at a much lower rate than they once were.
While you can make the argument that pitching has improved over the years due to the variety of training methods that are now available, one of the main factors in the increased strikeout rate is the expansion of the strike zone.
In a study done last year by Jon Roegele of The Hardball Times, it was shown that the strike zone is growing larger and larger with each passing year and is 40 square inches larger now than what it was just six years ago.
Not only are umpires getting more lenient with their strike calls, it’s the area of the zone that is expanding that is especially troubling. Pitches in the bottom of the zone are being called more often than ever, as the zone below 21 inches has grown a robust 47 square inches in just six years.
Pitchers have clearly taken note of this expansion and have begun targeting the lower half of the zone. Not only have they picked up more strike calls down there than ever before, but in turn it has made the hitters swing at pitches that they never would have if the strike zone was being called the way the rulebook says it should be.
Along with having umpires stick to the rulebook definition of the strike zone, there’s another way that the league can make games more exciting without making wholesale changes to the sport.
Some have suggested a pitch clock, but many have fought back on that idea, as the baseball is the only sport that doesn’t have a time limit. I’m in favor of a clock, but not one on pitchers.
The best way to cut down game times would be to put a clock on batters when they step out of the batter’s box, which is seemingly after every pitch. Travis Sawchick, a writer for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, found that in one game there were 190 instances of a player stepping out of the box after a pitch.
This sounds like a truly staggering number and it gets worse when considering the amount of time that those stoppages accounted for; 40 minutes. Putting a clock on batters, or even just a restriction on the amount of times that a player can step out of the box, would drastically decrease game times and potentially make the sport less “boring” to casual fans.
There are some changes that baseball could be undergoing within the next few years, but the elimination of defensive shifts should definitely not be one of them. With options like closing the strike zone back up and putting a clock on batters, there are plenty of better alternatives to increase offense and decrease game times.
Should the MLB ban defensive shifts? Would getting the strike zone back to regulation size and instituting a clock on batters be better alternatives? What other options could the MLB go with to give offenses a boost
other than steroids, as well as decreasing game times?