Will Major League Baseball Ban the Shift?
Image courtesy of © Raj Mehta-USA TODAY SportsIn his time as MLB commissioner, Rob Manfred has overseen changes to multiple parts of the game with pace of play being one of his biggest focuses. Now, he is looking to make a change to team’s ability to shift players on the defensive side of the ball. In a recent interview, he had this to say:
Since taking over as commissioner in 2015, Manfred has mentioned limiting shifts to help stimulate offense. As recently as 2018, he thought that limiting shifts could help to boost offensive production and he claimed had “strong” backing from baseball’s competition committee. However, this kind of rule change would also need approval from the player’s union.
As Parker recently wrote about, Twins third baseman Josh Donaldson might be in favor of shifting being limited and there are likely other players that would take his side. Less shifting means batters are getting more hits and all hitters are going to want to see their offensive numbers improve. However, a USA Today survey showed that 54 out 62 players polled were against making changes to the defensive shift rules. Some feel that shifting is a product of the modern analytical game, but it has been happening for over 60 years.
During the 2020 season, the Twins shifted the seventh most of all MLB teams which was 41.3% of the time. This was more than many analytically focused teams like the Rays, Cubs, and Red Sox. In fact, this has been a trend since the Twins brought in Thad Levine and Derek Falvey:
Twins Season: MLB Rank, Percentage of Plays
2019: 7th, 35.5%
2018: 3rd, 28.5%
2017: 8th, 14.1%
2016: 15th, 12.6%
Baseball has been discussing this topic for years, but a clear plan has yet to be laid out by the commissioner or the competition committee. It likely comes down to the idea that each team would be required to have two infielders on each side of second base. That might seem straightforward, but there would be a lot of other details that need to be ironed out.
Do infielders have to be on the dirt? How close could a player be to second base to be considered on the right or left side? Can a fielder move after a pitcher starts their wind-up? All these details would need to be decided as part of the new negotiated rule.
If MLB wants to improve pace of play, limiting shifting seems like a strange starting point. Shifts are already helping to limit playing time because fewer hits are happening on the field. Analytics aren’t going away so teams are going to continue to find ways to gain an advantage.
Do you think MLB needs to add a rule about defensive shifts?
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