8-20-2013-6-42-33-PM-500x277Two things helped the Tampa Bay Rays accelerate from the basement of baseball to the perennial playoff contender, good, young, cheap, and deep pitching, and good defense.

On the defensive front, not only did the Rays concentrate on collecting players with good gloves, they also were smarter than most teams about how they played defense and that began with the prolific use of defensive shifts. The Rays were so good at shifts that the rest of MLB quickly caught up and now shifts are the norm in baseball.

Well, that may be about to change and it is going to kill one of the things that helped level the playing field for the Rays.

New commissioner Rob Manfred told ESPN that he is open to making defensive shifts illegal in an effort to increase scoring, something that is at its lowest level in more than two decades.

Let’s ignore for a second if that is really the best way to increase offense (it’s not; e.g. tighten the balls, bring in fences, allow corked bats, stop using wood bats, etc.). How would you eliminate shifts without drawing circles around every player on the field and saying “stay!”?

Well, you might not be able to eliminate, but you could limit. One way is to require at least three defenders on each side of the pitcher at the time of the pitch.

That is, make the first baseman, second baseman, and right fielder stay on the right side of the field, make the third baseman, shortstop, and left fielder stay on the left side, and allow the center fielder to go to either side.

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Under this system, teams could still load up with three defenders in the infield and one outfielder on one side of the field if they want. But there is a catch.

Let’s say a team wants three infielders on the right side. Their only options are to bring in either the right fielder or the center fielder and for most teams, that is a player not used to playing the infield. At the same time, if they still want to use three outfielders, they have to move either the third baseman or the shortstop to the outfield to replace the outfielder who moved in.

This is actually less of a problem for the Rays since they have several players that can play both the infield and the outfield. But it will be such a problem for most teams that they will be less inclined to use the shift as often.

Will it happen? That’s unclear. But the commissioner volunteered the idea without being prompted suggesting it is something that he is at the very least seriously considering.

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13 Comments

  1. Chris D says:

    This would be a terrible idea. First off, if teams did the outfield/infield switch you're talking about, we'd now have to wait while coaches called timeout and brought the appropriate glove out to the appropriate guy. And then imagine the replay challenges this would create with some managers arguing about whether a guy was right in line with the pitcher or not.

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  2. Lloyd says:

    And since the pitch clock seems to be barreling it's way to MLB, you will now also have 20 seconds to shift your defense and throw a pitch. Seems like the powers that be are intent on turning the game into batting practice.

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  3. Mr. Smith 1980 says:

    God forbid hitters learn how to pepper the ball as a solution! OOH, OOH, I know, why don't we make all the players stand still and the hitters can use HGH and steroids! That'll add tons of offense.

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    • Kev says:

      Totally agree. There have to be a half dozen ways to address this issue outside of arbitrarily limiting a defenses effectiveness. Cultural ADD is ruining everything good. The NFL has been neutering defenses for years to appease the fantasy football crowd who need to see a score every 3 minutes, and it's one of the reasons I barely watch anymore. Please, don't follow the same playbook MLB.

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  4. Geoff Peterson says:

    Work on the constant fidgeting with batting gloves, sleeves, helmets, jock straps, shoes etc. before we worry about the strategy of the game commish. Perhaps get the HGH testing going too.

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    • Mr. Smith 1980 says:

      I believe this was addressed during the winter meetings. I can't remember if it is only for the minors since it parallels the pitch clock, but a batter has to keep 1 foot in the box or something of the sort unless he is brushed back or some other similar circumstance... I can't cite where this information came from, so it's not outside the realm of possibility that I dreamed it up...

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  5. Drew S says:

    http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/the-problem-with-rob-manfreds-problem-with-shifts/

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  6. Dave L says:

    The shifting explosion is one of the coolest innovations in decades.

    You have to be in the stands to fully appreciate it. Plus the shifts can't work if you have minus infielders who have to make all kinds of throws and new split second decisions they never faced in thier baseball careers

    Yeah kill one of the best innovations in years? Manfred is already walking this thing back. So I am not worried.

    Do the Bulls or Biscuits employ shifts? You would think they would just as a training exercise. Lower levels I could see not doing it.

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  7. Bobbbyjoe13 says:

    This guy is barely in office and he's already playing Kennesaw Mountain Landis ? Let the teams do what they want defensively, and play ball. We do not need one man dictating what can be done on the field. Worry about the roids, HGH,and Adderall. That is a better way to even the playing field.

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    • David Watkins says:

      Agreed. Defensive shifts have been part of baseball for decades. Lou Boudreau employed it when he was player-manager of the Indians. Baseball writers have speculated how much higher Ted Williams' average could have been had he not insisted on pulling the ball into a defensive shift throughout his great career.
      The above two examples are part of the history, lore and beauty of baseball.
      The Game has been tampered with enough (well,probably too much). Let the guys play ball. Let The Game stay baseball.

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  8. brianknowsbest says:

    I would be interested to see what would happen if after the first pitch to the batter, the fielder would have to stay in the same position. So if there is a 0-1 count the team could pinch hit a spray hitter. I think that would allow some decent strategy and bring in some old school NL type substitutions.

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