Should Manfred Ban Defensive Shifts?


Every baseball commissioner wants to leave a mark on the game that will be felt and appreciated for decades to come. Rob Manfred, in his first day on the job, has already made two bold statements that will infuriate baseball purists. The first, pace of play, I addressed last week when new changes were announced for minor league teams. The second, which Manfred alluded to on his first day in office, is a ban on defensive shifts.

Citing an unfair defensive advantage, Manfred is clearly looking at ways to change the tide of lower offensive games but there are several aspects of baseball , which will never be changed, that give the defense an advantage. For example, a round bat. Make that bat flat if you want to see some more offensive production.

Manfred seems to be holding onto the antiquated notion that fans only go to baseball games when the scores look more like football games. Sure, home runs are exciting and a high scoring back and forth is a lot of fun but there is something wonderful about a pitchers duel, too. Placing a ban on defensive shifting doesn’t help the game, it opens up a Pandora box of “little tweaks” to the game that will make it unrecognizable in a generation. In 2014, Brandon Moss, a leftie, faced a defensive shift on what seemed like every at bat. Every opposing team looked at his spreadsheet and determined that the statistical likelihood of a hit to right field warranted some extra defense on the right side. Despite the shifts, Moss hit .394 when pulling the ball. To this A’s fan, there was nothing more exciting than seeing Moss pull a double against the shift. That’s an element of the game that Manfred needs to consider before making a sweeping rule like banning the shifts; it doesn’t always work and when it doesn’t work, it’s exciting.

What sets baseball apart from any other sport is the defensive advantage that Manfred is condemning with these ideas. What greater advantage to a defense is there than having the defense control the ball? When you start changing the fundamentals of the game in the name of “injecting games with offense” you begin down a slippery slope of undermining what fans truly love about the game. As is always the case, A’s fans (and presumably fans from every team but I don’t follow those guys) took to Twitter to explain what other changes Manfred could make in the name of higher scoring games. On the surface, these comments are funny but there is an underlying of truth, at least conceptually.

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Anyone who has read my writing on this site has probably figured out that I’m one of those “baseball romantics” that is just so in love with the game. I don’t apologize for that. I will never feel guilty about the excitement and brilliance that I see every day I watch a baseball game. Manfred, in 12 hours, has made it clear that he doesn’t care about baseball romantics. Manfred needs to understand that every baseball fan hates the shift and that’s why it’s so exciting when a player like Moss beats it.

Rob Manfred wants to leave a legacy on the game. Consider this, Mr. Manfred, you’re the tenth commissioner of baseball. In 95 years there have been more presidents of the United States (17) than there have been commissioners of baseball. You are in an elite group of men. Isn’t that legacy enough? If Manfred truly wants to leave a mark on his tenure as the caretaker of America’s passtime, don’t let there be a strike, keep cheaters off the field, and keep baseball an affordable activity for families. The legacy that accompanies drastic changes to the game is not a legacy you want attached to your name, Rob Manfred.

Next: The Truth Behind Pace of Play Debate