Banning The Shift Takes Baseball Away From The Truth

Posted by Dawson Wright on

By: Dawson Wright

 

The shift has been in the news lately, with reports that there has been “major support building” for banning the shift. At the moment it is unclear whether commissioner Manfred is looking to adjust how extreme shifting can get, or banning shifting entirely.

Whether you are in support of banning the shift or not, the shift has been rising since 2010, and teams are finding more ways to be innovative.

The shift has been in the news lately, with reports that there has been “major support building” for banning the shift. At the moment it is unclear whether commissioner Manfred is looking to adjust how extreme shifting can get, or banning shifting entirely.

Whether you are in support of banning the shift or not, the shift has been rising since 2010, and teams are finding more ways to be innovative.


The shift is rising and getting more extreme, mostly because it works. 2012-2016 saw the shift usage on balls in play see close to exponential growth as more teams realized how useful the shift is.

 

The discussion for banning the shift entirely, is mostly based off of action. This is apart of baseball trying to become more youth-friendly and accommodate the casual fan. If MLB is trying to get apart of the youth movement and have “more social media” nothing can be worse than banning the shift.

The rise in the shift is there because of the information now available to teams, and that is exactly what the new era of baseball is, the information era. However, teams are not the only ones to look at spray charts and advanced metrics, as fans are becoming more in tune with the movement. FanGraphs is one of the best examples, making advanced metrics more accessible to fans than ever before.

Unless the casual fan is really into the statistics part of the game, it is unlikely for them to ever give a look at a spray chart. I suppose a lot of FanGraphs audience is hardcore baseball fans which is great, and it is what baseball should be looking for as its target audience, not the casual fan.

The difference between the hardcore and the casual fan, is mostly time. Hardcore baseball fans spend more time looking at stats, watching to games, going to games, while the casual fan may catch a ballgame every once in awhile. Baseball has been around for a very long time, and at part of that should be accredited to the hardcore fans of the sport. They have been the ones there through thick and thin.

Hardcore fans of the game became hardcore fans after years of watching and/or playing, and they have a deep understanding of the game. That deeper understanding is something that Major League Baseball can sell. Baseball will never be able to keep up with the fast-paced action of the NBA or the NHL, but the information era is something that is only happening in baseball.

Other sports may be becoming more advanced with analytics, but there isn’t a single sport that is anywhere close to the level of baseball. Not only have front offices become enriched in the information era, but a large (and quickly growing) portion of fans have as well.

Banning the shift entirely would take away a game within the game that a lot of fans like to have fun with, while solving what exactly? Pace of play and the shift isn’t really an issue, players are usually able to shift before the batter steps in the box and adjusts his gloves twelve times. As far as action goes, nobody really knows what banning the shift would do in that front. As Jeff Sullivan pointed out in his piece for fangraphs, BABIP has been very similar since 2009, even with the growth of the shift. If anything, banning the shift should be tested in the minors first just to see the effect before implementing the ban in the majors.

Manfred can continue to change the game to move more casual, but the game will get more casual with it. Being focused on game-times while wanting more action seem to be intersecting roads where finding a balance seems near impossible. Having a clock, or banning information (which is really what the shift is), moves baseball away from a large part of its audience and its truth. The “truth” is that baseball is the greatest game in the world when people are able to see past nine innings, three outs, and three strikes. Baseball is more than that, and that’s something that the casual fan needs to see. They need to see it to keep baseball, baseball; not some media-friendly hybrid.

The shift is rising and getting more extreme, mostly because it works. 2012-2016 saw the shift usage on balls in play see close to exponential growth as more teams realized how useful the shift is.

The discussion for banning the shift entirely, is mostly based off of action. This is apart of baseball trying to become more youth-friendly and accommodate the casual fan. If MLB is trying to get apart of the youth movement and have “more social media” nothing can be worse than banning the shift.

The rise in the shift is there because of the information now available to teams, and that is exactly what the new era of baseball is, the information era. However, teams are not the only ones to look at spray charts and advanced metrics, as fans are becoming more in tune with the movement. FanGraphs is one of the best examples, making advanced metrics more accessible to fans than ever before.

Unless the casual fan is really into the statistics part of the game, it is unlikely for them to ever give a look at a spray chart. I suppose a lot of FanGraphs audience is hardcore baseball fans which is great, and it is what baseball should be looking for as its target audience, not the casual fan.

The difference between the hardcore and the casual fan, is mostly time. Hardcore baseball fans spend more time looking at stats, watching to games, going to games, while the casual fan may catch a ballgame every once in awhile. Baseball has been around for a very long time, and at part of that should be accredited to the hardcore fans of the sport. They have been the ones there through thick and thin.

Hardcore fans of the game became hardcore fans after years of watching and/or playing, and they have a deep understanding of the game. That deeper understanding is something that Major League Baseball can sell. Baseball will never be able to keep up with the fast-paced action of the NBA or the NHL, but the information era is something that is only happening in baseball.

Other sports may be becoming more advanced with analytics, but there isn’t a single sport that is anywhere close to the level of baseball. Not only have front offices become enriched in the information era, but a large (and quickly growing) portion of fans have as well.

Banning the shift entirely would take away a game within the game that a lot of fans like to have fun with, while solving what exactly? Pace of play and the shift isn’t really an issue, players are usually able to shift before the batter steps in the box and adjusts his gloves twelve times. As far as action goes, nobody really knows what banning the shift would do in that front. As Jeff Sullivan pointed out in his piece for fangraphs, BABIP has been very similar since 2009, even with the growth of the shift. If anything, banning the shift should be tested in the minors first just to see the effect before implementing the ban in the majors.

Manfred can continue to change the game to move more casual, but the game will get more casual with it. Being focused on game-times while wanting more action seem to be intersecting roads where finding a balance seems near impossible. Having a clock, or banning information (which is really what the shift is), moves baseball away from a large part of its audience and its truth. The “truth” is that baseball is the greatest game in the world when people are able to see past nine innings, three outs, and three strikes. Baseball is more than that, and that’s something that the casual fan needs to see. They need to see it to keep baseball, baseball; not some media-friendly hybrid.


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6 comments

  • This is total bull, these are some of the best baseball players in the world. I can’t believe that a mlb player cannot learn to hit a ball the other way or bunt

    Robert White on
  • This is total bull, these are some of the best baseball players in the world. I can’t believe that a mlb player cannot learn to hit a ball the other way or bunt

    Robert White on
  • BABIP is pretty much steady. The problem isn’t the shift; it’s putting more balls in play. A good, diversified offense was successful for the 2017 Astros and the 2018 Red Sox.

    Yes, players need to learn to bunt (and hit behind runners.) But they don’t seem inclined to do so. So there are things baseball can do to get more balls in play.

    Restore the old strike zone. The current strike zone is from the letters to the bottom of the knees. That means a lot of balls so low that Yogi Berra, a notorious low-ball hitter, couldn’t have hit them are being called strikes. They should go back to the old zone, armpits to the top of the knees — about a two-baseball difference.

    The other thing they should do is lower the mound. This will help reduce launch angle and put more balls in play. That makes a more interesting, exciting game. This is what you want.

    To make the game faster, use a 20-second pitch clock and enforce it by calling a ball (or a balk if there are runners on base.) The average time between pitches is 23 seconds. There are about 300 pitches in the average none-inning game. That’s 900 seconds, which works out to 15 minutes. That’s without making a fundamental change.

    Also, make batters stay in the box. Call a strike if they don’t.

    The issue isn’t shifts, it’s getting more balls in play. The issue isn’t time, it’s pace.

    Tim on
  • Outlaw all hits except home runs while you’re at it because the information gods have declared that punching a ball through the infield to start or continue a rally are heresy.

    HomerXVII on
  • I believe there should NOT be a ban on the shift. If a professional baseball player cannot figure out how to hit the ball the other way, then cut his pay!!!

    Lloyd Lefrancois on

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