No shift: Do MLB officials see fewer defensive shifts leading to more runs?

It seems that new Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred caught some people a bit off-guard with a comment he made during his first day on the job Sunday.

He mentioned the possibility of eliminating defensive shifts.

In his blog yesterday, ESPN’s Buster Olney posted this video where Manfred made these comments. He also posted this transcript of that part of Manfred’s interview with ESPN’s Karl Ravech:

Ravech: “If you had a broad brush, and the goal was to be as radical as you can be with regard to the way the game is played on the field, what would you do?”

Manfred: “Well, I think that ... I would think about two sets of changes. The first is the set of changes we just talked about in, in terms of the pace of the game. And I would be aggressive about using the clock over the long haul. I think it’s a helpful thing in terms of moving the game along. I think the second set of changes that I would look at is related. And that relates to injecting additional offense in the game. For example, things like eliminating shifts. I would be open to those sorts of ideas.”

Ravech: “Forward thinking, Sabermetric defensive shifts?”

Manfred: “That’s what I’m talking about, yes.”

Ravech: “Let’s eliminate that?”

Manfred: “Uh-huh.”

Ravech: “So do you then draw lines by which your second baseman ...”

Manfred: “Well, I think you need ...”

Ravech: “... needs to stand or you can’t go to the left side of the bag?”

Manfred: “I think it’s the latter. You got to have somebody - you know, you divide the number of players who have to be each side of second base.”

Rob Manfred Sidebar.jpgSince this interview aired, some have said that Manfred may not have meant completely what he said and that he just wants to study this more. He understands he can’t change the rules of the game without the teams and players agreeing. He also answered a question about what “radical” changes he might make.

He also must understand it doesn’t make much sense to try to make a rule to tell a fielder where he can and can’t position himself. Scouting has been a part of the game for a long time and defensive shifting is a result of data and scouting. Why not play more fielders where the batter is likely to hit the ball?

Isn’t the onus on the hitter to adjust, just like it is for the hitter to adjust to a good fastball or curveball? If he can’t, he’ll just start making more outs until he can.

Olney also wrote this, which I wholeheartedly agree with:

Over time, teams will inevitably assess a higher value on players - those in the big leagues, in the minors and even amateurs - who are capable of hitting the ball to all fields. Teams will evaluate how easily defensed a particular hitter is, and quite simply, they’ll look for batters who they believe will have the most effective swings for the current conditions. There are still seven fielders behind the pitcher, and no matter how they are aligned, there are vast areas for hitters to exploit.

I just don’t think that MLB should even attempt to legislate how and where fielders can play on the field. What’s next, telling a pitcher how many changeups he can throw? While I would be interested to hear more thoughts on this from the commissioner, I have a hard time seeing how this could work.

Right now, scoring is down and I can see why those in the MLB offices in New York would look into that. The average team scored 4.07 runs per game last year, the lowest in baseball since 1981.

In 1996, 17 players hit 40 or more homers. In 2006, there were 11. Last year, just one player - Nelson Cruz, then an Oriole - hit 40 or more.

We can’t deny that the crackdown on performance-enhancing drugs is likely the biggest reason for that.

As for defensive shifts, the Orioles have been among the teams using them most often in recent years. It is a trend embraced by the Tampa Bay Rays and most of the teams in the American League East.

The shifts can be frustrating to batters like the Orioles’ Chris Davis, who last year seemed to crush some baseballs right at fielders who were positioned perfectly to defend him on the right side of the diamond.

At this point, the shifts seem to be here to stay. I say it is up to the batters to bunt or take a groundball single when the defense begs you to take one. The batters should not get the help from any change to the rules of the game.

Coming this week: This Thursday, Jan. 29, the Babe Ruth Birthplace Foundation is hosting a special event with Orioles legends Jim Palmer and Brooks Robinson. The event includes a program with Palmer and Robinson, as well as the induction of Palmer and the late, great Earl Weaver into the Sports Legends Museum Hall of Legends. Tickets are $200 and available by contacting Patrick Dickerson at 410-727-1539, ext. 3033 or

Also this Thursday, the short-season Single-A Aberdeen IronBirds will host a Hot Stove Dinner that will feature a question-and-answer session with Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette.

The event will be held on the club level at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen beginning at 6 p.m. Fans can purchase tickets for $50 online at or by calling 410-297-9292.

The Double-A Bowie Baysox will be at Buffalo Wild Wings in Annapolis on Friday from noon-1:30 p.m. for an Orioles caravan with pitcher Tyler Wilson and outfielders Henry Urrutia and Glynn Davis. The event is free and there will be meet-and-greet opportunities plus a Q&A session with the players.

On Wednesday night, the Single-A Delmarva Shorebirds will host their Hot Stove Banquet and Orioles manager Buck Showalter is the guest speaker. That event is sold out.

The week of baseball events is capped off by the latest edition of Orioles FanFest on Saturday at the Baltimore Convention Center.

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