Now seems like a good time for my periodic reminder that, for these roundtables, the question is given out to the staff on Monday in order to give everyone a few days at least to respond. That is particularly relevant this time around since something pretty big happened in the middle of the week with that whole lockout thing coming to an end. I mention that just because, while certainly not irrelevant, this question was asked (and in some cases answered) before the lockout ended. Got it? Got it.
As for the actual question itself, even before the lockout ended one of the bits to come out of leaks from the negotiations was that MLB was working hard to institute pitch clocks, bans on the shift, and bigger bases, which all may be instituted in 2023. So this week’s roundtable prompt was simply to explain their feelings about these changes.
I hate the banning of the shift. Hate, hate, hate it. Major League Baseball has a problem with three-true-outcomes guys so instead of deadening the ball to force players to adapt, they’re going to reward the guys who have decided that they can only pull the ball? I don’t get it. All this is going to do is push the shortstop to on top of second base in de facto shift position and help whiners like Joey Gallo pick up singles and doubles that could easily otherwise be prevented. It won’t, of course, speed up games at all; just the opposite. As usual, MLB is trying to fix a problem by creating a new one, and it’s dumb. But what isn’t these days?
The only rule change I really care about is banning the shift. Everything else is shortening the game like 15-20 minutes, which is stupid to even entertain because people who like baseball are not going to notice the difference between a game that goes three hours and one that goes three hours and 15 minutes, and the casual fan Manfred seems all too desperate to please is not going to be moved by that small of a margin. So in the grand scheme of things, who cares? Banning the shift, though, I do not like it. This rule change actually affects the strategy of the game and implementing it to appease casual fans who won’t even notice it annoys me greatly. Thanks, Rob.
If bigger bases prove capable of preventing injury, I see no reason to be against them. I understand it may be easier for infielders to record outs with a bigger base to work with, but I think player safety should take precedence here. As far as the pitch clock is concerned, it already seems like the younger players are used to it since it is prevalent in the minors, so why shouldn’t it become a thing in the majors? It seems like a reasonable way to make games move a little quicker as well.
On the flip side of that, I am against the banning of the shift. There are no real boundaries in baseball, so long as you’re standing on grass or dirt, right? Fielders should have the ability to position themselves wherever they want if they feel like it would increase the chances of recording an out. Hitters — especially major-league hitters — on the other hand, should be able to adapt to this and hit the ball where the fielders aren’t. I know it’s more complicated than this, but hit the ball where they aren’t. Work around the shift, don’t banish it.
I am all in on the pitch clock. It seems like one of the most surefire ways to speed up the game and since that’s a major goal, it just makes sense.
The bigger bases I am fine with, but mainly because I’m not sure if they’ll make that much of a difference. However, even if all it does is encourage just a bit more daring baserunning, then I’m all for it.
I’m not a huge fan of banning the shift, as it creates more questions than it answers. What specifically constitutes a “shift” and where is the cutoff? Will there be little boxes on the field indicating where it is okay to stand? Will it just mean there must be two fielders on each side of the infield and not on the outfield grass? Could this mean teams couldn’t play at double play depth or hold runners? What about shading to a certain direction in the outfield? I don’t think we’d actually fall down that slippery slope, and I’m assuming the definition of what can and can’t be done will be addressed in the rules, but without a clear definition just yet, I’m not sold. Even if it is relatively straightforward once implemented, I’m still hesitant to shut down defensive ingenuity, but I also am not going to lose much sleep over it.
Honestly, I am fine with bigger bases. With its implementation in the minors, there was found to be nearly no effect on stolen base rates, and I think this change is a chance to reduce on-field injuries. For the pitch clock, I think it might be odd at first, but it will be helpful in tight situations where a pitcher continuously throws to first to waste time and plan ahead. I know MLB has a huge pace of play issue, but for me, I don’t quite mind, but at the same time I don’t see any real downside for the implementation of a pitch clock; so for that addition, I am on the “pro” side. As for the banning of the shift, I’ve already written a whole article about why the shift should not be banned and what its ban may do to the game of baseball. So yeah, I’d say it’s safe to say that I am against the ban of the shift.
I try to straddle the line between being a baseball purist and thinking the game can and should evolve over time. Settling at four balls for a walk sure seems better than eight. The DH is good, etc. And I’m sure many more changes will be beneficial and happen during my lifetime. Where I try to form the conclusion is a test of “could you imagine baseball always having this?”
The pitch clock doesn’t meet this standard. Baseball not having a clock is part of the beauty. A game isn’t three hours. It’s nine innings. That said, baseball is better at a pace that encourages acting. The sport is about pitching, hitting, and running. Using a counter as an encouragement to actually play the game is something I end up having to support. If everyone does their job, you don’t need the pitch clock. Bigger bases? Sure, why not. Experiment with them. A slightly bigger bag could clean up a handful of plays that right now are instant replay traps. Banning the shift is the easy one: no. If there is a subtle way to encourage a few more hits, sure I’ll listen. But once you start deciding where guys can play you’ll need more and more rules to enforce that vision until we’re looking at a chess board and the first baseman can only move like a knight.
Starting with the positives, the pitch clock to speed up the game should be welcomed by all, with the exception of David Ortiz. The pitch clock was introduced in the minor leagues in 2015, so we are getting to the point in time where the majority of major league pitchers have some experience with a pitch clock from their minor league days. Any change that will keep the game moving, keep the fans from scrolling their phones, and cut 15-20 minutes off the game I’m in favor of. The bigger bases seem pretty harmless as they should reduce collisions and cause a minimal increase in stolen base attempts, so I’m for it.
Banning the shift, however, drives me nuts. In just about any sport, playing defense is all about executing a strategy to take away the strengths of the offensive player. Is it frustrating to see a player line a base hit into right field, just to see the second baseman playing 50 feet into the outfield and throw the hitter out? Yes. I would suggest this hitter learn to hit the ball elsewhere. I think that minor adjustments, such as not being able to adjust the shift with two strikes for the sake of speeding up the game would make sense, but bailing the hitter out who has an inability to hit to all fields is weak.
I’ll go one by one here. The pitch clock is an easy yes. I’ve been waiting for this to come to the majors for a while, and happy it’s finally here. It’ll speed up the game, yes, but it should also create more offense and balls in play. Pitchers no longer have as much rest time between pitches, which will make it harder to throw at max effort at every pitch. To me, that’s the bigger deal assuming the clock is properly enforced.
Bigger bases, I guess I’m fine with though I don’t really have a strong opinion. People smarter than me seem to think it’ll prevent injuries, so that’s a good thing. I can’t help but think there are going to be unintended consequences here, but I haven’t figured out what they are so for now I’m on board.
As for the shift, I’ve softened my stance on this as time has moved on. I’m still not totally for it, but the degree to which I’m against the idea depends on the exact rules. Is it that only two players can be on one side of the bag? I don’t think that really does anything. Like Bryan said, a shortstop could then just stand right at the line, and then when does enforcement end? Is it when the pitcher starts his windup? Or releases the ball? Or contact is made? Assuming it’s probably one of the first two, the shortstop could just take a couple steps over and the shift is still there. That said, the idea that an infielder can no longer stand in mid right field I’m actually okay with. I’m fine with keeping it, too, but it does get a little annoying to me that some of those rockets turn into routine outs.