By: Dan Massa – Sports Writer
It’s safe to say Rob Manfred did not have the debut week he desired.
Manfred began his tenure as the 10th Commissioner of Major League Baseball Jan. 25 and quickly made headlines based on his comments in an exclusive ESPN interview.
In fact, the interview was posted online the day before he officially took office. It’s probably not the best strategy to upset the majority of your fan base before you’re even on the job.
In his interview with ESPN’s Karl Ravech, Manfred discussed the topic of changes he may institute in the game.
“For example, things like eliminating shifts–I would be open to those sorts of ideas,” he said.
More and more teams shift their infielders, and, to an extent their outfielders, toward a place where certain hitters have statistically proven they hit the ball to most of the time.
Not only is that completely within the rules, it is also a logical defensive strategy in baseball.
While it has led to some funky-looking infield configurations, such as having the shortstop play on the first-base side of second base or the second baseman playing halfway into right field, they are merely the results of teams trying to employ the best strategies to help win games.
Manfred’s allusion to outlawing shifts sent shockwaves through the baseball community and immediately threatened to nullify years of statistical analysis and developing strategies several teams have worked on.
As the leader of a sport, wouldn’t you want scouting and strategizing to play a major role? Wouldn’t you want every team to go through every last option to be competitive? Major League Baseball should count its lucky stars that it doesn’t really have to worry about whether its teams are truly trying everything they can to be successful. (I’m looking at you, the NBA, specifically the Philadelphia 76ers.)
One problem facing the game is the increasingly long duration of games over the last few years. There are many reasons for this, from longer commercial breaks to pitchers and batters both taking immense amounts of time between pitches. The latter issue has led to the AA and AAA levels of baseball integrating a pitch clock for the upcoming season, a move many see as inevitable in MLB. There has also been discussion of adding a clock to mid-inning pitching changes, which managers utilize often nowadays with specialized relief pitchers and deep bullpen staffs.
Manfred’s stated reasoning for wanting to eliminate shifts was, in his words, in the interests of “injecting additional offense into the game.” Ironically, additional offense would work against the pitch clock’s job of speeding up the game.
The concerns of wanting additional offense and cutting down on game times seem to be a bit at odds with each other. Baseball is unique in that there is no clock: a game is not over until one team is winning at the end of the ninth inning or later.
The more runs that are scored, the longer it will take for the game to end. In order to satisfy his desires both to increase offense while making games shorter, Manfred will have to find the perfect balance in terms of what rules to change or create.
Directing where fielders are allowed to stand on the field—except the current rule requiring that all defensive players stand within fair territory—is the wrong way to go about it.