Major League Baseball has a new commissioner: former MLB exec and Bud Selig ally Rob Manfred. He was the safest choice for the sport as its revenues grow to epic proportions, and I really had no beef with his selection. Although I do think baseball has some serious issues to address over the next decade, it could do a lot worse than “more of the same.” Selig was unpopular for some very public, but ultimately minor, decisions, but you can’t deny that he helped maintain the peace and kept the sport growing juuuust enough to be called successful.
But maybe Manfred is going to be more progressive than we thought? After all, one of his comments on his very first day in office indicated that he was “open” to the idea of banning extreme defensive shifts, an idea that has been thrown around at times over the past year as a solution to the sport’s dwindling offense (which, in turn, some argue, leads to dwindling attention among younger, newer fans).
As you might expect, the backlash to Manfred’s comment was swift and aggressive, at least among the denizens of Twitter. Jokes about banning left-handed pitchers and banning sliders flew, and very serious discussion about the merits of eliminating shifts proceeded. (Dave Cameron, for one, has looked into the issue and concluded that extreme shifting is probably not a major cause of the downturn in offense.)
For me, I loved Manfred’s comment. Not necessarily for the substance, mind you. It seems to me that what’s driving the offensive downturn is a significant spike in strikeouts, which is being caused primarily by pitcher specialization and velocity increases, together with an expanding strike zone (especially the bottom of the zone). I’d like to see the zone called a little bit higher, and I’d like to see the pitch clock implemented (which would improve not only the pace of the game, but could also give hitters a slight advantage by pressing the pitcher).
While I’m totally open to the discussion, there’s just something that seems not right about banning extreme shifts. I also like the idea behind defensive shifts, and the fun attempts by players to beat the shift.
But I still loved Manfred’s comment. Why? Because he immediately indicated that he is willing to take a look at tricky issues, and address them from an unpopular angle if it’s in the best interests of the long-term health of the sport. Getting more offense back into the game (short of mandatory PED injections) is one of those tricky issues, and I’m glad to hear he’s thinking about it. (And, as Jeff Passan found out when speaking to others in the game, Manfred isn’t exactly out on a limb on the banning-shifts thing.)
Your thoughts? Do you appreciate the thoughtfulness being shown by a new commissioner? Do you think banning extreme shifts is a reasonable – or even plausible – response to declining offense? Do you think injecting more offense into the sport is actually important?
(Fun penalty for illegal shift violation: batter gets to hit off of a tee.)