By: Ross Sutton
As shifts have gotten more and more out of control in recent years, a topic I have heard talked about frequently is whether or not the MLB should create a rule that places a limit on shifts. Some people believe that the MLB should do this because the game has become fairly repetitive, as so many at bats result in a walk, strikeout, or home run nowadays. Shifts have gotten extremely frustrating too, as line drives up the middle are now often routine outs. Others believe that the MLB should not do this because professional hitters in the league should be able to hit the ball the other way or simply lay down a bunt when the shift is really extreme, and I couldn’t agree more. If you are talented enough to be in the MLB, you should absolutely be able to go the other way and get hits or lay down a bunt every once in a while in order to force the third baseman to play near his normal position. Unfortunately though, I have completely lost faith in the players changing their ways and learning to hit the ball the other way, and for this reason, I think the MLB should enact a rule that limits shifts. The problem is, even if the MLB agreed with me and other fans of the game, what should the rule be in order to limit shifts?
One option for the MLB is to enact a rule that says, “you can only have two players on each side of second base at all times”, or something along those lines. The problem with this though, is that this doesn’t really change anything, as most shifts have two guys on the right side of second base and then the shortstop playing behind second. This would lead to a lot being open to interpretation and not help the shift problem much. All this rule would do is make the extreme shifts illegal, when three or four infielders play on one side of second base. This might be a bit of a crazy idea, but maybe the MLB could place a small white line on both sides of second base, and add to this hypothetical rule that the shortstop and second baseman cannot pass the line while shifting. This could look something like this:
*The "A" and "B" would not actually be written on the field, but it makes explaining the idea much easier*
So based on this drawing, if the MLB used this idea, then the rule would say that the shortstop would not be able to go to the right of line A while shifting, and the second baseman would not be allowed to go to the left of line B. This rule would probably drive a lot of people nuts, as many might be opposed to the idea of a baseball field having white lines in the shallow outfield, but I think this could fix the shift problem. If the MLB truly wants to make a line drive up the middle a hit every time, they would probably need to use the lines rather than just say, “a player must be 15 feet away from second base before a pitch”, because it would likely be hard for the umpires to enforce the rule and players would likely take advantage of it and work their way closer and closer to the gap up the middle. This is more of an extreme solution, as it would essentially eliminate shifts from the game, but if that’s what the MLB wants to do, then I think this rule would be effective. If the MLB said that you can only have two players on each side of second base before the pitch and then used lines to force middle infielders to stay away from the gap up the middle, then I think the shift problem would become a thing of the past.
Another option for the MLB would be to make the rule something along the lines of “a team may only shift five times per game”, or whatever number they decide to make the limit of shifts allowed per game. This would probably leave less open to interpretation as the umpires would simply count how many times each team has shifted throughout the game, but it would still allow for a certain amount of shifts during the game, possibly making those line drives up the middle easy outs for the defense. I’m not sure if and when the MLB would make a rule that limits shifts, but I think it is a huge problem that so many at bats result in a walk, strikeout, or home run, and this could turn people off from baseball and potentially hurt the future of the game. Averages are lower than ever, and the game seems to be getting more boring even if the pace of play is improving.
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