The MLBPA has apparently agreed to ban the shift, which is dumb

Photo credit:Denis Poroy
Brennan Delaney
1 year ago
On March 6th, it was announced by Jon Heyman that the player union has agreed to ban the shift, implement a pitch clock and make the bases larger, starting in 2023. Bigger bases I have zero issues with, it helps avoid injuries. Adding a pitch clock, sure, it speeds up games. However, that’s where the contradiction begins.
To me, banning the shift is the dumbest idea the MLB can implement. It’s a perfectly valid defensive strategy that helps teams get outs.

How to be a successful small market team:

Whether you like it or not, there will always be small-market teams in any professional sport. The owners of these teams will always prioritize making money over team success. That doesn’t mean that a small market team can’t be competitive. 
For example, the Rays invest heavily in their scouting department, which has led to them consistently making the playoffs with a low budget. They’ve signed International Free Agents who have turned into all-stars, but at the same time, they sell high (Chris Archer, Tony Snell) and receive great prospects in return.
Another way for a small market team to make the playoffs is by using data that other teams do not capitalize on. If you’re reading this article, there is a good chance that you’ve heard of “Moneyball,” perhaps you’ve even watched the movie. 
The film features the 2003 Oakland Athletics, who despite having one of the smallest payrolls in baseball, made it to the ALCS. While on-base percentage is not an advanced stat, it was overlooked in 2003. Much like how the 2011 movie overlooked the fact that the A’s had three fantastic starting pitchers.

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The Pirates leveled the playing field:

Before I dive into this section, a large portion of this data was unearthed by Travis Sawchik in his book, “Big Data Baseball”.
The book features the 2013 Pirates and how they utilized advanced analytics to break a 20-year-long losing season streak (more losses than wins). While many different tactics were used (including signing future Blue Jays, Russell Martin), one of the most prevalent changes to their game was the use of the shift.
Brought to light on pages 105-107 of Big Data Baseball, the Pirates shifted 494, the fifth most in 2013 per Baseball Info Solutions. This was a 470% increase to the 105 times they shifted in 2012. There were 7,461 shifts in the MLB in 2013, but with the Pirates’ success, the number of shifts increased to 13,294 in 2014. In two years, everybody was shifting.
Not just that, but Pirates’ players’ Defensive Runs Saved drastically increased from 2012 to 2013. The book uses Neil Walker as an example, as he went from a -4 DRS in 2012 to a +9 DRS in 2013, a huge increase. This wasn’t just one player, every single Pirate benefited from the shift.
Eventually, the Pirates strategy became the norm for the league, meaning that over time the benefits didn’t tilt towards the Pirates. They sealed their fate when they traded Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows, and Shane Baz for Chris Archer, arguably the worst trade in baseball history.
For a few seasons though, they used advanced analytics to take a run at the World Series. If you’d like to learn more about this, I suggest purchasing “Big Data Baseball” by Travis Sawchik. I can’t do it justice in a simple article about why banning the shift is bad, so I definitely recommend it.
Look, I can’t hit a baseball if it’s lobbed to me. Hell, I can’t hit a baseball when I throw it up and try to hit it. I don’t know why. Asking a player to change his approach to hit a 100 mph baseball against the shift will lead to you getting strange looks. However, the onus is on the batter to beat the shift, not for the MLB to intentionally enforce a rule that impacts defense.
It’s not a long section, but banning a defensive strategy is never a good idea. It’s like banning the offside trap in soccer or banning the zone in hockey. The onus is ALWAYS on the opposing team to figure out a way to beat it.

It’s contradictory:

In 2020, the league implemented arguably the dumbest rule in the history of sports, the ghost runner. This was in an attempt to speed up games, which oddly enough, barely impacted the game at all according to data found in Fangraphs article in 2021.
When it comes to banning the shift, sure, you may get excitement by having additional runners on base. However, with more runners on the base paths comes more prolonged innings, which in turn, makes the game longer.
Not just that, but banning the shift won’t change the fact that baseball has become over-reliant on the “three true outcomes”, a home run, a walk or a strikeout. Gone are the days of batters choking up on the bats to hit a ground ball up the middle. Banning the shift will help get runners on, but it won’t change their mentality.
To me, it just seems weird to implement a rule so contradictory to one of the MLB’s perceived biggest issues, long games.
As always, you can follow me on Twitter @Brennan_L_D. Big Data Baseball really opened my eyes to further advanced analytics, so I do suggest you purchase the book ASAP. You won’t regret it.

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