Why Exactly Are We Banning the Shift?

Since the MLB Lockout began in December, very little news has emerged about actual progress being made in negotiations.

One side makes a proposal, the other side hates it, and we continue on. But late last week, reports seemed to indicate that one thing the players had agreed the owners could implement was a ban on the defensive shift.

If you’ve watched or discussed baseball in the last decade or so, you know defensive shifting is a hot-button issue. Most teams implement shifts to varying degrees, and shifting strategy often operates at a pitch-by-pitch level. And fans are divided as to whether or not shifting should be part of the game.

First of all, any effort to ban the shift would require a major re-working of MLB rules. When I last read through them, the only two positions on the field that were defined were the pitcher and catcher. You can have a guy who stands just to the left of the pitcher and call him “Assistant to the Pitcher” because the rules won’t stop you.

Further, the rulebook – as Braves fans can painfully attest – doesn’t even define where the infield is. Infield dimensions also aren’t outlined in the rules, just the distance between bases.

So before superfluous shifting can even be curtailed a little, a number of infielders and outfielders for each team would have to be decreed, and then definitions would have to be put in place for where the infield actually is. Then a determination would have to be made as to whether this rule change affects the infield fly rule or not.

But beyond that, we have to ask why we’re banning the shift.

Folks will tell you that something has to be done because the whole game is down to strikeouts and home runs. That simply isn’t true, though.

In 1991 – a year I chose because 30 years is a nice, round number – the average MLB team accumulated 1,406 hits and 938 strikeouts over the course of the season. In 2021, the average team racked up 1,316 hits and 1,405 strikeouts. So yes, strikeouts were way up, but the shift can’t really affect that number too much, if any.

Of those 1,406 hits in 1991, 992 (70.6 percent) were singles, while the average team was good for 834 singles in 2021 (63.4 percent). While homers were a good bit more prevalent in 2021 – 15 percent to about 9 percent in 1991 – doubles were also up last season. The league average was 250 doubles (17.8 percent) back in 1991, while that number was up to 262 in 2021, or almost 20 percent.

Triples happened very rarely in both years with both numbers hovering around 2 percent. Those are also so situation- and stadium-specific that it’s tricky to read anything from them, in my opinion.

So while the data does reflect that strikeouts and homers are occurring at a notably higher rate, singles still make up almost two thirds of the hits accumulated for the average MLB team. And homers being up 6 percentage points over the totals from 30 years ago, despite current players having grown up in a baseball era when power and launch angle reigned supreme, seems like less of a jump than one might expect.

We also can’t forget that banning the shift won’t lower the home run numbers, it would just increase the single numbers and perhaps increase scoring. But scoring is already up to 4.53 runs per game, as compared to 4.31 in 1991. So is that something that really needs to happen?

All in all, I’ll gladly accept some sort of shift ban if it means baseball comes back sooner rather than later. But I’m not sure I see the point. The numbers don’t reflect much of a reason for such a drastic change in the baseball rules.

70 thoughts on “Why Exactly Are We Banning the Shift?”

  1. No offense, but there were 4 less teams in 1991 vs. now. Using raw hit totals in this context to make your point is misleading.

    I believe the year-over-year changes in batting average across MLB more clearly illustrates the issue trying to be solved here.

  2. It looks like significant movement was made towards a CBA, and if the reported terms are true, I think the ball is firmly in the MLBPA’s court at this point.

  3. @1 – Keep in mind that these are the totals for an average MLB team. So at least in a comparison of 26 teams or 30 teams, I don’t know that it matters too much how many teams there were. And the batting average difference was about .012 between those two years, but the slugging was up slightly. So those numbers don’t really tell you anything the numbers I included aren’t already telling you.

    @2 – Since both seasons were full 162-game seasons, the per-game averages are going to be essentially identical to the full-season averages.

  4. Add the DH; ban the shift; limit pitcher changes; remove catcher framing by the use of roboumps. I like the last two and hate the first two, but all of them seem designed to remove strategy from the game, and I’m not sure why you’d want to do that. Well, I have a theory — it’s to reduce the effect of analytics, about which there is a seismic divide in the game still.

  5. it’s to reduce the effect of analytics, about which there is a seismic divide in the game still.

    What about the argument that the shift should be banned because almost every team is shifting regularly, therefore the advantage has been removed? I heard that the other day, and I haven’t decided if I believe it.

  6. RE: Pace of play

    Alex from last thread,

    There are undoubtedly coaches telling players to take their time to disrupt the other player’s timing, but some are listening and some aren’t, and some are doing it to varying degrees, so it’s not like the players don’t have autonomy in this area. I don’t think anyone was telling Steve Trachsel to be the slowest pitcher in history. Also, there are pitchers that work quickly also to disrupt the hitter’s timing. Obviously quick pitching exists to disrupt the hitter’s timing.

    If a pitcher or hitter autonomously decided that he was going to work more quickly than the average, I just don’t think a coach or manager is going to put a stop to that, especially pitchers. Could you imagine how frustrated hitters would get if you had a pitcher that worked so quickly almost every hitter’s between pitch routine was disrupted? But no, they want to take their time because they think that gives them an advantage.

  7. @6 – I don’t understand that argument at all. If both teams are using it, it’s because it’s effective, right? It’s not like my defensive shift cancels out yours.

  8. @6: Nonsense. First, we are still in the very early days of knowing what works and what doesn’t, and when. Second, we have barely even started to explore strategies to react to shifts.

  9. In general, assume an asymmetry of adjustments. Just as MRSA (an old Braves Journal in-joke for my fellow middle agers) can evolve more quickly to respond to medicine than we humans can develop new treatments, defenses can shift more quickly than hitters can alter their swing. Indeed, many hitters simply cannot completely change their swing and remain successful.

    It is almost certain that, eventually, the advantage of shifts will be completely nil, after years or decades of major league coaches, minor league coaches, and college coaches developing strategies to counteract them, and amateur scouts and draft coordinators optimizing their selections to go after players who can best beat the shift. But it won’t happen for a LONG time. And that gives today’s shifters plenty of time to come up with the next “Moneyball.”

  10. It can certainly still disintegrate again, and if it does, that’ll likely blow up negotiations for at least another week, but things seem to be going in a cautiously optimistic direction last night/today…?

  11. @8-10 The logic was that if everyone is doing it, then no one is getting an advantage. If both teams are saving the same amount of hits, then there’s no advantage. But I think you guys are correct that the advantage is not being applied evenly; some teams are better at it than others.

    I lean towards getting rid of the shift, but I’m not particularly passionate about this issue, unlike my disdain for people tribally taking the player’s side every time they open their mouth.

  12. The MLBPA is gonna overplay their hand and get saddled with a deal that even Jeff Passan won’t even be able to save them from.

  13. Did I read correctly that two games per Friday will be reserved exclusively for Apple+? So even though I’m paying exorbitant U.S. dollars for MLB.tv I still don’t get all 162 Braves games?

  14. Banning the shift will also slow games down as batting averages will go up and more batters will come to the plate. I thought they wanted pace of play to be faster.

  15. Really innovative idea, not allowing teams to put fielders where hitters hit the ball. Maybe they should remove the gloves from the outfielders, that will allow more hits into play and more action. If cricketeers can catch the ball without gloves, surely baseball players can?

  16. By the way, here’s a piece I wrote a while back against the international draft: https://tht.fangraphs.com/mlb-wants-an-international-draft-heres-why-it-shouldnt-happen/

    Tl;dr: it would be overwhelmingly complex to implement and no one has thought through the details, and agreement on details will be insanely challenging.

    But Puerto Rico offers a good case study for pre- and post-draft, and it’s a cautionary tale. The Puerto Rican case is the reason the players oppose expanding the draft.

  17. The shift does create more homers, walks, and strikeouts. It’s not a drastic amount, but the evidence points to shifting increasing TTO.

    Pitchers pitch differently when there is a new desired batted ball direction.

  18. Everyone’s being silly at this point. Look at the gaps between the PA’s desired figure for the luxury tax, and the owners’; $230m vs $232m? Who gives a crap? Settle at $231m and get it over with! Same thing with the minimum salaries: $700k vs $710?! Considering the owners were “holding fast” at $630k about a month ago, the fact that they’ve even offered $700k is a massive win for the union. Now is the time to accept what progress has been made; you can’t fix everything in one CBA.

    On Tuesday, the league made a proposal about the draft, and then when the players agreed (and offered that in their own proposal), the league rejected it because it came after the league’s totally arbitrary and completely unnecessary deadline. Clown world.

  19. From DOB/Athletic:
    “Dansby is the best,” Shewmake said. “Super good about teaching points. And if he sees something, he’s not afraid to tell you. He’s one of the guys I’ve worked with the most. He could come up to me in (Grapefruit League) games and sit down on the bench and say, ‘This is what I was thinking,’ and get my feedback about why I did what I did.

    Didn’t know that about Dansby. Great to read.

  20. @24 that seems awfully accurate, there’s this whole idea of “we’re going to stick to our ideological principles!!!” from both sides, and it’s like… compromise is OK! Compromise is a good thing! It means you’re willing to sacrifice in order for the fans to have access to baseball!

  21. Passan got hacked.

    Yeah, this is a bad idea since the owners can stonewall future negotiations and keep the QO. This whole thing has become a mess. To Michael’s point, why are they trying to fix everything wrong with the sport in one CBA?

  22. I’m not understanding you — it looks to me like they’re specifically trying to kick the can down the road on this issue, rather than fix everything wrong with the sport in one CBA.

    What am I missing?

  23. @ 22

    Thank you, Timo. Good to hear.

    Over the years it has become fashionable on these pages for some to decry Dansby and how much he contributes to the common good here, on and off the field. Why you may ask?

    Intensive analysis suggests a basic human vice, jealousy – his draft position c/with his looks. An insufferable plenitude for some it seems. Not both, surely, they say. It’s not fair. Yes it is, the fact you will have neither is beside the point.

    Play on Dans, keep us pointed to the sky.

  24. I really really wish it was put into the CBA that they negotiators have to meet at least what 4 times a year to gauge how this current CBA is going, what is working what is not, what the trends are, what new TV contracts etc are happening or coming so they aren’t starting from scratch in 2027. It should be written in there and mandatory

  25. Still under the Furcal Rule here until both sides put out press releases. Particularly with how this has gone.

  26. Commiserations to the first receiver of a pig’s heart – the juncture could not be sustained. None-the- less his place in the order of things is assured and veteran ball players and those who employ them will not be deterred.The prospect of an unlimited supply of what was hitherto defined by an enormous waiting list must be intoxicating – if you’re Scherzer’s age, and feeling it, that forty million must float in front of your eyes with all that new oxygen to command.

    Try as many as you like, there will be one for you that’s a perfect fit.

  27. Owners’ call to ratify the agreement is apparently at 6 p.m., so that’s when the Furcal Rule lasts until.

  28. Baseball’s back! Super excited to see the Braves take the field in 2022. Haven’t been to Truist Park yet for a game, but making it a mission to get to one this year.

  29. The player’s executive council voted 8-0 against the new deal, but the team reps voted 26-4 in favor. That’s interesting. It looks like the rank-and-file weren’t huge fans of yesterday’s proceedings.

  30. Reminder: the executive committee has 5 Boras clients.

  31. I’m a broken record on this, but if the executive subcommittee is that misaligned with the rank and file, that’s ultimately a failure of leadership, and stands as yet another mark against Tony Clark.

  32. @42

    Yeah, that’s certainly an interesting substory in all of this. Probably a story for another day, but there’s a definite disconnect there. Particularly since, according to Ken Rosenthal, the reason they were willing to potentially blow this up was because they wanted to hold out for a slightly higher threshold on the CBT, where the two sides seemingly were basically already at the same level. I’m guessing it’s easy for people on that committee to lose the forest for the trees, but it’s kind of their job to not do that.

  33. Good to see the negotiations finally end (fingers crossed). I like the deal from a Players point of view. Extending the lockout any longer would’ve been pointless once the owners finally moved significantly on the CBT thresholds.

    Now, back to more fun offseason stuff. Get Freddie signed asap AA.

  34. Moving Forward Dept.:
    Also, curious to see how the 12-team post-season will work.

    Obviously, the 2 division winners with the best records in each league will draw 1st-round byes. But…

    Will we see 2 WC games in each league (with a division winner playing a single-elim WC game)?

    Or will we see 2 best-of-3 series in each league (with the better-record clubs hosting all games)?

  35. I believe its a best of three series with the higher seed hosting all games. No more game 163 either.

  36. Furcal Rule has been lifted.

    I’m glad baseball is back, and I’m glad the millionaires and billionaires got all the money they needed from us.

    That’s my last snide comment about the whole ordeal.

    LIGHT THE STOVE HOMIES

  37. @49 Just like how we were the owners voted unanimously for Manfred to become commissioner when we know multiple owners didn’t, especially Peter Angelos?

  38. Help a novice out? Googling “Furcal Rule” didn’t get me anywhere useful. Is it related to his …uncertain… age?

  39. From the Braves Journal Glossary:

    “Furcal Rule: Reports of a signing are irrelevant. Don’t believe that a player has been added until you see either an official press release, or the picture of them holding up a jersey. After Rafael Furcal, who was all but signed after the 2008 season, only to go back to the Dodgers. And then Ken Griffey Jr. did the same thing. Sometimes called the Furcal/Griffey Rule. (Added Feb. 18, 2009)”

    Note for Ryan: I had to Google “Braves Journal Glossary” to find it, so we might wanna make that more accessible in the menus up top.

  40. 51 — Back in 2008, it was reported by some writers that Rafael Furcal had agreed to come back to the Braves. There was no press release, though, and it later came out that in fact there was no agreement. At that point, Mac (the late author of this blog) said that we shouldn’t assume that a deal is done until there is a press release and called it the “Furcal Rule.”

    Edit: I owe Nick a coke.

  41. I understand the positions both sides took for the most part except for the part about owners wanting bigger bases. Why are bigger bases in the owners best interests?

  42. Personally, I thought that the need to travel around Hoth by tauntaun would have been greatly mitigated by having a bigger base.

  43. Man I just hate when I have to use that google thing to get a joke.

    Edit: oh, its a Star Wars thing.

  44. My life’s goal of making jokes too obscure to be funny has, once again, been achieved.

  45. #47
    And no 2nd-round re-seeding either…

    So now, for a team seeded #3 thru #6, it must win 13 of a possible 22 games to win the WS.

    Moving forward, the biggest races in each league will be for the #6 and #2 seeds.

  46. #59
    Interesting, not sure how I feel about that. As I read somewhere, MLB moves further towards a 16-team tournament style playoff, trying to imitate the NHL and NBA. Oh well. I think we all know that will be the end-point in the not too distant future.

    In better news, at least from my perspective, they’re going to have every team play against each other in the regular season starting from 2023. They’ll reduce the divisional games to achieve that. Which will mean no more 19-games against the Marlins each year, thank goodness.

  47. I have not posted here since our glorious WS victory. And this latest step from both owners and players has soured me so much on every party. Even the sportswriters that needed something to print kept pushing rumors (unfounded) of FF5 and all player movements that were not going to happen as long as this lockout kept going. Just for a headline. Any headline.

    It did not need to happen. The end judgment (such as we read it as it all comes out) was minuscule in millions (for them) and while I am always inclined to side with the players due to the history of owner/player history (I should need tell no one here to read Helyars Lords of the Realm) these things could have been settled months ago.

    The lockout did not need to happen as they could have played under the previous CBA until a new agreement. The owners deadline for agreement was unserious in the end as they seem still committed to playing all 162 games (with several double headers now) so they get their money and so do the players for their full salary. Some small movement in their grievances seems to have moved here for first year player salary, the luxury tax…the fuck all. Oh…got a full time DH and expanded playoff. Really nothing that should have stopped the game in any way. Even the International Draft is not a thing that can be or should be implemented any real time soon. But hey…let’s spend days (months in which they did not even meet) arguing about it.

    Seems to me that the only people that lost anything out of this were you and me. At a great time of strife in the world (which I need not mention and will not as we do not do politics, right?) we might have been able to turn to spring training and the lead up to what used to be the greatest day of at least my year…opening day. At the start of April. My team. Ready to go again. Let’s see if we can repeat? And maybe with our (arguably) best player…which we have not yet signed and may not yet still!

    I post today because I’m angry, my friends. Been here for many years and while I don’t always comment I always appreciate the platform that Mac offered and gave us. I’ve read the back and forth between posters and have appreciated them to keep me apprised of what was going on, but honestly…I was nearly out when the Braves didn’t pay the man his money when he deserved it in every way (cue a certain poster I have not seen around for awhile to argue that he’s not worth it) and after this latest episode (which I argued back before this happened would harm the game for fans, and I was not alone) I hate to say but I am nearly ready to leave it entirely.

    The movement between owner and players could be considered inches. Millions to them, but lives to us. None of which make that kind of money (maybe some of you do, and if so, good for you.) Yes, it’s just a game. Yes, it comprises millions of dollars to many. All of that matters not to those of us that do not play the game. We like it and we like to watch it. MLB for all their desire to make even more money keep making the watching of it more and more difficult. I need not detail how they do it because I have read your complaints. I share them.

    In the long run, this is not the worst labor relation disagreement that they have found. And that is the point! It did not need to happen and cost spring training games, trades, hot stove arguments that were real, excitement over the season and and some sense of the general love of the game that surely we all share because we would not be here if we did not feel that way. Any one may argue who is the bad actor in this play, but I say all of them and we were the poor audience for it. And if we don’t sign Freddie…I may well be done with the entire theatre of it all.

    That’s my two dollars, such that I have them.

  48. Good morning, sad news about Odalis. RIP.

    Cannot wait to visit Truist Park after two years. Go Braves!

  49. @ 66,
    Were you afraid electromagnetic pulse would jump off the site and destroy your devices?

  50. Although I’m not a big fan of expanding the playoffs, given the division structure a 14-team format would have been better IMO. The 4 wildcards could fight it out in some form (either a single elimination or double elimination tournament at one site), with the survivor advancing. It bothers me that a division winner is now on the same footing as the three wildcards.

    While I agree that the changes implemented could have been agreed to long ago since they aren’t exactly cataclysmic, this is the way these things always go. The offseason has been less fun, but it’s the season that matters and at least we will get the whole thing.

  51. @67

    Nah, more the bleak mid winter prospect of no 2022 season, and as we all know around here, it’s the hope that kills you

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