Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Well, could but probably won’t. Over at SI.com, Tom Verducci presents his case for the introduction of an “illegal defense” rule:
“Support of an ‘illegal defense’ rule – or at least the consideration of it – is gaining some traction in baseball. Such a rule might stipulate, for instance, that you cannot have three infielders on one side of second base. A shortstop would be able to shift as far as directly behind second base on a lefthanded hitter, but no farther.
Is it time for such a rule? My gut reaction is that it is time to at least think about it. All-fields hitting needs to increase.”
Of course, a change like this would likely take a few years to actually go into effect, and the blame for hitting into the shift could also be placed on one-dimensional hitters who were never taught or told or trained to hit to all-fields. But nahhhh … RULE CHANGE. For once, the most egregious example of the one-dimensional pull-hitter isn’t our boy Ryan (though if Ryan Howard adds that check-swing-opposite-field-bloop above to his repertoire, this won’t even be necessary):
“Because the inverse does not hold true – you can’t put the shortstop in short leftfield because the throw is too long – shifts are killing one type of hitter in particular: the lefthanded pull hitter with little speed. The most obvious example this year is Chris Davis of Baltimore. He hit .402 last year on balls in play to the pull field. This year, with shifts against him becoming more frequent and extreme, he is hitting .186 on balls in play when he pulls them.”
This isn’t all the fault of the shift, as Verducci points out, also placing blame (or credit) at the feet of “increased velocity from pitchers; the popularity of the two seamer/cutter combination; the winking acceptance of substances such as lotion and pine tar to help spin the ball; and the depth of bullpens [which] have helped make hitting harder than at any time in the DH era.”
You can put Ryan Howard’s drop-off in batting average on balls hit into the pull field on injuries or age or whatever you want — Verducci put Howard’s 2010 .364 average against his .207 2014 average — since I’m pretty sure defenses have been shifting on Howard since before 2010. But there is a trend among the other hitters sampled, including Beltran, Teixeira, Choo, Ortiz, and more. “The shift is driving to extinction the lefthanded .300 hitter with power,” Verducci says, “In 1999, 13 lefthanded hitters batted at least .300 with 25 home runs. This year, there is only one such hitter on that pace.”
Verducci sees a bigger problem in pace-of-play (as do many fans) but says the MLB is unlikely to adopt any rules that would significantly impact that. So, is it time to break the shift?
“We can all sit here and pretend nothing is wrong and count on the natural ‘ebbs and flows’ of the game to self-correct the decline in offense. Or we can do what the lords of baseball have done many times when offense was down, such as outlawing the spitball and putting a clean baseball in play (1920), lowering the mound (1969) and introducing the DH (1973): we can update the rules.”
Or, just making Joe Maddon illegal may have the same effect.