The MLB Could Make the Shift Illegal Just in Time for Ryan Howard to Stop Hitting the Ball Altogether

Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Well, could but probably won’t. Over at, 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.

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38 Responses

  1. Orrrrrrrr…we could learn how to hit the goddamn ball to the opposite side of the field. Its kind of radical I know but I think it could be successful.

    1. Before he was a complete mutt, teams loved when Howard would accidentally hit it to the other side of the shift because now you have a station-to-station road block parked at 1st base.

      1. Yes I’m sure teams just LOVED having a guy on base instead of an out. That makes total sense. Especially when you had speedsters like Pat Burrell behind him that he was blocking…

        Fact is, Howard was at his best when he would hit the ball the opposite way.

        1. Hey numb nuts, I’m talking about in lieu of not getting Howard out, they would rather a harmless single than an extra base hit. Also, I’m referring to the ability to go first-to-third or score from 2nd on a base hit, which are things gimpy cannot do.

          Btw, even when Howard was good, he never went the other way ON THE GROUND. Just about everything he has hit to left field is in the air. Even this year, 10 out of his 15 home runs were to opposite field…. and he’s certainly not at his best.

  2. “Of course, a change like this would likely take a few years to actually go into effect…”
    Why? Not sure what you’re getting at. If it was magically voted on an passed in the off season it would take exactly no time at all ti implement. Unless you mean that debating the rule change would likely take a few years. Which I don’t believe it would either. The shift stinks, and we as Phillies fans have first hand knowledge of why. This is like football changing defensive rules in order to help promote scoring (scoring=excitement for fans).

  3. I have mixed feelings about the shift. Part of me fucking despises it, and another part thinks it’s a blatant trolling of hitters unable to adapt to their surroundings.

    One thing that may lead to Baseball’s demise may be the consistent growth of “specialists” instead of overall players. Bullpens are full of specialist. We have guys coming off the bench for hitters in the 7th/8th/etc. to pinch run, pinch hit, etc… It hurts baseball’s brand to remove Ryan Howard or Davis from the field.

    Professional Sports are built around SUPERSTARS. If the game continues to cater to specialists instead of marketable superstars, you’re in for some trouble.

  4. I’d rather watch Rosie O’Donnell and Oprah Winfrey in a bikini contest before I waste any time watching a boring ass Phillies game.

  5. did anyone see the massive titted chick in black tank top behind the giants dugout last night? they showed her when the giants went ahead in teh 14th

  6. Tell fatass to drop a bunt down the 3B line for once in his goddamn worthless life

  7. Yea, he’s been a regular on this roster for how long? 9 years?

    In that time this guy couldn’t figure out how to hit to that GAPING hole on the left side of the diamond. Jesus Christ, half of the league’s pitchers throw away from him, it shouldn’t be that fucking hard to do.

    “But he’s a power hitter” the sheep fans exclaimed.

    But his batting average sucks and no one is afraid to pitch to him anymore.

    1. he also hasnt figured out that pitchers just throw him outside junk and he swings at it every. single. time. Big ape is just stupid. put him back in the zoo

    Howard cares more about building his house than adjusting his swing against the shift

  9. I came up with this idea two years ago. Ban it. Basketball has illegal defense. Football has certain ways you have to line up. No brainer. Play your position.

  10. Ryan Howard is soft because he has money and is a pussy because he wouldn’t talk to me.

    Oh, wait, that’s Nick Foles.

    Nevermind. Back to buying assless leather chaps.

    Seriously, Howard has never been able to hit anything but fastballs down the middle, and some of you think he is going to change now?????

    1. Yes, for whatever reason, Howard’s career is effectively over. But don’t rewrite history. Go back and look at his numbers during his prime. Off the charts.

      1. Yes, his career is over and don’t blame it on the Achilles. He was shot before that. Injuries had nothing to do with his uncanny ability to swing at total shit.

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