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According to reports, former Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein will join the commissioners office as a consultant for “on-field matters.” Just last month, Epstein apologized to baseball fans for supporting analytics and therefore “hurting the aesthetic value of the game,” and if he’s truly contrite, his new position can actually help him fix his mistake.
He can ban the shift.
As of now, defenders are allowed to stand wherever they want on the field, instead of playing their designated areas. Preventing players from playing too far out of position would help batters put the ball in play and draw more viewers to the games.
Breaking news -Theo Epstein will join the commissioners office as a consultant regarding on field matters. MLB will announce today.— Bruce Levine (@MLBBruceLevine) January 14, 2021
In Theo Epstein’s farewell he blamed himself and others for dramatically changing the game ‘using analytics and other measures to try to optimize individual and team performance had a negative impact on the aesthetic value of the game and the entertainment value of the game.’— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) January 14, 2021
A common rebuttal to such a ban is that major league hitters should be able to overcome shifts on defense, that hitters should train themselves to adjust to fielders’ choices. That argument sounds logical on its surface, but it’s actually garbage for the sport. And here’s why.
Pitch velocity has never been as high as it is today, which naturally makes the job at the plate much more difficult. Hitters are not only struggling to put the bat on the ball, but they’re also battling to find holes in the field.
Hitters have developed their approach since the second they leave tee-ball, and these approaches take years to develop. When the shift made its way into Major League Baseball, hitters took a few years to implement their adjustments. That adjustment wasn’t to “hit it where they ain’t,” but to hit the ball over their heads. It may sound fan-friendly to have more players trying to hit homers, but it had the opposite effect. Games now average almost 1.5 home runs, compared to the “steroid era” where we saw barely one every nine innings. It turns out that chicks don’t dig the long ball–they come to the field for action.
Take these two rare instances that Twitter pretends to like but that true baseball fans absolutely hate:
🚨🚨🚨JOEY GALLO BUNTED AGAINST THE SHIFT🚨🚨🚨 pic.twitter.com/sWX3mDnIF8— Cut4 (@Cut4) June 9, 2018
You think the Texas Rangers want Joey Gallo, who’s 6′ 4″ and 235 pounds, slapping a bunt to third base for a single? If he were a hitter who could run, then it would be a different story. Gallo would be a threat to steal a base, maybe cause a pitcher to rush to the plate and in theory help the man on deck make something happen. That would be a reason why a hitter would bunt. But in this case, Joey Gallo was just giving in to the defensive shift.
Or how about SS Carlos Correa and 2B Jose Altuve standing 20 feet into the right field grass? Sorry to hurt anyone’s feelings, but this is not where the inventors of baseball wished to see the game go. For 20+ years of his life, Gallo was praised for hitting the ball hard, and now, he’s crucified for “beating balls into the shift and refusing to go the other way.”
Why the shift would improve the game
If Theo Epstein helped negate analytics from taking over baseball by limiting the shift, fans would start to fall in love with the game again because they’d actually recognize it. People grew up watching Pete Rose and Tony Gwynn hit to their strengths and be rewarded for them, and that baseball experience was objectively more fun for the fans.
Baseball doesn’t need more runs scored. It doesn’t even need more home runs. America’s greatest pastime needs more action. Banning the shift would help hitters focus on putting the ball in play, not trying to hit the ball in the seats.
Theo, please save this game while you still can.