I’m normally low man on the outrage over changes to the game list. The game has been under construction three times as long as the Goethals Bridge has been for crying out loud. And whether all the old angry men who yell at clouds want to admit it or not, most of the changes have been good for the game and the fans.
But among all of the potential changes to the game being experimented with in the minor leagues this season, rules restricting defensive shifting are the most mind numbingly nonsensical. For the sake of discussion, let’s assume there is a problem MLB needs to address – restricting how and where teams can play defense not only fails to address the problem, it actually exacerbates it by encouraging the offensive philosophy they want muted in the first place.
Let’s see if we fans are smart enough to follow along with the conversation:
MLB: “Batters constantly trying to pull it in the air is a problem. Fans are bored by batters ‘all or nothing’, always swing for the fences m.o.”
Teams’ Defense: “Roger that. Well since we know where batters are going to hit it, we’re going to put fielders in those spots, which will force batters to adjust their thinking and approach.”
MLB: “No you can’t do that.”
Teams’ Defense: “But you said batters pulling the ball in the air is boring, so we’re giving them a base hit anytime they want one by leaving half the field unattended. All batters have to do is worry about launch angle less and contact more and they’ll get base hits.”
MLB: “But we don’t like to see the shortstop on the right side of second base or an infielder standing on grass, heaven forbid – dirt only. Plus it really inconveniences the announcers because they have to stop their in game talk show to explain the on field strategy of the defense, the batter and the pitcher. You can’t ask them to do that when they’re interviewing the ex-player next to them about what they’re eating in between innings.”
Batters: “Cool. We want to dig our heels in, squeeze the bat handle into sawdust and try to hit the ball to the gas station in the next county. Now that there are less fielders in that direction, there’s less of a penalty and risk to us for putting that philosophy into practice.”
MLB: “Cool. So now batters are even more incentivized to focus on launch angle and exit velocity. Problem solved, crisis averted. Well done everyone!”
[Stares blankly for a few seconds. Shakes head. Pinches bridge of nose. Types letter.]
By the power of Pud Galvin’s Buffalo Bisons necktie, I command you to shrink the strike zone. Force pitchers to throw balls that the batter can reasonably be expected to put into play. I.e., use the strike zone as the tool that it was intended to be when it was invented over a century and a half ago. Right now, batters only chance is to hope for a mistake and try to put a run on the board with one swing when they see the mistake. If you want that to change, shrink the zone.
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