Mar 15, 2021 - Sports

MLB to experiment with banning infield shifts and other rule changes

Red Sox infield shift

The Boston Red Sox employing a defensive shift. Photo: Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

MLB will experiment with several rule changes in the minor leagues this season.

The rule changes ... No defensive shifts: In Double-A, all four infielders must have their cleats on the infield dirt when the pitch is thrown. That means no "rover" in shallow right field taking singles away from lefties.

  • Electronic strike zone: Select games in Low-A Southeast will use ABS (automated ball-strike system) to continue refining the optimal zone.
  • 15-second pitch clock: In Low-A West, pitchers will have just 15 seconds to deliver each offering.
  • Limiting pickoffs: Across Low-A, pitchers can step off the rubber only twice per at-bat.
  • Bigger bases: In Triple-A, bases will be three inches longer on all sides both as a safety measure and a way to increase infield hits and stolen bases.

The big picture: Each rule has its own merits, but none will be debated as vehemently as the one banning shifts.

  • Since teams began regularly used shifts a decade ago, the strategy has absolutely exploded — from 2,350 instances in 2011 to 46,758 (!!!) in 2019.
  • Advanced analytics can tell teams where a batter is likely to hit the ball against certain pitches. The increase in well-positioned defenders has led to fewer balls being put in play.

What they're saying: Supporters of the shift argue that hitters should have to adapt, rather than get bailed out by rule changes. That's a fair point, but doesn't necessarily put the best product on the field.

  • "The shift has to be cut down. Let me do me. Let me make the crazy play," says Mets SS Francisco Lindor, arguing that MLB should market elite defense, not well-placed infielders.
  • "I was a blind defender of the shift," tweeted Jomboy Media's James O'Brien. "Then we watched a ton of games from the 70s/80s/90s and the game was so much more fun with more action. That action with today's level of athleticism would be amazing."
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