Major League Baseball to test anti-shift rules in the minor leagues this season
The left-handed slugger comes to bat, and the modern infield shifts. The third baseman moves to second base. The second baseman moves into short right field. The left side of the infield is manned solely by the shortstop.
Should Major League Baseball put a stop to that? Experiments in the minor leagues this year will inform a decision.
In double-A games this year, teams will be required to use a minimum of four infielders, all of whom must have both feet in front of the outfield grass. The results will be evaluated during the first half of the season, and in the second half teams could be required to station two infielders on each side of second base.
The experiments are designed to return singles to the game, and with them the excitement of stolen bases and multi-hit rallies. Teams averaged 8.04 hits per game last season. Since 1908, the only season in which teams have averaged fewer hits per game was 1968, after which MLB lowered the height of the pitcher’s mound to induce more offense.
The league is increasingly concerned that the modern game has deteriorated into a festival of home runs, strikeouts and walks, with defensive action on the decline because relatively few balls are put in play.
In each team’s last at-bat of the 2020 World Series, the Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays combined to put two balls into play among the final seven batters: home run, walk, strikeout, double play, fly out, strikeout, strikeout.
“We are listening to our fans,” Michael Hill, the MLB senior vice president of on-field operations, said in a statement. “This effort is an important step towards bringing to life rules changes aimed at creating more action and improving the pace of play.”
In Class A leagues, MLB will limit pitchers to two pickoff throws. In triple-A, the size of the bases will increase from 15 to 18 inches, which the league hopes will reduce collisions and encourage more stolen bases.
The advent of analytics turned the stolen-base attempt into an exercise in risk management: Don’t run unless you’re sure you can make it. The average team had 0.49 stolen bases in 2020 and 0.47 stolen bases in 2019, the first time that figure had dropped below 0.5 since 1972.
“The game on the field is constantly evolving, and MLB must be thoughtful and intentional about progressing toward the very best version of baseball — a version that is true to its essence and has enough consistent action and athleticism on display to entertain fans of all ages,” said MLB consultant and former Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox baseball chief Theo Epstein.
“These rules experiments will provide valuable insight into various ways to create a playing environment that encourages the most entertaining version of the game.”
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