MLB commissioner Rob Manfred is no fan of defensive shifts, and now he might be able to do something about it. Baseball’s competition committee last month gave Manfred strong backing to try to put something in place to limit shifts, the Athletic reported on Wednesday.
Manfred made it clear five years ago, before he took over as commissioner, that he didn’t like the shift, but he said he was willing to keep an eye on it to see if batters would adjust.
Since then, shifts have increased, and batters have not adjusted. Last season, shifts were up 30 percent, and the league-wide batting average of .248 was baseball’s lowest since batters hit .244 in 1972.
Any rule change would have to be approved by the players union.
“To this point, there truly hasn’t been a definitive position taken on the ‘shift/no shift’ issue from among the player group,” union head Tony Clark said Wednesday. “`But players thus far have been willing to talk about it as part of a much broader conversation.”
The drop in statistics has been a concern for many players.
In addition to the drop in batting average, strikeouts topped hits for the first time last season.
According to the Athletic, there were fewer ground-ball hits in 2018 (13,213) than there have been in any season since baseball expanded to 30 teams. The chances of a left-handed hitter reaching base on a pulled ground ball to the right side have dropped to their lowest rate in a decade and a half. And there were fewer singles this year (26,322) than in any season in this millennium — and nearly 3,000 fewer than just a decade ago.
“I think it’s a lay-up to get [a rule change] approved by the players,” one front-office executive told the Athletic.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.