Baltimore Orioles: Not-so-shifty defense?


One piece of news that caught my eye last weekend was that new commissioner Rob Manfred told Karl Ravech of ESPN that he wasn’t necessarily against banning shifts on defense (watch here). I consider myself somewhat of a baseball purist (although not totally – I do support instant replay), so it’ll surprise you to know that I’m not in favor of this. As we know, the Baltimore Orioles use the shift on defense as much as anyone. But that’s beside the point – the game has evolved, and so must our view of it.

Courtesy of Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s draw a parallel with the NFL for a moment; it’s gone through periods where the “Wild Cat” offense, the “Read Option,” and various other trick plays were popular. While those have almost always been mere phases through which the game went, the fact is that they were seen as the evolution of the game. Shifts on defense might be a bit more than a phase, as they’ve been around for longer than the wild cat phase lasted. But if you really want to get rid of shifts, wouldn’t the best way to be to have your hitters bunt down the uncovered base line?

NFL defenses found a way to police the wild cat and the read option; so why can’t MLB offenses do the same in policing shifts? There have been a few times over the years where Oriole hitters have in fact bunted in order to beat the shift. In my view the way that you beat out something like the shift is by literally finding a way to beat it, not by changing the rules.

My other concern is Manfred’s reasoning: more offensive. I’m a fan of pitching, and I obviously feel that it’s a huge part of the game. So why should we make it easier to score runs? One might argue that’s what fans want to see, and that if they don’t change the rules they’ll spend their money elsewhere. Maybe they will for all I know – but pitching is part of the beauty of the game. Let’s not make it tougher to see games that are so well pitched.