Change is the only constant
In 1973 Charlie Finley, the former owner of the Oakland A’s, tried to introduce orange baseballs
in an effort to help hitters see better. Clearly that change wasn’t adopted, but it gives rise to
further discussion about the announcement from Major League Baseball this week. I will start off
by saying what will be an unpopular opinion, the experiments baseball is attempting in the minor
leagues this season are going to be for the good of the game. I have already seen the hand
wringing and pearl clutching with respect to the proposed changes coming to minor leagues this
year, but wanting things to never change would have us still riding horses, lighting our homes
with candles, or listening to our music on cassette tapes. So let me say fear not, it is okay to let
disco die. So let’s look at one of the rules changes, and some of the potential impact it might
In double-A this season there will be a limit on where the infielders can be placed. There will be
a requirement of two infielders on each side of the second base bag, and a provision that
infielders must keep their feet on the infield dirt. This effectively will eliminate the defensive
alignments where there is a fielder in the outfield grass, with three fielders to the pull side. MLB
says the rule will aid in improving batting average. To my eye, this is a misguided attempt to fix
a problem that is not caused by the positioning of the fielders. If the league was truly interested
in increasing the action, then what should be addressed is the strikeout rate throughout
baseball. The hitters who are able to beat the shift should be rewarded at contract time. While
the old ad slogan “Chicks dig the long ball” holds true, so to general managers each off season.
A hitter like DJ LeMahieu, and his 9.7% strikeout percentage, should be more highly regarded
than Jose Abreu, with his 22.5%. Their WAR was nearly identical 2.6 for Abreu, compared to
2.5 for LaMahieu. However, LeMahieu is regarded as a good player while Abreu walked away
with the American League Most Valuable Player award.
Infield shifts have been around going back to Babe Ruth. Placing limits on where the fielder are
allowed to be positioned might satiate some of the simpler thinkers on this issue. Why hold
anything sacred if the leaders of the game are deciding to alter the fabric of the sport? One
change which could address the lack of action would be to move the mound back from 60’6”.
This would lengthen the reaction time for hitters allowing them to place more balls into play.
Fastpitch softball did this exact thing in 1988; moving the pitcher’s rubber back from 40” to the
current distance of 43”. This led to an increase in offense at all levels of the sport, and the game
is as popular as it has ever been. While moving the mound back would lead to some
otherworldly breaking balls(the physics conversation can wait), the increased distance will be a
boon to fans of the sport, and the overall growth of the game.