MLB rule changes: Why the shift rule is a horrible idea

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - SEPTEMBER 09: Trevor Story #10 of the Boston Red Sox plays in short right field on a shift against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on September 09, 2022 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - SEPTEMBER 09: Trevor Story #10 of the Boston Red Sox plays in short right field on a shift against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on September 09, 2022 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images) /
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Aroldis Chapman, 100 mph pioneer. Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Aroldis Chapman, 100 mph pioneer. Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports /

What can be done

Obviously, given front office incentives toward power — and thereby strikeouts — as the simplest path to winning, there is little chance that banning the shift will improve ball-in-play proclivity and with it fan interest. Players have too much incentive, especially of the financial kind, to try an adaptive approach. And positioning fielders is irrelevant if the batter fans.

If you really want to restore contact to the game, one revolutionary idea ought to be at least given consideration: Move the mound back.

One of the reasons for high strikeout totals is simply that pitchers today throw harder than they ever have before. Velocity rules, and the importance of velocity is directly related to the proximity of pitcher and hitter.

The present 60-foot, six-inch distance from the mound to home was established in 1893 and functioned reasonably well as long as batters emphasized contact.

In 1893, when the mound was first moved to its present distance, there were about 2.5 strikeouts per team per game. Over the decades, that number gradually crept up: 3.7 at the height of the deadball era in 1908, to about 3.9 by 1950, and to 5.75 by 1970.

Yet as recently as the 2000 season, fewer than 6.5 batters struck out per team per game. The comparable figure for 2022 is on pace to wind up at about 8.5 per game.

If you wonder why baseball is more boring today, that’s your answer.

Next. Will we ever see another Maddux or Wakefield?. dark

The one adjustment with a chance to restore some sense of historical normality is the most radical one, relocating the mound back by a foot or two. With dozens of pitchers throwing in excess of 100 mph these days, it’s the most logical means of restoring the historical equilibrium.