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They’re going to try painting lines on infields to enforce shifts

It’s an experiment in the Florida State League.

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Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images

That headline needs some explanation, and it’s provided in this long article by Jayson Stark in The Athletic, in which he describes another effort by MLB to experiment with rule changes that would restrict shifting by infielders.

To wit:

Starting July 22, in the rule-change lab known as the Florida State League, chalk lines will appear in the infield dirt behind second base, sources tell The Athletic. Those lines will be shaped like a slice of pie. Not to make everybody run for the concession stands. For a much more nourishing purpose:

To bring back a once-beloved, but fast-fading, relic of baseball’s past: The good old single up the middle.

The reason for this experiment: In the minor leagues this year, in Low-A, High-A and Double-A, there’s already been a rule requiring two infielders on each side of second base, with no infielder allowed on the outfield grass.

But, apparently, up to now that has not provided the offensive increase that MLB had hoped for. So starting next week, that’s going to change to this, in this image created by Eno Sarris of The Athletic:

Eno Sarris/The Athletic

Well. That looks weird, right. Here is what that is intended to accomplish:

The pie slice allows infielders to set up right next to second base so they can hold runners and more easily get to the bag to field throws. But if they want to station themselves up the middle for defensive-positioning purposes, the rule forces them to play 20 feet or so shallower than many of them play now. And why is that? Because the deeper they position themselves, the farther they’re pushed to the left or right of the bag by the chalk line.

If they violate the rule by playing inside the chalk lines, the team at bat gets to choose one of the following: the outcome of the pitch, the outcome of the play or an automatic ball. It’s kind of like a baseball offsides call.

What is eventually going to happen, after MLB gathers data from this experiment in the Florida State League, is that the new Competition Committee will evaluate what they find. The committee consists of executives, players and one umpire, as follows:

Players: Whit Merrifield (Royals), Jack Flaherty (Cardinals), Tyler Glasnow (Rays), Austin Slater (Giants). Alternates: Walker Buehler (Dodgers), Ian Happ (Cubs).

Umpire: Bill Miller.

Executives: Bill DeWitt Jr. (Cardinals), Mark Shapiro (Blue Jays), John Stanton (Mariners), Tom Werner (Red Sox), Dick Monfort (Rockies), Charles Johnson (Giants).

So there’s a Cub on that committee, as well as several other significant players, and hopefully the fact that there are active players on the committee will help give input from the standpoint of people actually playing the game now.

Stark writes that after such an evaluation, the committee could recommend a rule change, or simply expanding this experiment to other minor leagues for next year. As noted in the article:

They want player buy-in on this change and any others. And [Commissioner Rob] Manfred has continued to say he prefers to shy away from implementing any change unilaterally, even though the new collective bargaining agreement gives him the authority to do that, 45 days after MLB formally makes a proposal.

Now, what do I think of this? Well, I had been adamantly against any rules restricting shifts, up to recently. But I am tired of seeing teams place their third baseman in right field and throwing a runner out at first base on what, up to a few years ago, would have been a clean single to right. It’s clear that modern analytics departments have perfected the art of perfecting defensive positioning to the point that it is seriously depressing offense. I’m sure you can remember time after time seeing Jason Heyward ground out into a shift like this. MLB wants less of that, and I have changed my position to where I now favor some sort of restriction on shifting.

As noted in Stark’s article, simply requiring two fielders on either side of second base and keeping them off the outfield grass hasn’t accomplished its goal, increasing offense:

The data for this season is incomplete. But here is what happened in the minor leagues last season, in leagues that required two infielders to set up on each side of the bag in the second half:

Percentage of groundballs/bunts turned into outs:

2021 (first half *): 70.2 percent
2021 (second half **): 70.8 percent

(*-only shift limit: no infielders set up in outfield)

(**-added shift limit: two infielders on each side of 2B)

In other words, that two-on-each-side rule had virtually no impact.

So that’s why the pie-slice idea has been proposed, and will be tried as an experiment. They might have to put some sort of marking on the field to enforce defensive positioning, if this is how MLB wants to try to increase offense.

Right now, I’m in wait-and-see mode. Let’s see what half a season of this in the Florida State League accomplishes.

Because those ground balls into right field that turn into outs aren’t helping baseball.


MLB’s experimental "pie-slice" infield defensive positioning...

This poll is closed

  • 30%
    Love it! Let’s get more offense in the game!
    (167 votes)
  • 33%
    Hate it! Let managers decide how to position fielders.
    (181 votes)
  • 36%
    I want to wait and see how the Florida State League experiment works
    (197 votes)
545 votes total Vote Now