New MLB commissioner Rob Manfred says he is open to discussing any change to improve pace, offense, attraction of baseball to younger fan, and that is just the perspective baseball needs right now, Ken Rosenthal says
Eliminate defensive shifts? Please discuss, and don’t stop there when debating how to inject offense into the game.
Talk about lowering the mound. About using the DH in both leagues. About adjusting the strike zone.
Baseball broached the above ideas and more in a package of data that it recently presented to the players union, but nothing formal was discussed or proposed, according to a source with knowledge of the exchange.
New commissioner Rob Manfred is not yet ready to focus on boosting offense; the sport will address pace-of-game issues first, major-league sources say.
But at some point, baseball needs to make tweaks if necessary to enhance run production, all while maintaining the integrity of the game.
Manfred, at least, sounds open to new possibilities.
He offered a glimpse into his thinking Sunday, mentioning two ideas when asked by ESPN’s Karl Ravech about the most radical changes he would make in regard to the way the game is played on the field.
His first suggestion involved the pace of game; Manfred said he would “be aggressive about using the (pitch) clock over the long haul.” His second recommendation concerned offense, and that is when Manfred said he would be open to eliminating shifts.
Pressed by Ravech, Manfred indicated that he wasn’t talking about forcing infielders to maintain set positions; he was thinking more about dividing “the number of players who have to be on each side of second base” — in other words, prohibiting the use of three infielders on the right side.
I don’t agree with Manfred; at this point, the sample size for judging the effectiveness of shifts is too small. I’d rather see if hitters start to adjust before telling the smart guys who devised the shifts, “Sorry, you went too far.”
The issue, though, is certainly worthy of exploration — and it’s not the only one that warrants deeper investigation as far as offense is concerned.
The data packet that baseball sent to the union — and subsequent informal conversations — included the following ideas, according to the source:
• Lowering the mound.
• Bringing in the fences in every park (a decision generally left to the individual clubs).
• Wrapping the ball tighter to make it fly farther.
• Adjusting the strike zone, which has gotten wider and lower, according to baseball’s data.
• Adopting the designated hitter in the National League.
Now don’t start howling on social media — none of these ideas has even progressed to a proposal, and it’s possible that none ever will.
Manfred, in fact, seemed to shoot down the possibility of the DH in both leagues Sunday, telling The New York Times: “I can’t see the American League clubs giving it up, and right now, given the composition of our National League owners, I don’t see them buying into it. So I think we’re staying where we are.”
The union also would need to approve a DH in both leagues, and its support might not be as automatic as you think. Full-time DHs like David Ortiz are becoming dinosaurs, so the addition of the DH in the NL would not necessarily create more high-paying jobs. Teams often rotate players in the DH spot as a way of resting them.
In any case, it’s too early to get into a point-by-point debate over each possible wrinkle; the point is, Manfred seems open to new ideas. His predecessor, Bud Selig, introduced a number of innovations, but only after painstaking consensus-building. A forward-thinking, fast-acting commissioner would be refreshing.
That said, Manfred is too smart to try to overhaul the sport overnight, and the union would never allow him to unilaterally implement radical change. Frankly, it would be dangerous for the sport to overreact to the recent trend of declining offense and fundamentally alter the way the game is played at the major-league level. The consequences, both intended and unintended, could be enormous.
But that’s not my point.
No, my point is that Manfred recognizes that baseball too often is boring for the casual fan and that it needs to adapt going forward.
Eliminating shifts? Lowering the mound? Adjusting the strike zone?
Let’s hear it. Let’s hear all of it. New leader, new life.