MLB commissioner Rob Manfred surprised the nation when he recently informed ESPN’s Karl Ravech that his office is considering eliminating shifts. To many the move is borderline heresy but fans have to realize where Manfred is coming from. Baseball is in its greatest offensive drought in more than 40-years.
Rule changes are not without precedent. Commissioners have made dramatic changes to amp up the offense. The height of mounds was lowered two-generations ago and balls were manufactured with more bounce, which effectively ended the deadball era..
If Manfred acts quickly with shift legislation that will have a great impact on slow, lefthanded pull hitters. There’s no slower, left-handed hitter, who pulls the ball more than Ryan Howard.
If you scan Howard’s batted ball spray charts, the Big Piece hits practically the same way he did back in 2006 when he was NL MVP. But shifts have followed shortly after he emerged as a mighty power threat. Opposing managers adjusted to Howard but he has yet to make an adjustment in a game of adjustments.
But what if Manfred enacts the no shift rule? How much would Howard’s average climb?
“Quite a bit,” an AL scout said. “The way they shift on him makes a big difference. Howard’s average could go from .220 to .290. It would make that big of a difference. He hits so many rockets over the second baseman’s head, if the second baseman played in his normal position. But when Howard bats the second baseman is the second rightfielder.”
If the rules change, shouldn’t Howard’s value rise?
“I would think that would be the case,” an AL scout said. “It would be huge for him since he never adjusted to the shift.”
Indeed. Metro asked Howard last season if he ever considered bunting to beat the shift. “I’ve considered it,” Howard said.
It will be fascinating to see if Manfred is as proactive as he seems. The commish is talking about adding pitch clocks to speed up the game, restricting hitters timeouts once they enter the batters box and doing whatever it takes to increase offense.
The average major league batting average decreased to just .251 in 2014 (Howard hit .223) and shifts have tripled in use since 2012. Don’t be surprised if Manfred makes what he deems as a necessary adjustment in an era, which pitchers reign and strikeouts are rising each year (AL MVP Mike Trout struck out 184 times).
It would be good news for Howard and the Phillies, who could find an instant market for Howard or watch as he potentially bounces back to some degree at the plate.