Chris McCosky | The Detroit News
Lakeland, Fla. — Tigers manager AJ Hinch mentioned it earlier in camp, that he suspected that one day Major League Baseball might step in and legislate shifts out of the game. Well, his suspicions are now a little closer to reality.
The league announced Thursday several rules experiments that will take place this season at the minor-league level. Among them, in Double A, there’s a new rule that a minimum of four infielders will have to be positioned with both feet on the dirt. And that, if successful, could lead to expanding the rule to keep two infielders on the dirt on each side of second base.
In other words, adios to defensive shifts.
“We’re trying to find ways as an industry to improve the game,” Hinch said. “And the only way to test it is in real competition — that being in the minor leagues. I fully support the effort. I still think the jury is still out on what’s best, what we should and shouldn’t do and how much we should impact the game or what the intended and unintended consequences are.
“But I applaud the effort.”
Wait. You applaud the effort? You’ve spent the better part of your managerial career compiling data and perfecting ways to take away hits from teams with precise defensive alignments. If the game outlaws shifts at the big-league level, all that work, all that success, is out the window going forward.
“I think it’s a hot topic, whether the shift is good or bad for the game,” Hinch said. “Obviously, I like to deploy it and I have for a number of years. But whatever is best for the game. We’re here to be stewards of the game.
“I think we have to challenge what we do to come out of it with the best product for the fans.”
Hinch believes this particular change, as well the experiment to limit the number of pick-off moves pitchers can attempt (Single-A level), will eventually find their way to big-league implementation.
“We’ve seen Major League Baseball do a lot of things over the years that have been pretty good, things that at first we were shocked by and then later learned it was good for the game,” he said, mentioning taking away home plate collisions and cleaning up the contact at second base.
“I don’t know how dramatic the league wants to go, but why not try it?”
For now, though, it’s full speed ahead on the shifts. It won’t be long before Hinch throws a four-outfielder alignment at some poor left-handed pull hitter.
“We spend a lot of time and energy trying to optimize where we play our fielders and how to take away hits,” Hinch said. “I do like that part of the game. But if they determine that’s not best for the game — the game is bigger than me, bigger than any manager or any strategy. We need to pay attention to that.”
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