Early this year, Jonah Keri identified defensive shifts as one reason for the recent decline in baseball offense. By early July, David Lennon placed basically all of the blame for baseball’s offensive challenges on the shift. Like Keri, he pointed to declining batting averages as proof that the shift was working too well. Things reached a fever pitch a few weeks ago when Tom Verducci ran with an idea that Lennon had proposed: banning the shift in some form, lest baseball offense never recover.
This false association is worrisome. No one feels sorry for declining millionaire pull hitters, but many people are sincerely concerned about declining offense in baseball. Successfully associating the rise of the shift to the decline in baseball offense could convince people to support drastic changes in the game. In 1968, the Year of the Pitcher famously resulted in the mound being lowered and changes to the strike zone.
Let me be clear about one thing: shifts are not affecting overall baseball offense. Shifts are not producing less value on balls put into fair play. We are facing a troubling decline in baseball offense, but if we want to treat the illness, the first thing order of business is to diagnose it correctly.
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