Nationals

Manfred open to dropping 7-inning doubleheaders, limiting shifts

Nationals
Rob Manfred

Amid a decline in coronavirus cases across the U.S., Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred announced Tuesday that he sees the sport’s rule book reverting back to many of its pre-pandemic provisions next season.

Speaking with reporters ahead of the All-Star Game, Manfred called the seven-inning doubleheaders that have been in effect the last two seasons a “COVID-related change” that he doesn’t believe will be “part of our future going forward.” The free baserunner on second base in extra innings is likely to go away as well.

“When we adopted seven-inning doubleheaders for this year, we didn't know the country was going to look like it does now,” Manfred said, as quoted by ESPN. “We were scared it was going to look very, very different.”

But Manfred didn’t stop there, indicating he would be willing to explore new rule changes that limit defensive shifts. The last half-decade has seen a spike in the frequency of teams moving infielders around to limit opposing hitters’ ability to turn groundballs into hits. Ten years ago, hitters faced the shift in less than 3% of plate appearances. This year, batters are seeing it 58% of the time — even more so for lefties.

“Let's just say you regulated the shift by requiring two infielders on each side of second base,” Manfred said. “What does that do? It makes the game look like what it looked like when I was 12 years old.

 

“It's not change, it's kind of restoration. That's why people are in favor of it. Front offices, in general, believe it will have a positive effect on the play of the game...I'm hopeful that we will have productive conversations with the MLBPA about non-radical changes to the game that will restore it to being played in a way that is closer to what many of us enjoy historically.”

Of course, any talk of substantial rule changes has to be discussed in the context of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. The current CBA expires after this season and the relationship between Major League Baseball Players Association and the owners is strained. After the two sides publicly feuded over how to hold a shortened season in 2020, the leaks have slowed as they’ve worked toward avoiding a lockout next spring.

Manfred downplayed the tensions between the two sides, but it will be months before an agreement can prove him right.