Baseball agent Scott Boras is never shy about sharing his opinion. Over the years he’s taken Major League Baseball to task over a myriad of issues, including this past winter’s slow-moving free agent market and the perception of teams tanking.
Now he’s focused on a form of in-game strategy that’s become prevalent in recent seasons: Defensive shifting.
According to Fan Cred Sports’ Jon Heyman, Boras believes the increased use of defensive shifts are specifically and unfairly targeting left handed hitters, and in particular left handed power hitters. In speaking to Heyman, he went as far as to describe shifting against them as “discriminatory.”
What Scott Boras is saying
“You want right handed hitters and left handed hitters treated equally,” Boras said by phone. “I think you have to (legislate) having two players on the other side of the (second base) bag.”
Boras called the extreme shifts being used “discriminatory” because they hurt left handed hitters much more than right handed hitters. He estimated there’s a 20-point penalty for lefty hitters, and further suggested it’s not only bad for those hitters but bad for baseball, as well.
Why is Scott Boras so against shifts?
It’s all about the money, as is everything with baseball’s most notorious agent. Boras sees the effect shifting is having and understands how that could impact the future earnings of his clients.
As Heyman’s article notes, some left-handed batters have seen their batting average drop by 50 points as teams exclusively use shifts to defend them.
Among them is one prominent Scott Boras client who happens to be a free agent following the 2018 season. Perhaps you’ve heard of Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper?
The prime example, of course, is Nationals superstar Bryce Harper, who leads the NL in home runs with 19 but has watched his average plummet into the .220 range. His dip in average comes at an inopportune time as he is about to be a free agent with an unstated by widely known goal to become baseball’s highest-paid player. While that remains very realistic in terms of total dollars for both him and Orioles’ right handed-hitting superstar Manny Machado, Harper’s reduced average could potentially cost him tens of millions of dollars, especially if there with no rules change on the horizon.
Honestly, it’s difficult to imagine the shift having a huge impact on Harper’s potential record-breaking contract. But Boras is clearly focused on maxing that deal and deals for other key clients out.
Are defensive shifts really unfair?
In Boras’ words, defensive shifts make the game feel “uncomfortable” and are “unfair” for left-handed power hitters who were never coached to use the entire field when batting. In the same breath, he calls it a safety concern for players who are out of position.
While we’re certain it does make batters uncomfortable — check out the lengths some teams are willing to go — to suggest it’s unfair or unsafe is a pretty big stretch. Boras using the terms ‘discriminatory’ in this case was certainly over the top.
Baseball was never meant to be comfortable or easy, especially at the big league level. It’s meant to be a challenge. It’s meant to be a game where players never stop learning.
No matter how players were coached coming up, or how much Boras wants his clients to be focused on pulling the ball and putting up big numbers, the game will always come down to adjustments. Teams have made those adjustments defensively by shifting. The onus now should be on the hitters to adjust and produce around the defense.
Unless of course the league changes the rules.
Will defensive shifts ever be banned outright?
If there’s a strong enough tide building up against defensive shifts, then the league will certainly take it under consideration. Commissioner Rob Manfred is on record saying there’s definite momentum within the game to have shifting rules regulated, so some changes could be coming sooner than later.
The commissioner’s main concern is to make the game as exciting as possible. If there’s a strong enough belief that defensive shifts are draining some excitement from the game, then he’ll move to make changes. It’s not unlike the rule changes the NFL, NBA and NHL have made that put perimeters on what teams can do defensively.
If a league wants more offense, it will find a way to get more offense.
Now, if there was only a way to make batters stop striking out.
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