More Steals, No Shifts and Robot Umps: ‘Our Fans Want the Action’

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Raul, from the players’ standpoint, what are the biggest concerns you hear, and what’s important to them as you go down this path?

Ibanez: Early on, there’s always a little bit of reluctance to accept change, for a moment. But I feel like this generation of players, the guys I talk to now, are really much more open to a lot of the rule changes and the ideas behind them. Ultimately, the players want the game to move faster, too. I can tell you, as a player, that when Cliff Lee was on the mound and you’re facing Jarrod Washburn in a day game and it’s an hour and 53 minutes, a 2-1 game where you get three at-bats, everyone goes home happy.

There are a lot of new ideas and theories at work here. What do you think will be the most noticeable difference in practice?

Hill: If you look at the defensive positioning and how big a part of our game it has become, with all the analytics, I think that’s going to be an adjustment. But offensively, speaking as a former hitter — although I wasn’t very good and they didn’t have the shift when I played — you’re just trying to create more action and put more balls in play. You’re opening up the field; without that guy in short right field anymore, you can hit a line drive there and know that you’ve got a hit. I think that’s something that will definitely be positively embraced.

Ibanez: I agree with you, Mike. There’s nothing more frustrating, as a left-handed hitter, than hitting a 200-foot one-hopper to shallow right field and getting thrown out by two steps. And it actually causes you to change your behavior. I can tell you that toward the end of my career I started hitting into the shift, and I was like, ‘Well, I’m just going to pull the ball in the air then and try to hit the ball in the seats.’ My swing-and-miss rate probably went up, but my home runs per at-bat also went up. So taking the depth out of it, forcing guys to play on the dirt, I’m really excited to see what that is like.

(Ibanez pivoted to the issue of new bases, citing a play in the 2018 National League Championship Series in which Milwaukee first baseman Jesus Aguilar was clipped in the heel as the Dodgers’ Manny Machado crossed the bag. The Class AAA bases will have a different texture to reduce the chances of a player’s foot slipping, and Ibanez mentioned another possible safety benefit.)

Ibanez: Historically, guys who were first basemen put their foot on the side of the bag; they extend their range and work to their backhand side. Now, if you go back and look at the Aguilar play — you see a lot more of this today than ever before, guys with their back heel up instead of getting on the side of the bag. And I strongly believe it’s because of the way lineups are structured today: you’ve got to get your best bats in the lineup for that matchup, so you see a lot of guys playing first base that didn’t come up as first basemen.

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