Joe Maddon isn’t exactly the godfather of the defensive shift in baseball – even Ted Williams tried hitting through an unbalanced infield alignment – but he played no small role in its current ubiquity.
First as bench coach for the Los Angeles Angels and then as manager of the Tampa Bay Rays, Maddon has long been a sultan of the spray chart, leading a revolution that peaked in 2020, when defensive shifts were deployed in 34% of plate appearances, up from 14% just two years earlier.
It’s little surprise, then, that Maddon was guardedly skeptical about rules experiments Major League Baseball will test in the minor leagues this year – “It goes against my fabric a bit,” he says – but remains bullish on another method to enhance action in a game desperately seeking it.
Deadening the baseball.
MLB sent a memo last month to all 30 teams noting it will loosen the tension on the seams of the baseball and also double from five to 10 the number of ballparks that will store its baseballs in a humidor. This comes two years after a 2019 season that saw a record 6,776 home runs hit and cap an explosion in the home run rate per game – from 0.86 in 2014 to a record 1.26 in 2017 and 1.39 in 2019.
Call that the crescendo of the “three true outcomes” movement – where hitters aim for walks and home runs, strikeouts be damned – and defenders are optimally positioned to prevent anything in between.
Combine that with a preponderance of pitchers nearing 100 mph on the radar gun blowing hitters away at the top of the strike zone and the game became, well, rather stationary.
Yet powerball was how teams saw they could gather wins and players saw they’d get paid.
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