What Major League Baseball is finding is that baseball fans don’t want their favorite power-hitting lefthanded hitter grounding out to right field. It’s just not that exciting to see teams shifting and frustrating those big lefthanded power hitters.
Just go the other way and break the shift you say? Well, the hitters will tell you it’s not easy. If they could do it, they would. David Ortiz was a big victim of this. Bryce Harper, too. There aren’t too many Wade Boggs, Tony Gwynns, George Bretts, or Rod Carews in baseball anymore. They could maneuver the bat.
Hitters will tell you now that it’s hard to maneuver the bat to hit the other way when a guy is throwing 98 miles per hour and busting you inside. There are hitters who can do it, no doubt. Alex Cora was proud of the fact that Jackie Bradley Jr. was able to do it. Over time maybe there will be more as young hitters are taught the art of shift-busting at the minor league level. But the shift has been around for a few years now and nothing has really changed.
So MLB is rightfully looking into putting limits on shifts or eliminating them all together.
I would love to see them go away.
“I like two guys on each side,” Detroit manager Ron Gardenhire said at the Winter Meetings. “I’ve always said that or at least keep them all in the dirt rather than in the grass. Ask Victor Martinez. He might have hit .300 this year (he hit .251) if they just had them on the infield. Yeah, I am old school in that respect. That shifting and everything is all good and fine, but I think Abner [Doubleday], when he set this game up a long time ago, he set it up the right way.”
Exactly, Mr. Gardenhire.
It’s not a good look for the sport. If you’re trying to increase run production, coming up with crazy alignments and shifting on every count, just isn’t the way to do it. Maybe the art of shifting makes the front offices look smart, but nobody comes to games to watch the front office. They come to watch players, hitters who are just getting more and more frustrated.
Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle is more accepting and puts the responsibility on the hitter.
“What the shifts are telling hitters, is here’s what you do, and here’s the way we’re going to play you. And it’s now that point of competition where a punch has been thrown, a defense has been laid out, where is your counter punch? Where is your answer? It’s just another evolution of the game that’s been very intriguing, very creative. It’s changed the dynamic of the game.”
Padres manager Andy Green was neutral on whether shifts should be altered or banned.
“I don’t care,” Green said. “You’ve got to play by the rules. As a manager, when you talk about putting the DH into the National League or removing shifts, you’re taking decisions off my plate. I enjoy making those decisions, but that’s selfish in nature. I’m not that concerned if you take the shift off we’re not going to be able to create a competitive advantage. Everybody is playing by those rules. Some people might have a real strong passion. The game is effectively going to be the same. We play baseball for a hundred plus years shifting one or two guys. I’m not that concerned about the game changing drastically if we’re not allowing shifts.”
I was hoping Terry Francona would be the guy who would lead the charge against shifting, but he’s fallen into analytical hypnosis.
“Yeah, and I may be in the minority now. I don’t think you can dictate to teams competitive things. You know what I mean? You hear me say it sometimes, the unintended consequences. I think the game makes its change, sometimes they’re a little slower than maybe you’d like. Hitters are going to adjust. I don’t think we’ve seen it quick enough in our game, but it will happen. And you’ll see hitters earning, making players play them more straight up. You know it just hasn’t happened yet,” Francona said.
“We went through this with launch angle and that hitters have forgotten the basics of fundamental hitting, but I think you’ll see guys getting back to that. So I hate to reward guys who don’t use the field by making a rule change. If we did that every time, our game would be all over the map.”
Obviously, hitters hate shifts. Aren’t they the product? They put fans in the stands. The players should be able to have a huge say on shifting.
There’s a competition committee that discusses shifts on a regular basis.
And there is serious discussion about at least altering them. There are plenty of good ideas like one in which you can shift, but once you declare your shift you can’t change it based on the count. At least that stops the commotion and at least gives the hitter only one formation to contend with.
There have been multiple suggestions about keeping the infielders on the infield dirt. There have been others like Gardenhire who have suggested that you need to have two infielders on either side of the second-base bag.
Shifting has obviously taken place for years. Ted Williams was shifted on, Carlton Fisk would occasionally face a shift on the left side of the infield.
The use of the whole field solution is fine, but not all hitters are all-field hitters. There are natural pull hitters and you’re asking those players to change their natural hitting stroke.
“I think it gets blown out of proportion when people say, ‘Just hit a ground ball to short.’ You can’t just take a 98 mph cutting fastball in on your hands and do that,” St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter told MLB.com earlier this season. “Let’s just say I sell out tonight, and I try it four times. The likelihood of me hitting four straight ground balls to short and ending up 4 for 4 are very slim. If I succeed once or maybe twice, at best I’m going to go 2 for 4 with two singles, where if I just play the game, I might go 2 for 4 with a homer and a double. It makes no sense to me.”
Ortiz was frustrated by it but he didn’t give in to it. He didn’t try to push a bunt the other way. He went the other way when he could. He probably cost himself 20 or 30 points in batting average by hitting those ground balls to right field. Man how I hated when that happened.
There are plenty of folks who think you can’t keep teams from shifting, but why not? In the NBA you can’t stand in the paint forever can you? Why can’t you enforce players playing their positions?
MLB has finally recognized that shifting isn’t doing the sport any favors. Hopefully, they’ll do something about it soon.