The Problem Called the Shift

Data analytics having taken over baseball-think in 2019, there’s scarcely a team that hasn’t committed to shifting its infielders at the slightest suggestion of a pull hitter at the plate. Three infielders on one side of second base is no longer reserved, as it was in my youth, for Ted Williams. My observations are based solely on watching Minnesota Twins games this year, but so far I can say that I Hate the shift.
1. and least important is the traditionalist complaint: it dilutes and distorts the classic alignment and function of the nine defensive positions.
2. it’s not helping the Twins: Maybe someone is keeping track, but it seems to me that Twins hitters, especially Max Kepler, have been deprived of many more hits than the opposition.
3. it exposes a modern-day failing: it should be easy to get on base by hitting, or better yet, bunting, against the shift. I saw Eddie Rosario, early in the year, square around and bunt a pitch toward third base, where no one was playing. He could have walked to first, and in fact almost had the chance to stretch it to a double. With hits so hard to come by – the best hitters make outs 7 out of 10 times – why not take what the defense gives you? Either players don’t want to, because they’re so intent on hitting a home run, or they haven’t learned to bunt or hit to the opposite field – old-school skills that used to be a part of learning to play the game but are seldom seen anymore. (I can’t remember the last time the Twins tried a hit-and-run.)
4. this is the big one: there will always be ground balls that make it through the infield for hits, but against a standard defense the ball has to be fairly well hit. When the infield is in the shift, a weakly hit ball against the shift is automatically a base hit, because there is no one there to field it. How discouraging to the pitcher who makes a great pitch, only to have the hitter flail and hit a nubber…to no one.
My Solution: Earlier this year there were rumors that Major League Baseball might consider implementing a rule requiring two infielders to be positioned on either side of second base. Other sports – including the NFL and NBA – add and change rules with some frequency, so it can be done, even if baseball has been slow to follow their lead. I haven’t heard much discussion lately, compared to conjecture about an electronic strike zone or adding a 26th player to the roster.
The other solution is the natural one: convincing players to beat the shift on their own, by bunting and punching balls to the other field. Not only could they pick up easy hits, they would force the other team out of the shift, opening up the normal holes. For every action there’s a reaction, and I hope this particular pendulum will start swinging back, returning baseball to the grand old game I so love.

1 reply
  1. Ben Beach
    Ben Beach says:

    If these guys are good enough to make the Bigs, they should have the skills to lay down a bunt to the open part of the infield.


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