By David Little — @DLittleMLB
I was watching the Sox today, and something that came up in conversation on air was the use of the shift, and how it has become common place. The shift was being used against Brock Holt (I think), and the announcer’s main point was that Holt is not trying to hit doubles or homers, he’s just trying to get on base. So, why even use the shift?
This interested me, as it was also mentioned that there was talk of banning the shift. The number of shifts has nearly doubled every year since 2011, from 2,357 to 13,298 last year, according to Baseball Info Solutions (LAtimes.com). Joe Girardi even said, “It is an illegal defense, like basketball. Guard your man, guard your spot. If I were commissioner, they would be illegal.” He went on to say that he would keep using it as long as it was allowed.
And there lies the perceived problem, the overuse of the shift and how it almost makes the game unfair. The shift allows for more balls to be captured by the fielders, as they are in position to make plays on batters based on the batters handiness. For a left handed hitter, the SS would line up behind 2nd, or just right of 2nd. For a right handed hitter, the 2nd baseman would line up behind 2nd, or just left of 2nd. That sounds like a solid strategy, right? But the stats don’t support that.
“There were 183,941 plate appearances in the major leagues in 2014. If we bump up (John) Dewan’s projected number (Saber guy) and assume there were 14,000 shifts, that would mean that defenses shifted on just 7.6 percent of those hitters. If we assume that 67 percent of those batters would have made an out with or without the shift (that works out to a .330 BABIP for those hitters, well above this year’s league average of .314), that means there were just 4,620 at-bats that could have been impacted by the shift, or 2.5 percent of the total. Take out the times that those hitters still reached base — be it by a hit, home run, walk or hit by pitch — and the number of at-bats affected by the shift are reduced down to a number so small as to have had no meaningful impact on league-wide scoring levels.” (si.com, 2015)
We in Boston land have seen the shift regularly employed against David Ortiz (hurts me that’s he’s gone), but to use it against Holt? To me that’s absurd. So here’s what I think: the shift should be allowed because these guys are professionals. If you are upset about the shift, beat it. Usually the 3rd baseman is so far back that all one would need to do is lay down a drag bunt and hustle (sorry Rusney Castillo, but I guess you can’t beat the shift). Be a ball player and beat it. Is it that hard?
In the end it adds something different to the game, something entertaining in a way. Ortiz use to seem almost challenged by it, and would hit the ball as hard as he could at it to beat it. The shift is not a new thing though, as it was employed against Ted Williams back in the day. So leave it alone. Enough screwing with the game. Let managers run their teams how they choose. That’s just my 2 cents though. Let me know what you guys think!