[This is part of Redleg Nation’s ongoing series on the changing run environment in baseball. For an introduction to the series check out Feeling Run Down.]

A lot of attention has been paid to defensive shifts over the last year, and with good reason; the game can look pretty weird these days. Some teams shifted three of their infielders to one side of second base more than a thousand times last year, and as ESPN noted, the use of infield shifts has gone up more than sevenfold just since 2011. The once predictable infield is running all over the place these days.

At the same time, offense is down all over the league. Teams averaged just 659 runs last year, down from 744 in 2005, and 710 in 2010. That’s a big enough change to also make the game look pretty different. Losing 100 runs in a season may not sound like a ton because it’s less than one per game, but it means more shutouts, a lot more low scoring games, and a lot fewer big blowouts.

2So some people, including the new commissioner Bob Manfred, have been putting two and two together and thinking that maybe all these shifts have been cutting into scoring. Manfred has even gone so far as to suggest that MLB might consider banning the use of infield shifts, creating some kind of “illegal defense” in baseball. When I first heard that I thought it was crazytalk, but it’s not like baseball hasn’t taken some extreme measures to promote offense before (lowering the mound), and we know the powers that be want to see the scoring come back.

But would banning the shift really get the runs back? We’re talking about singles here and hitters aren’t doing most of their damage with grounders on the pull-side. I decided to take a look and see, are shifts killing offense? The answer it turns out was a lot less complicated than I thought: No.

Ok, I’ll unpack that a little. When you boil it all down, there are really only four things that you need to look at when you’re thinking about scoring runs at the macro level like this. Walks (BB%), Strikeouts (K%), Power (ISO), and Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP). Of the four, the shift only really affects one those, BABIP. If you’re assuming the shift is working to take away offense, you’re assuming that the ball has already been put into play and that it turned into an out instead of a hit. The chart below shows the changes in those four numbers league-wide over the last ten years.

Untitled

BABIP is actually slightly higher than where it was in 2005, and has been going up (very slightly) through the years where teams have been increasing their use of shifts and scoring has taken a nose dive. During that time, Ks are up a bunch, and power is down a bunch, both reasons that scoring has dropped off. But BABIP? Not down, actually up. And thus, it’s safe to say that defensive shifts just aren’t the reason for the league-wide drop in offense. The only way that shifts can affect play is by decreasing BABIP (unless you’re getting into the mental side, getting into a hitter’s head, but that’s not what people like the comish have been talking about) and BABIP has gone up.

Is it possible that all this shifting is actually helping teams score more runs? I didn’t think that passed the eyeball test and looked a little deeper. In 2013, team BABIP with the shift on was .287 and with no shift was .301. Fangraphs looked at the 44 players that hit against the shift at least 100 times in 2014 and found that their BABIP against the shift was .281 and with no shift their BABIP was .291. (The list included Jay Bruce, who hit 189 balls into the shift in 2014 and had a batting average of .286 while doing so, compared to his .216 BABIP with no shift. Ah the joys of small sample sizes.) So it definitely looks like the shift is doing what you would expect it to when it’s on, i.e. turn some batted balls into outs that would have been hits.

So here’s my conclusion: as much as the shift is changing how the game looks and weirding people out, it’s just not happening enough to make any difference in overall league scoring. Last year there were about 184,000 plate appearances and the shift was deployed in less than 10% of them. When it’s on, it probably lowers BABIP by about 10 points give or take, so last year there was maybe a 1 point effect on BABIP from shifting that was easily swamped by the random year-to-year variation. If teams start using the shift in say 50% of all plate appearances, then I would expect to see a noticeable drop in league-wide BABIP, but again, that would only take away some singles, so even that probably wouldn’t have a huge effect on overall scoring.

The shift is interesting, and it opens up a lot of new roads for teams to explore and new arguments for fans to have, but if MLB wants to get some offense back in the game, it definitely needs to look somewhere else.

52 Responses

  1. Matt WI

    Very nice to see the data back up what seemed to be a no- brainer. Let them defend how they want, where they want. Play on. Thanks for looking.

  2. THEGAFFER

    The expanded stike zone is my best guess for being the run lowering colprit. But, it looks like they will be changing that soon very likely.

    Bruce is actually the player I think will benefit from the “new” stike zone as he has been getting stikes called on balls low and away, than having to chase ones even further away.

  3. sultanofswaff

    The increase in strikeouts and BABIP alludes to what Pete Rose was talking about when discussing Mike Trout. Pete said “He takes the same swing on 2-0 as he does on 0-2”. I think that mentality is widespread, and is a large contributing factor in the depressed run scoring environment. Taking the same swing regardless of count means you’ll hit the ball hard when you do make contact, but that hard contact will occur less frequently. A strikeout is the worst outcome that there is for a hitter and the most desirable outcome for a pitcher, and yet hitters don’t make adjustments within an at-bat. That said, I get why they don’t—-salaries aren’t awarded based on making a productive out vs. a strikeout, and cutting down your swing late in a count lessens the chance you hit a double or HR vs. a bloop single, which in turns makes your stats look soft. Just from an aesthetic point of view, it would be nice to see weak contact vs. a strikeout because at least we get to see the fielders do something.

    • Jux Berg

      Great point. In my opinion, if you don’t shorten up and focus on making contact with 2 strikes, you’re not a team player, and I don’t want you in my lineup.

      • lwblogger2

        You see so few players doing it these days though. At least at the MLB level. It is, in my opinion, at least part of the reason for the increase in strikeouts. You don’t see people choke up and just try to put it in play with 2 strikes. Votto and BP are two exceptions on the Reds that I see who really have a strong difference in how they handle the bat with 2 strikes versus not with 2 strikes.

    • bhrubin1

      Not to quibble, but a strikeout is not the worst thing that can happen for a batter or the best that can happen for a pitcher. A double play is inarguably worse/better than a strikeout. Also, a BIP out is usually a better result for a pitcher as it requires a minimum of one pitch rather than a minimum of three, which is why all else being equal you tend to see groundball pitchers go deeper into games than strikeout pitchers, although that is probably not entirely fair, since much of that correlation probably has to do with how hard most pitchers who rely on the k tend to throw.

      I actually think that this mentality (that the strikeout is the worst thing that can happen) is one of the problems with this Reds offense that is a holdover from the Baker era. If your goal in an at-bat is to NOT strike out, rather than say TO get on base, you are more likely to make a lot of contact on suboptimal pitches, and to pass up a significant number of opportunities to walk.

      • Nick Doran

        Good post BHRUBIN1.

        The reason why teams do not instruct their players to shorten their swing with 2 strikes is because it simply doesn’t work. You MIGHT be slightly more likely to make contact and avoid a strikeout, but if you do in fact make contact with that swing it is likely to be softly struck and easily turned into an out or even a double play. You are better off trying to hit the ball hard, because hard hit balls are more likely to become hits and extra-base hits. You are less likely to hit the ball, but more likely to get a hit or extra-base hit.

      • sultanofswaff

        I agree that a double play is a worse outcome and would coach a player to keep swinging aggressively in that situation. In general though, there are benefits to working the count——a player can foul off a couple, take another ball, and work the count deep. Sure he would still make an out, but this would fall into the category of productive out far more than a strikeout as it drives up the pitch count, gives the batter a larger body of information on that pitcher, and forces the defense to do something. I mean, isn’t it telling that a hitter of Votto’s caliber practices this approach? That said, not everyone is Votto, and because of that they stick with the hitting method that fits their skill set. Simply put, these guys don’t learn these skills coming up so it’s impossible to ask them to do something they can’t.

      • jdx19

        You are applying “what ifs” to a general statement. If you asked a pitcher “Hey, given a random situation, what would you to happen this at bat?” They would invariably say “Strike out.” A ball in play, while maybe keeping pitch count low, has a possibility to lead to an error, or maybe even an injury of some sort.

        Without going into each “what if” situation, a strike out is the optimal pitcher outcome. This is really not debatable.

  4. Hotto4Votto

    I think one thing, and i’m sure Doug might chime in because I’ve seem him express this opinion numerous times on this subject, is that it creates an unfair advantage for RH hitters. The shift primarily affects LH hitters because you can throw a guy out at first from RF, but not from LF. The LH pull hitter is then at a disadvantage that a RH pull hitter is not concerned about. This is the strongest argument against the shift i’ve seen.

    • Matt WI

      I do see that logic, but to me it’s not compelling enough to make an entire rule to eliminate it. Am I wrong in assuming that if a player has already established an overwhelming tendency to pull (including rolling over on opportunities to go the other way), they aren’t going to face a significant shift in the first place? And as I said in another thread, baseball has all sorts of idiosyncratic things in terms of field design. And lefty relievers are given more opportunity than not, simply for throwing with that hand instead of the other.

      I’d love to hear what players would say about how the shift has impacted the game, in all honesty. As a lefty, I’m more upset about scissors that don’t work than people hitting ground balls that might have been base hits once every couple dozen at bats.

      • Jason Lawrence

        This from Brewers C Jonathan Lucroy: “I think [the shift] is a tough thing to blame for the decline in offense,” he said in a text. “ERAs are down [0.12 points between 2013 and ’14 and 0.72 points over the past decade], so that means pitching is better. Why is pitching better? The wealth of information we have when calling games is a very large amount. If they wanted to increase offense, then they should take away the information we get. That won’t happen, because teams use this same information in trades, free-agent signings, etc. Honestly, I can think of times when the shift works for us and times when we were burned by them. So I don’t think they are the issue.”

    • HerpyDerp

      While it’s a good argument, the same shift would never be applied to a RH because of what you said – you can’t throw out a player at first base from LF. However, you can still do an effective shift having third baseman on the line, shortstop near the middle or closer to third, and second baseman between the usual shortstop position and second. None of the defenders would be in the outfield, but still cluttering up the entire left side.

    • jdx19

      If you use this reasoning (things need to be fair LH vs RH), then you’d have to allow RH batters to be safe when they are within 2 feet of 1st base, since LH get to start 2 feet closer. (Or whatever the actual measurement is).

      Baseball is an inherently asymmetrical game. I don’t think anything can change that.

  5. Doug Gray

    In the last 10 years left handed hitters have watched their BABIP on pulled balls drop nearly 100 points, from around the .400 range down to the .306 mark last year. Right handers have watched their BABIP on pulled balls drop from that same 400 range to .350.

    The shift is indeed harming the game. If you took the 2014 BABIP on pulled balls by lefties and matched it up to the 2014 BABIP for righties (.352 – The two sides have had similar BABIP on pulled balls for a long time except in the very recent history), we are talking about the average for lefties on pulled balls jumping up 48 points thanks to an extra 800 hits. Most of those would be singles, but let’s just assume they are ALL singles. That would boost LHH overall OPS from .701 to .722. That’s rather significant.

    • Jeremy Conley

      First off, stating that the shift is harming the game is 100% opinion. I think I make the point pretty clearly that the shift does work to reduce BABIP, but whether that means it is “harming the game” is totally subjective. Right now, since it is used less than 10% of the time, it seems like the effect is so small as to be unnoticeable, league-wide.

      The problem with looking at it how you are Doug is that by looking only at pulled balls you are cherry picking for the shift. If the shift is on and I pull a grounder, then my BABIP is probably going to go down. But if the shift is on and I hit a grounder the other way, my BABIP is probably going to be higher than it would have been without the shift. That’s why you have to look at overall BABIP not, just pulled balls.

      Also, while it’s interesting to think about the difference between how the shift affects LH and RH hitters. But if it is different for one, I don’t think that’s necessarily a problem. RH batters have always had a better situation for pulling ground balls because the throw is further from short than from second. But they also have to run an extra step. And most pitchers are RH, and so lefties get a platoon advantage more of the time.

      The game is never going to be the same for RH hitters and LH hitters, and until something gets truly out of whack I can’t imagine making a rule to try to change that.

      • Doug Gray

        A 50 point BABIP swing in the last 10 years is truly out of whack. As I showed, the shift is costing the left handed hitters in baseball 20 points of OPS. That’s huge. It’s harming offense. That’s not an opinion. That’s a fact backed up by numbers.

      • Jeremy Conley

        Reducing offense and “harming the game” are very different. That’s why it’s an opinion.

        And I’m sorry, no, you didn’t show what you are claiming. It’s called statistical cherry picking, and I tried to point out how you were doing it and you chose to ignore it.

        See, maybe some shifts have hurt batters BABIP, but obviously if you’re looking at a shift, you have to look at the whole field, not just pulled balls. The OPS gain that you’re claiming could be totally offset by balls hit the other way, but you’re just ignoring that.

        And as the original post showed, if this was actually an issue as far as league-wide offense goes, it would be detectable in league average BABIP. It is clearly not, as BABIP has gone up recently and over the last 10 years, so that would suggest that whatever losses in BABIP that are caused by the shift are being offset in some way, or that the shift is just used so rarely overall as to have a negligible effect overall.

      • Doug Gray

        Sure, but baseball believes the reduction in offense is hurting the game.

        Given that players pull the ball, the going the other way is not wiping it out. It’s a 63-37 split on pull/oppo for lefties. We also know that pulled balls area harder hit balls, thus being more likely to be hits. So we are talking about at best, the opposite field being more open advantage wipes out what, 25% of that 20 point bump, so now its only a 15 point OPS rise across the entire league for left handers. Again, that’s very significant.

        Maybe BABIP is up across the league because guys are making harder contact? Everyone is throwing harder, which increases the exit velocity. I don’t know the answer, but I do know that simply because BABIP overall hasn’t changed doesn’t mean that the shift doesn’t work and isn’t altering the batted ball outcomes. There is simply a whole lot of other things that go into it.

        Here’s what I do know: Teams continue to increase shifting, primarily against left handed hitters and they don’t continue to increase it because it’s not working. It is working and it’s why they keep doing it more and more.

      • Jeremy Conley

        And I think I stated pretty clearly in the piece that a) the shift does work, and that b) right now it isn’t having a noticeable effect on league-wide offense.

        Yes, there are lots of factors that go into BABIP, and maybe there are some that are helping BABIP that are offsetting some of the impact of the shift. But I don’t really think that’s the case. As I explain in the article, it looks like for the batters that face the shift the most, it reduces BABIP by 10 points or so on average. Then understand that it’s only being done 8% of the time or so, and you can see that to expect a large impact on league-wide BABIP (that would then need to be offset by something like harder contact) doesn’t really make sense.

        With how infrequently it is being used overall, we shouldn’t expect much of an impact, and it turns out, that’s the case.

        As for the left/right split issue, over the last 10 years, righties’ BABIP has stayed exacly the same .299 to .299, while lefties’ BABIP has gone from .298 to .297. That may be because of the shifts disproportionate impact on lefties or not, but even if it is, its such a small overall change that it would be odd to make badding the shift to get runs back in the game.

      • Jeremy Conley

        Also, I agree that teams continue to do it because it’s working, and that they will continue to do it more. Again, as I pretty clearly state in the piece, I think that if teams were putting the shift on much more frequently, then you would start to see an impact on overall scoring.

        But the question that we’re trying to answer with this whole series of articles is “why is scoring down so much over the last 5 years or so,” and at this point, the shift is just not the answer to that question.

      • tct

        But you didn’t really prove the shift was responsible for that, Doug. Just because lefties pulled ball BABIP has decrease fifty points more than righties doesn’t mean that the shift is completely responsible. There are other factors. For example, if infielders range has increased over the last ten years, then that would probably effect lefties pulled balls more than righties because a second baseman ranging in the hole to his left to get a ball has a much shorter throw to get the runner than a shortstop who ranges really far to get a ball. Increased use of lefty specialists could also have an effect. So could the lefty strike which has gotten farther outside over the last few years giving lefties fewer balls that they can pull hard. It could also be a difference in talent between lefties ten years ago and today. The shift has an effect, but there are too many other factors to blame the whole drop on the shift.

        I just can’t see the sense in making rules to limit a managers ability to position his players when the shift effects such a small group of players. Nobody shifts lefties who use the whole field. Nobody shifts lefties with speed. It’s only pull happy lefties with limited speed. The strike zone expansion effects everyone and that is the main issue with offense in my opinion. And if you fix the lefty strike and bring the strike zone up a few inches, lefty pull hitters may have more balls they can pull and drive.

  6. Art Wayne Austin

    I’d be more interested in moving the mound back a couple of feet than making shifts illegal. If a player can’t adjust to a shift perhaps he should consider a new profession. Just because a guy wasn’t able to hit a curve didn’t mean it’s banishment. He just got a job in a plant.

    • Doug Gray

      The difference is that the shift is only really effecting left handed hitters. You aren’t asking righties to adjust their approach, only lefties. So the “let’s ban the curveball” stuff just doesn’t work as a nice rebuttal. The curveball isn’t something that is only altering how one side of the game has to play.

    • redmountain

      Ted Williams hit quite well even though teams shifted on them. I go back and forth on this, but I consider myself a traditionalist. Moving the mound is not a good idea, lowering the mound is not the answer, making pitchers pitch to more than one hitter seems a little severe. The answer lies more with the hitters than doing things with the pitching and defense. More guys should realize, especially on two strike counts, that putting the ball in play can have two positive effects. You can get a hit, or there can be an error-you might even get an rbi. I know people love the long ball, but the guys who crush the ball WHEN they hit it generally strike out at an alarming rate. Many others overswing on two strike pitches and top it or get under it and pop out. In contrast, Votto shortens up on the bat. Larkin would take a half swing and go to right. Many of the toughest to strike out also can foul off pitches. The metric that I am glad seeing more emphasis is the OBP. I wonder if some of these guys(Bruce) would swing to contact, if they would not have better averages and OBP. When some pitchers have learned to throw their fastballs a mile or two slower, they have had more success.

  7. UglyStrike

    Really if a professional hitter cannot adjust and hit to the opposite field vs the shift, then should he really be a professional? I do not accept the argument that we are only talking about singles, as if that is not important. Runners on base and forcing the pitcher to face more batters is how you score runs.

    IMHO the continued growth of the strikezone, with the inconsistent calling of balls and strikes(when in doubt call it a strike) have tilted the balance directly to the pitchers.

    I do accept and agree that the art of hitting has decreased in today’s game. Teams will pay big money for homeruns no matter how many strikeouts are included. Players are being rewarded for swinging big when it is 0-2 count.

  8. Earl Nash

    I think with the PEDs, moving in the fences and year round workouts changed the game into being about the long ball, cutting out the PEDs and the year round workouts have put the pitcher back in command. Teams have been drafting giant after giant too and those big pitchers can throw hard when combined with advanced scouting, they know what the hitters are doing. Hitters need to start working on making contact and taking the ball the other way and be able to use the whole field, the gig is up for grip it and rip it.

  9. Chris Miller

    This is a good article, and certainly makes one think. Having said that, I think you glossed over the one point that you brought up briefly, which is the mental side of it. Having plenty of statistics in my background, one of the things you learn is statistics can only be created from the sample(s) that you use. I think your article while thought provoking, is much too simplified. I would ask, why are K’s up? Are they up among left handed hitters who face the shift, more so than righties? What do the left handed hitters’ numbers look like across the board (not just babip) with and without the shift? I could go on and on with more detailed samples that should be used. Bottom line for me. I think the shifts are terrible, and hurt the integrity of the game. When something can be used that only hurts left handed hitters, that’s a problem. This doesn’t affect righties at all, since no SS is going to throw guys out from mid LF. By the way, if you look at your own numbers, just with what you presented, you actually proved that the shift is a factor. If all lefties, as a whole, who have faced the shift are showing a batting average of 10 points less when doing so, then clearly it’s affecting a segment of the hitters, which affects the offense in the game.

    • Jeremy Conley

      Thanks for the comment Chris. I think I tried to be as upfront as possible with the focus of the piece. I acknowledge that there could be a mental side, and that someone could do another piece trying to look at that (although it would probably have to use some more anecdotal evidence).

      If one were interested in looking at that, I would say start by looking at power and Ks when this shift is on vs. when it isn’t. In general, the shift shouldn’t be impacting Ks or HRs, and if there is a noticeable effect then you could support a theory that the shift is getting into hitters’ heads.

      Sadly, defensive positioning data isn’t widely available for free right now, so some of these analyses are limited by amateurs like me.

      As for the other issue you raised, I don’t know how I could state my conclusion any more clearly than I do in the paragraph that begins “So here’s my conclusion….” and my conclusion was that the shift does seem to have a small but real impact on BABIP, but that when deployed less than 10% of the time, that impact is too small to detect league-wide. Thus, if you were the commissioner, and you were trying to get more offense in the game, and you thought that shifts were reducing league-wide offense by taking away hits (not by getting into hitters’ heads), I think it’s safe to say that you should look elsewhere, because shifts just aren’t taking away enough singles to matter right now.

      • Chris Miller

        Jeremy, you are right, all that is information that would be nice to have, and would tell a much more defined story. One other thing though, that you may not be considering is that the switch to a lefty isn’t just about what gets in his head, he’s limited to what he can do with a pitch. You put the switch on a left handed hitter, and you have shut down the outside of the plate to the hitter, and meanwhile, the hitter is limited to having to find a way to see more pitches, because the inner half to him is a much bigger out pitch because he can’t go opposite field very easily with it, so certainly it would take away his hitting options. The reality is, and you said it’s a small sample size, but it is what you have and if you drop the bigger left handed hitters down 10 points in their batting average across the board, I’m not sure how one can deem that as not being much of an overall factor. And again, that’s not even considering how it affects the approach of a big left handed hitter. Take Matt Adams for example. We saw him hurt the Reds a number of times when the Reds imposed the switch on him. But, in the overall spectrum, I have a hard time believing that the switch league wide with him, didn’t hurt his run production numbers. Sure his average was up slightly, but he paid in the power department. Adams has always been a power hitter, and I’d suggest he’s never had a season where he faced a shift all season long. Again, I can’t prove this, but my eyes don’t lie, and I watched him a number of times literally change his approach. Righties never have to change their approach except in respect to pitchers, or maybe the situation, etc. We may just disagree on this, which is fine. But outside of re-instating Rose, it’s the biggest thing I’d like to see Manfred change.

      • Jeremy Conley

        I still don’t think you’re understanding why I’m saying it’s not a big factor in the decline of offense over the last 5 years. The reason I’m saying that is that the shift is deployed so rarely compared to overall plate appearances. Read the article again, I state very clearly that if the shift was deployed in as much as 50% of plate appearances, you would see an impact on overall offense. But since it’s not even close to that now, you don’t.

        The other issue in our disagreement is that you seem to value singles from left handed hitters a lot more than I do. If Jay Bruce has a good year at the plate minus 10 or so singles, that really isn’t going to hurt his value very much. His value comes from his walk rate and his power, which the shift should do nothing to. If it gets in his head, that’s one thing, but just thinking about how the actual shift takes away hits, for a guy like him, it just doesn’t matter that much.

        Also, I think you’re wrong in thinking that the steps back the second baseman takes is a big factor in why the shift does actually work. I think much more of it is taking away the up the middle single, for righties or lefties, than having the second baseman play deeper, only for lefties. The deep second baseman takes away some bloops and some liners, but those are even more rare than grounders.

    • Jeremy Conley

      The whole left-right thing just seems weird to me. And I certainly don’t know why people are so offended by shifts and talking about “integrity of the game.”

      Lefties and righties always face different circumstances, it’s part of the game. Lefties get a better platoon advantages and they start closer to first. Righties get to pull the ball to the left side of the infield, which means a longer throw and thus limits the different defensive positioning schemes you can use.

      Any change in how teams deploy their defenses is going to have a different effect on lefties and righties. Until you make first base up the middle. Now there’s a suggestion that would actually impact the integrity of the game.

      • lwblogger2

        LH batters also face a platoon advantage in that they more often face RH pitchers.

  10. redmountain

    I heard an interview with Frazier recently stating that one of the things that Don Long had him do contributed to his hitting. He had him play more Pepper. I remember as a kid watching Pepper being played at Crosley before each game by both teams. Learning bat control is something that more guys need.

  11. Jeremy Conley

    Also, since much of the commenting has been about the difference between the shift on LH and RH hitters, I want to point out that the RH shift isn’t about throwing a guy out from left field. The shortstop generally plays in normal shortstop position, and the second baseman plays behind second base up the middle, instead of in his traditional spot.

    It takes away hits up the middle, which are easier for a pull hitter to get than ground ball hits the other way. This is essentially the same thing that the shift on lefties does, except that the second baseman takes a few steps back in the LH shift A) because he can, and B) because he doesn’t have to worry about going up the middle, because the SS is playing behind the bag.

    The few steps back aren’t the big deal in the Lefty shift though, it’s the guy up the middle that is the major change.

    • Chris Miller

      Jeremy, I would disagree with that assessment because the big difference is the righty, even with that switch on, can still get up there and mash with all the incentive to pull the ball. Also, the 2nd baseman more often than not isn’t just a few steps back in RF against lefties. More often now, these guys look like the rover position in a softball game.

      • Jeremy Conley

        The lefty can get up there and mash to his heart’s content. Look at David Ortiz. He faces the shift more than anyone and he’s had 62 and 68 extra base hits in the last two years. I would take that from anyone. The shift doesn’t take away your ability to swing how you want to, unless you let it. If a batter doesn’t change their approach, the shift may take away some singles, and if the shift was deployed frequently enough, all those singles might add up to real runs missing.

        The shift has only been deployed about 8% of the time in it’s peak of usage, and that’s why it’s not a real factor in the recent decline in offense.

  12. preacherj

    The purpose of defense is to limit runs. It’s accomplished in part by positioning guys with gloves where the manager feels would do the most good. I really see no difference in using the shift as opposed to a “no doubles” defense. Outfield positioning disproportionately affects power hitters, so should the right fielder have to stay put? Let the managers manage and find a different way to generate runs.

    • lwblogger2

      See, I agree completely here. Where do you draw the line? Maybe it’s drawn by saying the 3B can’t move to that rover position and that the fielders at least need to stay in relative order, even if all of them are to one side of 2B? Who knows? That’s what I think bothers most purist. You get some 5-3 putouts where the 3B was playing in shallow RF and threw the guy out at 1B. I always have to put a note in my scorebook for that. Rather it has a giant impact on offense though, I don’t feel it really does.

  13. Carl Sayre

    Here is a thought for the LH hitters go up and lay down a bunt just past the pitcher towards where the SS should be. Do that 25 times facing the shift you should bunt for a base hit 17 out of the 25 times and I promise you will never be shifted on enough to get 25 bunts down. A .680 BA against the shift will ,stop it I will bet on that.

    • Jeremy Conley

      I said the same thing a ton of times last year with Jay Bruce. His career OPS is .790. If he could learn to get a bunt down the third base line 50% of the time the shift is on, that would be a 1.000 OPS. It’s objectively better than what he has done in his whole career, and they just give it to him.

    • Nick Doran

      I am sure the thought has occurred to them and many players have tried bunting against the shift, but it is not as easy as fans think it is. If it were so simple they would do it more often. Some players are better at it than others, especially if they are fast enough to beat it out. Usually the lone defender on the left side is playing in and prepared to field a bunt so it would have to be a very good bunt for it to work.

      • lwblogger2

        Right… Actually, it doesn’t take a very good bunt but it does take a decent one. Most power hitting LH aren’t asked to lay many down, nor have they been asked in their MiLB careers. Some of the fundamentals have changed in today’s game. Maybe that’s a bad thing but they have changed. Most the time, I see fouls, missed bunts, or bunts easily handled by the pitcher or catcher. There is also a good chance of a guy who isn’t great at bunting getting hurt trying to bunt. I know it seems the obvious answer to some, but as you said, it really isn’t that easy.

      • Chris Miller

        Nick, right on the money. I sometimes wonder if some of the people that suggest that Bruce should be able to bunt all day long for a hit, have really played the game at any real level. It’s just not that easy, and especially for a guy who has probably been asked to bunt no more than 10 times in his whole life, including Little League. It’s just not that easy.

      • Carl Sayre

        I understand your comment is correct but it is a sad commentary on the game that a big league ball player can’t get a bunt down often enough to make them come out of the shift.

  14. Tom Gray

    A bit off topic. PITCHERS AND CATCHERS REPORT this Wednesday, February 18th.

  15. ohiojimw

    I find this debate to be very interesting, Personally, I haven’t quite decided where I fall on the issue of limiting or outlawing the shift.

    In football, an integral part of the game is trying to figure out what the other side is going to do as certain offensive plays have virtually no chance of succeeding against specific defenses while the same plays are almost certain to succeed against other defenses.

    Maybe the baseball infield could be divided into 4 zones with the requirement that a fielder be in each zone until the pitcher begins his wind up (or in the case of the stretch until the pitcher breaks his hands apart. At that point the fielders could go where ever they chose. It is not like late defensive movement isn’t already part of the game. There are the “plays” that take place with runners on 1st and 2nd in potential sacrifice situations. And some managers, most notably LaRussa, have tried to hide their defensive intent with a runner on 3rd and less than two outs by moving the defense late.

    • jessecuster44

      Wow – As a manager, if the fielders were “put in motion” like that, I’d definitely “put runners in motion” all the time. Maybe they could try this in the Arizona Fall League.

  16. eric nyc

    The issue, if you want to call it that, is clearly pitching. Pitchers have been getting better and better mastering more and more pitches at higher velocities. There’s really only so much advancement you can make with batting technique. The steroid era was a backroom attempt to stop that trend, and it did by offering the one advantage you could artificially give to batters – more power. There’s nothing you can really do to improve hand-eye coordination or bat speed. I think we’ve seen a human being swing a bat as fast and hard as we ever will, but I doubt we’ve seen anything like the last bit of pitching development.

    So it’s only an issue if you only enjoy watching great hitting and not great pitching. Otherwise I don’t know what the league could possibly do except for moving the fences in or lowering the mound more. I guess you could give batters 4 strikes.

  17. Redsman

    I’m with the gaffer and others who blame the strike zone. I have not conducted any statistical analyses nor have I texted any players for their opinions. What I have observed on a regular and frequent basis though is this: umpires consistently maintaining inconsistent strike zones seemingly based on whatever whim catches their fancy at the moment. Not always, but usually, their whims seem to favor a strike zone about half the size of Texas. Outside and low pitches seem to be especially prevalent with occasionally the ‘high’ strike also being thrown into the mix. Unfortunately, hitters get run in a heartbeat whenever they have the temerity to question balls and strikes, which has probably contributed to this problem. Once upon a time it was not uncommon to hear broadcasters comment on the consistency of the strike zone by the erstwhile boys in blue. They might venture that while a certain pitch seemed a little off the plate, at least it was being called consistently….and that’s all anyone reasonably expects, is consistency. Those days, however, are long gone. These jokers today all seem to maintain and enforce their own personal strike zone and the only thing consistent about it is how large it is. Furthermore there seem to be more than a few of these guys who seem to take the greatest of pleasure in punching out or ringing up hitters for a called strike three ala the old Leslie Nielsen character Frank Drebbins.
    Yes indeed by the way, this may be a bit of the old ‘tongue in cheek’ routine, but just barely. In all seriousness, dealing with the umpires and their union as far as them simply calling the ‘real’ strike zone, would be the easiest and least disruptive means of alleviating the paucity of offense so many seem concerned with. It likely would not single handedly resolve the problem but would contribute mightily to rectifying things and be a logical, reasonable first step as opposed to some of the more drastic measures that have been bandied about. This is, after all, baseball. We are traditionalists Mr. Commissioner. Spend a little more time on resolving the Pete Rose situation and a little less on coming up with outlandish solutions to something that is quite probably of a cyclical nature anyway.