By David Everett Fisher
If you heard any of our podcasts, then you will know that Sean hates the shift. In one episode, I asked him if he was a coach and wanted to win, would he use the shift on someone that hits the ball somewhere most of the time? He said yes, but through gritted teeth and then he let out that big lungful of air that you also hear all the time on our podcast. Sean hates the shift, and his coaching advice is to have batters hit the other way or bunt.
On December 5th news came out that MLB was thinking about getting rid of the shift. They thought about having a number of fielders for the outfield and infield or to have an invisible circles that the fielders have to start in. The news came out and the baseball world exploded. The stat guys cried that the shift is baseball and to accept it. If you don’t like it, work around it. This is a game of numbers and statistics, so stop living in the past.
Others blame the shift for the corroding fun of professional baseball. The shift is killing the pace and the vibe of the greatest game on earth, they say. They think that if hitters can get more grounder hits, baseball will ignite with excitement again. Hitters like Ryan Howard could have had longer more successful careers.
Which way is the right way? On one hand, the shift is within the current rules of baseball, so hitters would have to figure out ways to work around that. On the other hand, the shift seems like an extreme way to stop a hitter from reaching base.
I have to say, when a hitter beats the shift, the feeling of satisfaction from that hit is so much greater than if the fielders were in their classic positions. I think that the shift should have baseball players revisit the etiquette of bunting, even from lead off hitters.
The amount of hits being lost to the shift is an interesting argument. Statistically speaking, while there are less singles, there are more homers and extra base hits. The shift decreases the use of the fastball and creates more walks. The shift is easier to police and blame than other more abstract reasons baseball has become too slow for the average person.
When I saw a shift for the first time against David Ortiz, and I mean the first time I really noticed it, I was a little annoyed and felt like it wasn’t right. I felt like a player should play in the stereotypical position like how the pitcher waits for the batter to be ready to swing before delivering. Why wasn’t the shift against some unwritten baseball rule? Why wasn’t it bad etiquette?
I was so young and full of hope then. I thought that justice would be served to everything that was unjust. I’m now old and bitter. The world is a dark, dark place. The shift just is. It’s not illegal, so why should a team worry about ethics?
The NFL makes rules every year. They are the most progressive and communist of all the professional sports leagues. Everything has to be fair and competitive. Baseball isn’t as progressive, it’s more like American capitalism. It hangs its hat on a long history. This is just the way it is done. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that after a while a coach or player decided that the lack of rule meant they could.
Suddenly fans aren’t as excited by baseball. The kids think it’s too slow. Hitters were hitting home runs with their launch angles, but were striking out more. And the shift was robbing hitters, mostly left handed hitters from getting ground ball hit singles. Kill the shift before the shift kills baseball, but maybe it’s not the shift. Maybe the hitters need to change their swing. Maybe scouts need to be looking for hitters who can pepper the ball.
The anti-shift people think the shift is unfair and the shift people think that it's totally fine. One wants a certain game that might have happened in the past and the other wants it to evolve, even if it sacrifices fun.
I’m not offering a solution, but I do have faith in baseball as a game to naturally evolve to fix itself. I have watched it before. Pitchers start dominating the game, but then the hitters catch up and they have always gone back and forth. Small ball beats the long ballers and then the long ballers beat the small ballers. Hitters will learn away to beat the shift. They will want to if they want to win. Baseball will be fine. I don’t need to shift to enjoy the shift.