There was a time in baseball not too long ago when only the most feared hitters in all of the game were either pitched around or had a shift implemented. It was intriguing to see a team so scared that they’d give a player like David Ortiz the entire left side of the infield. It also just felt like it was big lefty power bats receiving this special treatment. Unfortunately, now, it seems that the shift extends for every player, big or small and it’s annoying.
Rob Manfred’s entire platform as commissioner relies on the emphasis on minimizing game time. There are many things wrong with how he is attempting to go about it. For example, my least favorite is probably starting the runner on second base in extra innings as we saw last year. One thing however which directly combats game time usage is the time used for infielders to move back and forth across the field with every batter.
This practice takes so much time and it is very irk-worthy. You see it with every batter too, dangerous or not. Since when does freakin Billy Hamilton need the shift? In 2019, 25.6% of all plate appearances featured a shift. This is when you know there is too much shift.
The real problem in my eyes is it takes away the traditional and the meaningfulness of classic baseball positions. There is a reason why you have a third baseman, shortstop, second baseman, and first baseman standing in a general area specific to them. It’s to literally cover all bases. When you shift to a right-handed batter and have two guys standing around the shortstop position, you have one guy who most likely will have a difficult time making the throw across the diamond, since he’s not a shortstop.
Another aspect is how batters can adapt away from their pull side to literally beat the shift. I actually love it. It’s basically a giant middle finger to sabermetrics. The absolute best is when a very slow batter like Adrian Gonzalez decides to bunt down the third baseline with third base ultimately vacant. The king of this is Joey Votto who is perhaps the most adaptable hitter in all of baseball.
Yes, the shift works to some degree. But it takes out the fun in the game and puts it into the hands of a computer. There are many who are against sabermetrics and traditionalists of the game like manager Ron Washington. What it comes down to is that humans aren’t robots. They won’t hit it into the shift every time nor will they beat it. That’s just baseball.
That being said, there should be limitations on the shift. The exaggerated shifts with no one on the left or ride pull sides must stop. The “old school” shift you’d see in 2007 on fellas like Big Papi or Adrian Gonzalez brings a smile to my face. Let’s bring it back to that.