For years, there have been a handful players playing baseball where the opposing team employes a defensive shift when those players come to the plate. They are always lefthanded hitters and the shift involves moving the second baseman into shallow right field, the shortstop to the first base side of second base and the third baseman to around where the shortstop usually plays. This shift used to happen rarely.
Suddenly this year, the use of this shift exploded, with every team using it regularly throughout the game for a lot of lefthanded hitters. And invariably when teams used the shift, the batter hit weakly to the third baseman, now in the shortstop’s spot or to the second baseman playing in shallow right field. It was amazing how frequently the shift worked and how little these hitters tried to adjust to the move.
So, now baseball has a new commissioner who has expressed support for outlawing the shift. Apparently, the reason for doing so would be to help increase offense.
All I have to say is that if baseball outlaws the shift it will be the beginning of the end of civilization as we know it. The linked article goes into a lot of the reasons why this is a horrible idea, but I’ll briefly summarize my reasons. As the article describes it, the point of hitting is to try to “hit ’em where they aint,” and the point of defense is to try to play where they hit them. There are all sorts of shifts that take place throughout baseball games. Outfielders playing shallow, playing deep, shading towards right field or left field, corner infielders playing close to the lines to prevent hits down the line turning into extra base hits, playing in to avoid a runner at third from scoring on a ball that stays in the infield, infielders playing at double play depth. There are all sorts of these things.
One of the biggest problems I have with football is how the rules change every year and they are almost always changed to increase offense at the expense of the defense. What this means is that defenses have to constantly adjust to what offenses cook up, but offenses never have to learn to adjust to what defenses cook up.
And that’s the beauty of baseball. The rules don’t change very often and with the rare exception of lowering the pitching mound at the end of the 1960s, those changes almost never have to do with taking away one side’s need to learn to adjust to improvements made by the other side.
What amazes me about the shifts is that there is a remarkably simple solution to the “problem” they create for offenses. There was a time when baseball players knew how to hit the ball to the opposite field. That seems to be more and more of a lost art these days. All it would take for teams to stop employing the defensive shift is for those incredibly talented professional athletes who are making millions of dollars a year to re-learn the ability to the ball the opposite way and then do it every once in awhile to keep the defenses honest. What would be even better is if those batters just dropped a bunt down the 3rd base line every once in awhile — they’d probably get a double every time.
That the new commissioner believes that outlawing something that has been a part of baseball throughout its history rather than forcing batters to adapt, which has also been a part of baseball for years, is not a good sign for the future of the game. Or civilization as we know it.