Over the past week, the MLB has talked about limiting the amount of defensive shifts during games, to allow hitters more of an opportunity to get hits and increase the pace of the game. Shifts are currently at an all time high in todays game and it has affected the way the game is played, and more importantly, its affecting the pace of offense in the MLB. While I like the idea of increasing the pace of play in the game, I don’t think this is the right way to go about it.
Image: MLB defensive shifts per season
First off, you are changing the very idea of playing defense. The whole goal when playing defense in a baseball game is to do everything in your power to get the batter at the plate out. Using these defensive shifts does exactly that. It allows teams to position their players in the best possible position to get an out. Teams have access to more data and analytics than they have ever had, and are able to use this information to predict where players will hit the ball.
Image: Statcast of where Dodgers INF Max Muncy hits the ball in 2018
Take Joey Gallo from the Texas Rangers as an example. In 2017, Gallo finished this season with a .209 batting average, but added 41 HR’s and 80 RBI’s to go along with his dismal batting average. Gallo faced 195 shifts that year, and he was certainly affected by all of them. His expected batting average on ground balls hit was .289 however, his actual batting average on ground balls was .162 a difference of .127 batting points. This certainly contributed to his low batting average, but what exactly do all these numbers mean? It means that without the shift, Gallo would hit .289 on ground balls which is close to a star level, but because of the shift he only hit .162 which is mediocre at best. That’s probably why in 2017, Gallo hit more home runs (41) than singles (32).
Image: Joey Gallo vs Astros 2017 in the Shift
Secondly, these are professional baseball players we are talking about. If you keep getting beat by the shift, then enhance the way you approach the baseball. Maybe instead of going up to the plate trying to hit the ball 500 feet, focus on hitting the ball the opposite way. Focus on changing your ability to be a more well rounded hitter. Yes home runs are great and exciting, but when your strikeout to home run ratio is almost 4:1, it becomes frustrating to watch players strike out all the time. in my opinion, strikeouts are a bigger problem in the MLB than the shift. The large amount of strikeouts means less balls are being put in play, and thus making the game slower and not as enjoyable for the casual fan.
Image: Bryce Harper striking out at City Field vs The Mets
Over the last 3 years we have seen the most home runs in any MLB season, and the most strikeouts in any MLB season. In this past MLB All-Star game, players set a record for most home runs in an all star game (8) along with the most strikeouts in an all star game (28). In today’s game, it’s all about creating a launch angle to put the ball over the fence. This was all to true during this years World Series. After the 10th or so inning, players just went to the plate and kept trying to hit home runs. Nobody wanted to get a single, nobody wanted to drop a bunt down, nobody wanted to steal a base, and most importantly, nobody wanted to work to manufacture a run, they just wanted to end the game with 1 swing of the bat.That’s why the game went 18 innings and 7 hours long. Both teams had multiple opportunities to win the game sooner, yet all each team could focus on was hitting home runs.
Images: Washington Post graph of MLB home runs by era / Fan Graphs graphic of MLB strikeouts per season by year
Finally, if you change the shift rule, you are sending a bad message to your players. You are sending the message that if something is too hard, you can just change the rule without trying to change the way the hitter approaches the game. Teams use the shift because it gives them the best possible advantage to get 3 outs, so why can’t the hitters use this same approach? If a team wants to shift on you, drop a bunt down. If a team wants to play 4 infielders on one side of the field, hit the ball the other way. Professional hitters and hitting coaches should be able to find a way to beat the shift and soon enough I am confident someone will find the right way to do it.
Image: Anthony Rizzo beating the shift with a bunt
So I say to the MLB, don’t change your rules because players are whining about their batting average and complaining about not being able to hit. They are a professional hitters, and they have the tools, skills, and technology to fix this problem without changing the rules.
Do you like this idea? Would you want to see the shift rule change? Let me know in the comments, and thanks for reading!