Time to end the shift?

BaseballJones

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From: https://www.si.com/mlb/2021/04/22/jay-bruce-retirement-shift-the-opener?fbclid=IwAR05iLb4PfjqKeH2rByMYX75wzoDMK-Deiy_yLdYNmVEOjbWgKr6DB_W2Rg

"The percentage of at bats in which the ball is not put in play (home runs, walks, strikeouts, hit batters) is up to 38%. And in the 62% of at-bats when a hitter manages to put a ball into play, the shift is taking away hits and affecting the careers of players like (Jay) Bruce.

Seven years of evidence is enough. The shift is harming baseball and must go. The career of Jay Bruce—what it was and what it could have been—is the canary in the coal mine. It is too late for Bruce, but not for the next generation of hitters—and fans."

- - -

What say ye, SOSH? I know this topic has come up before, but are shifts actually bad for baseball? Or is it a case where hitters just need to adjust? When teams leave one defender on the left side of the infield, why can't professional hitters learn to slap the ball the other way towards these gaping holes and punish teams for shifting on them? I know it's not *easy*, but why can't it be done? Are left-handed pull hitters simply incapable of adjusting their style? The article talks about how Jay Bruce was driven out of baseball due to the shift. Was he just stubbornly remaining a pull hitter (maybe trying to hit for power by pulling all the time, which is the best way to generate power), even as it cost him his career? Or was he trying to adjust and was just unable?

What's really going on here?
 

wade boggs chicken dinner

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What say ye, SOSH? I know this topic has come up before, but are shifts actually bad for baseball? Or is it a case where hitters just need to adjust? When teams leave one defender on the left side of the infield, why can't professional hitters learn to slap the ball the other way towards these gaping holes and punish teams for shifting on them? I know it's not *easy*, but why can't it be done? Are left-handed pull hitters simply incapable of adjusting their style? The article talks about how Jay Bruce was driven out of baseball due to the shift. Was he just stubbornly remaining a pull hitter (maybe trying to hit for power by pulling all the time, which is the best way to generate power), even as it cost him his career? Or was he trying to adjust and was just unable?

What's really going on here?
I'm sure you could write the same story for Chris Davis.

As for your first question - I imagine the issue is that in order for someone like Chris Davis to start hitting to opposite fields, he'd have to completely change his swing. That's pretty hard at 15 and maybe impossible at 30. Plus, if he changes his swing, he'd absolutely lose any power he gets.

Part of the issue is that when a RH hitter hits a liner to the SS, he has a chance of getting on base. No such chance for a LH hitter. (It would be freaking hilarious if they switched 1B and 3B).

As for your last question, it's great that numbers rule baseball but the product isn't very interesting to watch. It's slightly more interesting to follow the business side of baseball but it's a hard game to watch these days IMO. Which is why I skipped it completely last year.
 

Comfortably Lomb

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If Chris Davis needs to drive the ball the opposite way, and can't to the point where he's not valuable, maybe he shouldn't be in the majors. I'm sure there's someone kicking around in the minors who would like a shot.
 

pokey_reese

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I remember writing a long post here about how the shift was killing David Ortiz's career, in one of his particularly rough springs back sometime around 2005-8, and how for a LHH pull hitter, if he didn't have over an x% flyball rate and y% HR/FB rate, he was basically toast because his BABIP was plummeting. He then went on to hit .250-.300 with great offensive stats for years, despite not really hitting the ball to the opposite field more, or dropping his GB%, or anything else. Granted, he had the benefit of playing at Fenway so he definitely got his share of cheap doubles the other way, but mainly he just kept doing what he was good at: taking walks, hitting the ball hard, and generally in the air.

Chris Davis and Jay Bruce just aren't that great, and it's not the shift's fault. They both have career walk rates under 10%, and didn't hit the ball as hard as Ortiz. Chris Davis has the SAME BABIP as Ortiz, so it's not just that the shift was taking away his balls in play, it's that he also strikes out in a third of his PAs. Jay Bruce has a K rate close to 25%, Ortiz was at 17%. Honestly, looking at them now, it's shocking how similar a lot of the batted ball metrics are for Ortiz and Davis, so it's the contact and plate discipline stuff that really sets them apart:

Stat Ortiz Davis
Pull% 45.4 44.7
BABIP .300 .301
Hard Hit % 40.5 37.3
FB% 43.9 41.1
HR/FB% 18.7 22.7
K% 17.3 32.9
BB% 13.1 9.9
wRC+ 140 106
 

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I feel like every sport has its moments where the evolution of the game -- spurred either by rules legislation or by player improvements, -- finds a major shift in how the game is played, which inevitably leads to a Darwinian change in the success rates of certain types of players. The 3-point shot in the NBA, the de-emphasis on fighting/goonery in hockey, bullpen usage in baseball, and many, many, many others. Sometimes those changes then get countered later by adjustments in rules or coaching/playing/reffing the game. Sometimes they just become part of the "new normal" (I hate that phrase).

The shift has been around since Ted Williams, as most of us well know. But the seeming omni-presence of it for pretty much every LHH, seems to have only taken off in the last 15 years, maybe less. I feel like Joe Madden was the first guy to really make it a regular thing, but that may just be me. I'm sure there is some site that tracks its usage both league-wide and on a team-by-team basis.
 

wade boggs chicken dinner

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If Chris Davis needs to drive the ball the opposite way, and can't to the point where he's not valuable, maybe he shouldn't be in the majors. I'm sure there's someone kicking around in the minors who would like a shot.
Well Chris Davis playing in the majors again has pretty much already been taken care of.

It's not that easy just to punch a ball to the SS, particularly when pitchers are pounding the ball inside on LH hitters (easier for righties, which most people are). See this article that has a few major league hitters describe their thought process: https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/24049347/mlb-hitters-explain-why-just-beat-shift.
 

Wallball Tingle

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I don't really have a nuanced take here, but I'm on record as saying that outright banning the shift or forcing two infielders to each side of 2nd or denying the possibility of five infielders or four outfielders might be enough to turn me off the game entirely. It's (what feels like to me) artificially removing a useful tool in the defense's arsenal. They're trying their damndest already to put folks like me off with the runner on 2nd to start every half-inning in extras.

I don't love the three batter minimum, as far as recent rule changes, but it doesn't offend me nearly as much, and I would happily welcome a pitch clock, robo strike zone, and stronger enforcement of the batter staying in the box, so I'm not a completely inflexible purist. I just think banning the shift stinks.
 

Max Power

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The one thing that I'm still not used to is all the sharp ground balls up the middle going for outs. For the first 30-some years I watched baseball that was always a hit and now it's almost always fielded by a shortstop or second baseman. Imagine how fucking terrible Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS would have been if Jeter had been waiting there to get Mueller's shot up the middle.
 

bankshot1

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The shift has taken a lot of baseball out of baseball. It has decreased runners on base and the chance of guys going 1st to 3rd and waching the RFer making a great throw, or watching great fielding double-plays. I hate seeing a scorching shot up the middle get gobbled up by a SS playing right behind the bag.

IMO watching a hitter try to go oppo and slap a single to right against a 95-100 mph pitcher who can make it increasingly hard to do so is probably not the answer. Try shift-free ball, or limit its use, (3-ABs a game, once in extras, or whatever) in A or AA-ball for a season or two and see and judge the results in how the game is played, perceived action and fans enjoyment of the product.
 

Comfortably Lomb

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Honestly, if I had identify the single biggest problem with modern baseball it's that the players are too athletic. This is a game that used to be played by a bunch of out-of-shape alcoholics. Then they dove into drugs through the 80s. The field and equipment isn't to scale for a bunch of 6'4" physical marvels.

If you wanted to address that problem then maybe lower the mound and nerf the ball another 20%. But dingers.
 

Kliq

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I remember writing a long post here about how the shift was killing David Ortiz's career, in one of his particularly rough springs back sometime around 2005-8, and how for a LHH pull hitter, if he didn't have over an x% flyball rate and y% HR/FB rate, he was basically toast because his BABIP was plummeting. He then went on to hit .250-.300 with great offensive stats for years, despite not really hitting the ball to the opposite field more, or dropping his GB%, or anything else. Granted, he had the benefit of playing at Fenway so he definitely got his share of cheap doubles the other way, but mainly he just kept doing what he was good at: taking walks, hitting the ball hard, and generally in the air.

Chris Davis and Jay Bruce just aren't that great, and it's not the shift's fault. They both have career walk rates under 10%, and didn't hit the ball as hard as Ortiz. Chris Davis has the SAME BABIP as Ortiz, so it's not just that the shift was taking away his balls in play, it's that he also strikes out in a third of his PAs. Jay Bruce has a K rate close to 25%, Ortiz was at 17%. Honestly, looking at them now, it's shocking how similar a lot of the batted ball metrics are for Ortiz and Davis, so it's the contact and plate discipline stuff that really sets them apart:

Stat Ortiz Davis
Pull% 45.4 44.7
BABIP .300 .301
Hard Hit % 40.5 37.3
FB% 43.9 41.1
HR/FB% 18.7 22.7
K% 17.3 32.9
BB% 13.1 9.9
wRC+ 140 106

Honestly if you want me to think negatively about the shift, you probably shouldn't frame the argument by talking about how it ended the career of a 35 year old outfielder who wasn't a very versatile hitter who had to retire after 14 seasons and making over $100 million.
 

brs3

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The big takeaway I see is this part:
MLB will experiment this year in the minors with two versions of curtailing the shift: keeping infielders on the dirt, and then in the second half of the season possibly banning three infielders on one side of second base.
The shift killer is coming, just like the 7 inning double headers and the man on 2nd in extra innings that started in the minors first. This is probably an attempt to soften the blow of a significant change to the game.
 

pokey_reese

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Honestly if you want me to think negatively about the shift, you probably shouldn't frame the argument by talking about how it ended the career of a 35 year old outfielder who wasn't a very versatile hitter who had to retire after 14 seasons and making over $100 million.
Right? I would be much more interested in seeing an analysis showing something like, top-100 prospects who could be clustered into some approximation of 'LHH Pull hitters' showing a marked decline in career WAR correlated to the increased use of the shift, and relative to the other clusters of batter types, or something like that.
 

crow216

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The current incarnation of baseball isn't less fun because of more dingers and more shifts. It's less fun because it doesn't feel like we're watching a game the league believes in anymore. Manfred is trying to make radical changes and for me personally, reading about something crazy happening to rules every couple of months just feels like a punch in the nuts. Make the damn changes or don't, but for the first time in my life I've gotta look up how many teams are in the playoffs, what the extra inning rules are, what the bullpen usage rules are, consider how the baseball itself is going to impact offense (which changes every single year and is unfair to every player), and on and on and on.

The shift can be miserable and I would support making a change to reduce them, but man I can't wait until this "evolve the game" phase of baseball is behind us. It's hurting the game not knowing year-to-year how its going to be played.
 

Red(s)HawksFan

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Honestly, if I had identify the single biggest problem with modern baseball it's that the players are too athletic. This is a game that used to be played by a bunch of out-of-shape alcoholics. Then they dove into drugs through the 80s. The field and equipment isn't to scale for a bunch of 6'4" physical marvels.

If you wanted to address that problem then maybe lower the mound and nerf the ball another 20%. But dingers.
I was going to say that part of the problem might be the size of the fields. Compared to parks 70-80 years ago, fields have shrunk significantly. Perhaps defensive shifts wouldn't have quite the same effect if more parks had the dimensions of, say, Yankee Stadium circa 1932.
 

Cesar Crespo

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So is Jay Bruce the MLB's Dwight Howard? The game evolves, evolve with it or be left behind.

Left handers always had a huge advantage when it came to baseball anyway.
What happens if the Jay Bruce's are forced out? The % of lefties in the MLB gets closer to the actual population?
 

azsoxpatsfan

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I don’t have any problem with the shift. If it kills guys that can only pull the ball, there will just be a shift in the population of players towards more rights and more lefties that can use all fields. The parallels to the three point boom in basketball are pretty accurate imo. No one wanted to limit how many threes a team could shoot, even though that change basically ended a guy like Roy hibberts career. The amount of players on defense stays the same, as does the amount of ground they can cover. If you don’t wanna get out, hit it where they ain’t.
 

azsoxpatsfan

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The current incarnation of baseball isn't less fun because of more dingers and more shifts. It's less fun because it doesn't feel like we're watching a game the league believes in anymore. Manfred is trying to make radical changes and for me personally, reading about something crazy happening to rules every couple of months just feels like a punch in the nuts. Make the damn changes or don't, but for the first time in my life I've gotta look up how many teams are in the playoffs, what the extra inning rules are, what the bullpen usage rules are, consider how the baseball itself is going to impact offense (which changes every single year and is unfair to every player), and on and on and on.

The shift can be miserable and I would support making a change to reduce them, but man I can't wait until this "evolve the game" phase of baseball is behind us. It's hurting the game not knowing year-to-year how its going to be played.
I agree with this wholeheartedly. I completely understood rule changes to accommodate covid, but stop the tinkering. There are clear and obvious things to improve about the game (pitch clock, robo umps, etc.), but the constant need manfred has to tweak rules here and there is so annoying.
 

jon abbey

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Honestly if you want me to think negatively about the shift, you probably shouldn't frame the argument by talking about how it ended the career of a 35 year old outfielder who wasn't a very versatile hitter who had to retire after 14 seasons and making over $100 million.
And who was unplayable defensively at 1B and the seventh best defensive OF on the team he chose, who also had a full-time DH already.

Also, not a great idea to compare someone's 21-27 and 28-34 years in this era without at least pointing out that's what you're doing.
 

jon abbey

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Thinking about this more, I'd be curious to see some research as to how the length of position players careers have changed in the last 10 and even 5 years, shifting drastically is a pretty recent phenomenon, but I think right handed position players also have seen shorter careers in recent years.

What they need to do more than legislate where fielders can stand is to actually pay younger players more and then teams wouldn't be so quick to dump the 32 year olds with no options/roster flexibility. As the first guy I thought of/checked as a comparison with an entirely different skill set:

Cameron Maybin (just turned 34, I think out of baseball now too?): 13.8 bWAR in 4218 PAs.
Jay Bruce (born literally one day before Maybin): 20.0 bWAR in 6642 PAs.

No C(BA)ountry For Old (31+) Men
 

jon abbey

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And I touch on another issue there, which I have never seen anyone go into: older players not being optionable to AAA when they are terrible was clearly put into the CBA to help the players and I think it worked that way for a while. In recent years though, it is just another reason for a team to dump a 32 year old in favor of a 24 year old you can move up and down if they are not doing their job adequately.

If the players' side in the upcoming negotiations is smart (heh), they will offer this up as a rare giveback, it literally will be good for everyone and the owners will need to give a lot more than the players to help the sport (and further pump up the value of their billion dollar assets). I don't think either side really gets this (or will choose to act on it if they do), sadly for all of us.
 

jon abbey

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Yes, my brain somehow knew that Jay Bruce and Cameron Maybin were born one day apart. I am not really proud of that, heh.
 

jon abbey

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And one last thought as someone who saw way too much of Jay Bruce's 10 game audition at 1B for NY, he made some surprisingly nice plays on ground balls but he might have been the worst I've ever seen at scooping bad throws, which made him unplayable there very quickly.
 

wiffleballhero

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Honestly, if I had identify the single biggest problem with modern baseball it's that the players are too athletic. This is a game that used to be played by a bunch of out-of-shape alcoholics. Then they dove into drugs through the 80s. The field and equipment isn't to scale for a bunch of 6'4" physical marvels.

If you wanted to address that problem then maybe lower the mound and nerf the ball another 20%. But dingers.
For a generation now this has been the right take.

Drop the mound to 3 inches. Give the ball a deadening cushion that does not have much of a perceivable feel to it, but impacts bombs. Put the fences back in lots of the parks so it incentivizes things other than homers and creates the possibility of roster spots for defense-first outfielders.

Although it is not going to happen since the trend is the other direction, I'd like to see rosters decreased so there was a greater premium put on how you might use a roster spot for a pitcher. I'm not sure I know the number, but baseball would be a better experience to watch if the concern about pulling the starter was that you were almost always going to have to bring in a middle reliever, expected to finish the remaining innings.
 

Archer1979

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I dont understand the strategy here at all. Couldnt the runner walk halfway down the third base line? What is stopping this guy from practically walking home?
The catcher could basically walk him back to third after each pitch. The runner literally has no other option if the catcher stands up and "escorts" him back to third. If there was someone on first, that could complicate things for the defense, but that wasn't the case here. Pitcher could do the same thing simply by walking toward the runner. The whole cat and mouse will drag things out obviously and with little chance of success for the runner unless the defense makes a mistake.

My take on this is that the shift is part of the game. If you start changing the rules too much, you're getting further away from the game. This isn't like the necessity of a shot clock in basketball where very little could have been done. The perfect counter-measure to the shift is what Joey Gallo did which is bunt up the third baseline. Do something like that on artificial turf and that could turn into a double. The next time Gallo comes up in this situation, the defense will know it's a possibility and should adjust accordingly. If not, Gallo is going to have a kick-ass BA at the end of the season.

Granted, having someone like David Ortiz bunt could be seen as doing the defense a favor, but I see it as part of the strategy and managing the game.
 

OurF'ingCity

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This echoes to a large degree what @Archer1979 says above, but my rule of thumb for any rule changes is sports is this - does it fix a problem that cannot be fixed by a change to game approach/strategy by the team that is affected by the problem, or does it fix a problem that neither team has any incentive to change?

So, for example, adding the shot clock in basketball (and adding a pitch clock in baseball) was/would be a reasonable rule change because the team affected by the problem (the defense in basketball, the offense in baseball) can do nothing strategy-wise to affect how long the other team holds the ball, and at least in the case of baseball it may be that neither team cares about how long pitches take anyway. By the same token, eliminating the hand-checking rules in basketball made sense because there was no way to strategize around that tactic - it was just something that generally depressed offense. Something like changing the PI rules in football is a bit of a middle ground, but is still mostly reasonable under this rubric because, if receivers are just being constantly mugged by DBs, there is not really much of a way around that (I guess you could argue teams could just run the ball more, but the defense in turn could just stack the box constantly knowing that it would be easier to defend receivers 1-on-1 with lax PI enforcement).

The shift is completely different because, as others have said, it would not be particularly hard for a team can strategize around it, if they wanted to. This can occur both in the short-term - bunting away from the shift, for example - and in the long-term, either by teaching hitters to stop pulling the ball constantly, or just by not playing hitters with significant pull-tendencies as much. Yes, that hurts some players, but it would also likely make others more valuable, so it's a wash in the end. Banning the shift because lefty pull-hitters are rendered less valuable because of it (to the extent that is even true) would be like banning the three-point shot because it means big men are less valuable.

I am absolutely in favor of (a) speeding games up and (b) getting more balls in play, but there are numerous ways to make progress towards those goals that do not impact a team's ability to strategize in terms of field placement. The aforementioned pitch clock would go a long, long way towards speeding up games, or even just enforcing current rules about a batter having to remain in the batter's box. And there have been numerous proposals to increase balls in play, including changes to the height and distance of the pitchers' mound, and potentially changes to the ball as well.
 

VORP Speed

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If you want to get more balls in play, have more action in the game, make HR less crucial to scoring AND embrace defensive positioning strategy.....remove a fielder.
 

Vandalman

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Last week, I saw a LH batter do something in the batter's box that I rarely see. He adjusted his stance (stepped back) while the the pitch was being delivered. Now that down and in slider wasn't nearly so formidable and he hit a gap double. It seems that too many batters get locked into a spot and pitchers know this. Batters (esp. lefties) can make better use of the very large batter's box and make going the other way a more common occurrence.
 

NJ_Sox_Fan

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All it would take would be a few guys doing what Gallo did there successfully and the shift would be used less

Also, I think Manfred needs to go