Prior to Tuesday’s game between the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers, manager Joe Girardi said he would ban the shift if he was the commissioner of baseball.
After New York Yankees‘ starter Nathan Eovaldi lost his no-hitter on Monday night on a ground ball that went through the teeth of a shift, Joe Girardi took a stance on the concept of infield shifts.
“It is an illegal defense, like basketball,” Girardi told Andrew Marchand of ESPN. “Guard your man, guard your spot. If I were commissioner, they would be illegal.”
All across Major League Baseball, managers are implementing their infield to “shift” in order to make it troublesome for power hitters to find gaps, reach base, and drive in more runs.
The most popular infield shift is when the first baseman standing along the foul line while the second baseman positions himself in shallow right field. The third baseman would stand where the second baseman would position himself and the shortstop would make his home right behind second base.
As a result, offensive production has seen a massive decline. Sure starting pitching and relief pitching has sharpened and performance enhancing drugs have found their way out of the league (for the most part), but the league batting average in 2014 (.251) was the lowest since 1972, according to baseball reference.
Yankee fans get a first-row glimpse on how the shift hurt the production of their very own first baseman, Mark Teixeira. Fangraphs only provides us with spray charts from 2012 on, but take a look at his spray chart from 2015:
Take a look at the green dots (grounders) that turned into gray dots (groundouts). His standard statistics also help justify that the infield shift indeed caused detrimental damage to his overall production.
When facing a right-handed pitcher (batting from the left side) his batting average has declined from .408 when he first came to New York in 2009 to .361 in 2015. You can blame that on age all you want, but there has been no considerable decline in HR/AB and he was in MVP talks just a year ago.
Many people who are very vocal about how the infield shift should remain in the game of baseball point to BABIP (batting average on balls in play), a number that has held steady since the shift became a league-wide tactic.
In fact, BABIP was higher in 2014 (.310) than it was 10 years ago (.299) featuring an increasing trend. The problem with BABIP is that it makes it seem as though all hits are of equal value. For example, extra-base hits are considered as valuable as a single, which obviously makes no sense.
The intention of defensive shifts not just to turn singles into ground ball outs, but it’s to take away extra-base hits and maybe even decimate their game plan by trying to become a hitter that they aren’t. For example: having Brian McCann bunt down the third base line instead of being the pull hitter he is.
Of course, the team with the most success in recent years (Kansas City Royals) have beaten the shift by using speed, intelligence at the plate, and crafty baserunning. We are starting to see a transition in the philosophy of playing the game.
And a philosophy change in the game of baseball is perhaps what makes this game so great. There are very few limitations outside of the rules of the game.
The level of constraint, or lack thereof, in baseball allows for the perfect amount of creativity, and shifting is just an example of that. Regardless, there is a decline in offensive production.
Should MLB officials and higher-ups take that into consideration and take a stand on the defensive shift in baseball? Absolutely.
When fans come to the ballpark, they want to see big hits, home runs, slugfests, and insane walk-off blasts. That’s what brings people in.
In 2015, total attendance was 73.76 million people compared to the 79.6 million people that attended games in 2007. Yes, some baseball enthusiast enjoy a classic duel between two of the best pitchers in the game, but it’s the power-hitting that draws in the casual fan.
Besides, the more popular athletes throughout baseball history are typically the ones who demonstrate the most power.
It is the time that baseball experiences a power surge again, but this time, all it takes is a naturally implemented rule that wouldn’t be too hard at all. All it takes is a simple rule stating that defenses must have two infielders either side of second base at all times, the way the game was meant to be played.