By: Noah Wright
Ah, Manfred and all his rule changes. While banning the shift isn’t one of the ones he’s implementing in 2020, he has to be considering adding it in in the near future. Afterall, he wants more action in the ball game, less down time, and the time of the game in general to be shortened.
However, many baseball fans, including myself, see banning the shift as unnecessary. For starters, this rule doesn’t take pitchers or defense into account at all. Pitcher’s ERA’s and WHIP’s will be severely affected because the defense behind them can’t cover the area where the ball is being hit. We might also see a decrease in fielder’s defensive metrics as well. It also takes out a large chunk of strategy out of the game. Baseball can be like a game of chess sometimes; predicting your opponent’s next move, what the next pitch is going to be, etc. One of the aspects of baseball strategy is predicting where the batter is going to put a ball in play. The opponent is putting the risk of giving up half the field that could give up extra base hits to try and get an out.
Thirdly, let’s think about the kind of hitters who are greatly affected by the shift: mainly left handed hitters who have very all or nothing swings, and are usually three-true-outcome guys. It’s also notable that most of these kind of hitters aren’t really trying to hit against the shift. Let’s take Joey Gallo for example, since he’s the most notorious example of the shift hurting a batter. Gallo has not changed his approach, swing, swing timing, or anything that could help him in hitting the ball the other way. Might I mind you that when fielders shift on Joey Gallo, they all move to the right of second base. Most of the time, only the left fielder is the only player on the left of second, or the third baseman is pushed to left field, with the left fielder moving to CF, the CF moving to right center, and the RF camping down the line. It’s one of the most extreme cases of the shift. All he needs to do is hit the ball anywhere to the left of second. It could be 5 inches, or it could be down the line. Regardless, he would get a hit if he hit it anywhere between second and third. Last season, his pull rate went to the extreme. While he started off the year (first half) pulling the ball only 42.9% of the time, and pushing it 26.6% of the time, he played out the rest of the year pulling the ball almost 50% of the time (48.6%) and pushing it only 18.4% of the time. On the other end of the spectrum, we had a batter who was struggling against the shift, but fixed his issue: Bryce Harper. Harper, while he didn’t change his swing completely, he had to have either changed his approach or timing. Harper started out the year pulling the ball 44.6% of the time and pushing it just 26% of the time. In the second half, Harp started to pull the ball 39% of the time, and now pushing the ball 31.5% of the time. It clearly shows that it greatly improved his stats, as he had a .378 BABIP in the 2nd half (.226 BABIP in the first half), and a .972 OPS in the second half as well. Now not every batter is like Bryce Harper. Everybody is going to learn stuff at a different pace, but it just goes to show that it’s not impossible to beat the shift with enough effort; something I don’t think batters who are struggling against the shift are giving enough of.
Back in December, Jeff Sullivan posted an article on Fangraphs talking about the shift, and it showed that BAPIP has barely changed over the past 10 years. In 2018, the average BABIP wasn’t any higher, or lower than in 2011. Note, that was when shift’s were being used less than 10% of the time, and now they’re being used more than 30% of the time.
The fact is, banning the shift doesn’t help anyone but the handful of batters who aren’t even trying to put the ball in play anywhere else except the right side of the field. It isn’t fair that these are the kind of hitters who are being helped here. If you ask me, either these hitters (ie the Joey Gallo’s of the MLB) need to adjust, or get left behind. Plus, these rules aren’t fair to pitchers. I want to bring up the 3 batter minimum rule here for a second. People who do support this rule sometimes bring up that LOOGY type pitchers, the ones who are most affected by a three batter minimum rule, aren’t complete MLB pitchers since they can’t get out a RH batter. The same could be said about batter’s who can’t push the ball to save their lives. When everything is said and done, Manfred’s rules all contradict each other, and the direction he wants to take baseball is extremely convoluted. He wants to have more action in the game, but shorter game times. Those things mix like water and oil. More action equals more hits. More hits means more runs, and more runs means longer game times, something Manfred is trying to lessen.