By: James “Jeep” DiCioccio
Since the beginnings of the “Moneyball” era in 2002, the use of sabermetric statistics has become the prevalent style for scouting opponents, recruiting potential draft picks and signings, and devising somewhat of a defensive scheme. And that, ladies and gentleman, has brought us to the curious case of the defensive shift.
During this past season, the “traditional shift” was used on 26,700 total batters. The “traditional shift” is when two players are significantly removed from their normal positions, if three infielders are on one side of second base, and/or if the second baseman is playing his position 10+ feet into right field. Against this type of shift, batters hit .293.
“Non-traditional shifts” were used against 6,518 total batters. These shifts are anything that does not fit the criteria stated above for the traditional shifts. Against these, batters also hit .293.
According to FanGraphs, the 2017 league-average against the shift was an impressive .305. Overall, the MLB’s league batting average sits at a poor .255 against all types of defenses. The Milwaukee Brewers shifted for 1816 batters this season, which tops the entire league. Surprisingly enough, Joe Maddon and his squad have utilized the shift the least amount out of any team in baseball (526 batters faced).
While the Brewers employed the shift the most this past season, they also led the National League in errors committed and were dead-last in fielding percentage. Their pitching staff relinquished 645 earned runs, which ranks fifth-worst in the NL. While in the shift, opposing teams hit just under .300. To put it simply, numbers do not lie. Milwaukee’s defense was arguably the worst in the Major Leagues in 2017, and it would be foolish to think that the usage of the shift does not play a factor in the team’s inability to consistently make the routine plays needed to win ballgames.
Numbers prove that using the shift too often can hurt a team’s chances to make plays. However, if a team employs the shift at the appropriate times, it could definitely be a useful weapon. Many teams seem to shift on almost every opposing batter nowadays, which is absurd. There are a plethora of advantages and disadvantages for either scenario. But, numbers determine that a healthy balance of traditional positioning with a sprinkle of shifting can lead to great success for any team.
For the individuals who believe that the shift should be banned, here are two thought-provoking reasons why it can’t be outlawed:
- If shifting gets banned, what will constitute a shift? Will the shortstop taking a step to his immediate right or left be scored as a shift? How will the permanent positions in the infield be established? Will double-play depth be considered a shift? There are too many questions to be answered for this issue to be resolved with an amendment to the rule.
- The average salary for a professional baseball player is around $4.47 million. It is inexcusable for a Major-Leaguer to not have the ability to hit the ball against the shift or to the opposite-field. Also, if a left-handed batter is being shifted towards his pull-side, why can’t he simply just lay a bunt down the third-base line?
And yes, it really is that simple.