Where do I stand on the latest trend in Major League Baseball? If I’m a third baseman, I’m probably standing closer to second than you think on the topic of defenses moving position players from traditional fielding areas, towards a batter’s strong side (or shifting) with almost every batter. I’m a proponent of defenses doing everything they can do to stop every batter. Why wouldn’t I be? These are supposed to be professional hitters, right? If that means shift… shift away! Force major league batters to “hit ‘em where they ain’t” as Wee Willie Keeler so famously said. When a guy hits .300 or better 16 of his 19 seasons in the majors, hitters tend to listen. What would a hitter like the late, great Tony Gwynn do to a shift? How about a career-hitter like Wade Boggs?
I’ve got to admit, I was thrown for a loop the first time I saw it in a Major League baseball game. Now that I’ve had time to digest the art of sliding fielders to protect the holes in a team’s defense, I wonder why it hasn’t been tried before. During the PED era, when balls were flying out of ballparks around the country at an eye-popping rate, why weren’t managers employing the shift then? We’ve seen third basemen playing second base; we’ve also seen some portions of the outfield completely abandoned! Shifting seems like an obvious solution to me, but it’s caused so many “baseball purists” to toss their preverbal gloves in the air!
Some have proclaimed it’s ruining the game, which I vehemently disagree with. I think we need a new stat to evaluate players that hit against the shift a certain percentage of the time at-bat. I’d call it the HAAS, or Hitting Against Aggressive Shift. Baseball has always had instances of shifting, but nothing like the piling of fielders to one side that we’re seeing now. Aggressive is my way to distinguish between a traditional infield and outfield shifts, and the rampant shifting we’re seeing know (doesn’t hurt that I like the acronym too). It took MLB an entire season to take my last suggestion seriously, which was to revamp the Reliever/Closer award and name it after the recently retired Mariano Rivera. How long will it take the minds behind the metrics in baseball to latch onto this measurement of evaluating players per at-bat?
Skippers have micromanaged the pitching situation to the point where quality starts, middle relief, setup men, 7th inning guys, 8th inning guys and closers (let’s not forget the situational lefties) have taken the sting out of the once-potent major league bench. Benches nowadays consist of three or four bats, not the six to eight bats of yesteryear! Don’t get me wrong, you get the occasional defensive replacement or clutch pinch-hitter that can shift the tide or secure a victory… but managers need arms! The shift can preserve a starting pitcher, or give a reliever the extra out or two needed to get that all-important W! Whether you’re a fan of shifting or a purist, as long as MLB doesn’t institute rules against the sliding of fielders to unnatural positions on the diamond, the shift is here to say.
-Joseph Haas, HaasStyleInterpretations.com
Tweet me @JerseyHaas
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