Opinion: Why I Want To Outlaw ‘The Shift’ In Baseball

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Opposing defenses shifted radically against Ted Williams but couldn't silence his bat.Leaf International

By Paul Semendinger, Ed.D.

I never thought this would be the case. I never thought I'd be for such a radical new rule.

But I am.

Because the new rule outlawing the shift (for 2023) makes sense.

The shift came into vogue a good amount of years ago. I remember saying at the time that good hitters will learn how to hit against the shift. As that didn't happen, I got frustrated with players like Mark Teixeira who continually hit into the shift and saw his production plummet. "Just hit the other way," I'd say.

He didn't.

He said he couldn't.

I found that excuse lame. "A good professional should learn to adapt," I'd say.

Year-after-year the shift has been used more and more.

I keep waiting for the good hitters to find a way to beat the shift.

They haven't.

I have determined they can't, or, even if they can, that it's just not worth it.

It's easy for us, at a distance, to state what big-leaguers can do. Or should do. We think certain things are easier than they look - like hitting the other way, against the shift. Things like this are just not as simple as we might think.

I have been spending a lot of time with a former big-leaguer. He shared the story of how he once started to try to hit home runs. To do this, he changed his swing. It messed him up completely. It put him into a slump unlike anything he had ever experienced. It was s lump he couldn’t break out of because new habits formed and the player was lost, completely.  One little change made a huge difference.

That is essentially what Mark Teixeira was saying all those years ago. It's just not that easy, against big league pitchers, to change one's approach to hitting. In fact, for many ballplayers, it can’t be done.  

Each year teams use the shift more and more - because it works. They use it because big league hitters, the greatest batters in the world, haven't been able to hit consistently against it.  (If they could, teams wouldn’t use the shift as often.)

Big-league managers and coaches and analysts have also determined that for some players, the Mark Teixeira types and the Joey Gallo types, it doesn't even make sense for them to try to beat the shift. These players are told to just swing hard and go for the fences.

The result is, most often, what I'll call Four Outcome Baseball: a walk, a strikeout, an out of any other kind, or a home run.

I hate to say this, but home runs, in this regard, are boring. Watching all-or-nothing guys get all, or nothing, isn't fun to watch. It doesn't make baseball compelling.

Four Outcome Baseball is boring.

A guy going one for ten with a homer as the one hit is awful baseball to watch.

This approach is the direct result of the shift.

This is why the shift needs to be outlawed.

But, there's another reason as well:

The beauty and the natural flow of the game.

A line drive to right field over the head of the second baseman should be a hit. That is the result of a good swing on a pitched ball - a line drive.  This is how players are supposed to swing. It is part of baseball's natural order.

"Line drive, base hit, right field."

With the shift, this has become, "Line drive, line out to the second baseman in shallow right."

A line drive up the middle should also be a single. This is the way good hitters are taught to hit. Now we see that the perfect result of a good swing resulting in a lineout to the shortstop.

The shift has radically changed the way the game is played and the natural order of how the game is played, but also how it's watched at home.

When the batter does the right thing, the right thing, a base hit, should most often result. That's not happening now.

The same also rings true for well-placed and hard-hit ground balls. The ground ball through the hole between second and first should be a hit. Today's it is a ground out.

None of this makes the game better.

Underscoring this is the fact that when a player beats the shift, it's often (outside of the home run) when he swings poorly and hits the ball the other way accidently. This also disrupts baseball's natural order. We see the player doing the correct thing and getting out and others being rewarded with hits (often doubles) by hitting weak ground balls the other way against the shift - not by design, but by accident.

The result of all of this is a poor product on the field.  It’s not as fun for me to watch bad baseball being rewarded and good baseball being penalized.  

I am a traditionalist. I don't like when Baseball makes rule changes for the sake of making rule changes. I dislike seven inning double headers and ghost runners. I'm not for bigger bases or moving the pitcher's mound back.  I’m not a big fan of expanded playoffs.  

But, even though it seems backwards, I believe that outlawing the shift and requiring the position players to play where they traditionally have played is actually a way to bring baseball back to its natural order. It's the traditionalist in me that wants the shortstop to play on the left side of second base. It's the traditionalist in me that doesn't want to see infielders lining up in the outfield.

Outlawing the shift actually restore baseball to the way I like seeing it played with well-placed batted balls being hits rather than outs.

It's ironic, but this new modern rule will help bring back the traditional game.

Dr. Paul Semendinger runs Start Spreading the News, one of the best Yankees sites out there.  He also hosts the Start Spreading the News Podcast on the North East Streaming Sports Network.  Paul mis the author of The Least Among Them and Scattering the Ashes.  If you haven't read them yet, what are you waiting for?  Paul is a pitcher in two baseball leagues and he wonders why the Yankees still haven't signed him.  (There's always tomorrow.)

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