The shift’s impact on baseball

Mac Lewis, Sports Editor

The game of baseball has changed a lot over the last 50 years, with its most significant changes coming in the last 10 years. This is with the new wave of the shift. The shift is where the defense aligns three of their four infielders on one side of the infield, where an unshifted defense would have two on each side. These infield shifts started to gain popularity in the early 2010s along with the evolution of analytics. Teams could now track in-depth stats on opposing batters, including where their percentage of ground balls are hit. For example, if a left-handed batter hit 80% of his ground balls to the right side of the infield, teams took notice and started to shift their infield that way to get a better chance of fielding the ball. 

The impact of the shift has been enormous and has turned the game in a bad direction. These shifts cause what would be singles to be groundouts for hitters. This ultimately drops their batting averages. With hitters struggling to get singles on the ground, many have started to try and hit under the ball. This has caused many more strikeouts and fewer balls being hit in play, creating a sluggish game for fans to watch, as there is very minimal game changing action throughout the game. 

“I think that the shift is part of the game, it’s just a different strategy that teams implement to help themselves win,” Madison Baseball player Connor Moore (‘23), said. “If hitters are going to practice pulling the ball, then why shouldn’t teams practice only fielding one side of the diamond? No, the shift should not be banned in the MLB, it is just one of the many changes that the game has seen over the last few decades.”

In reality, the shift will probably never be banned and it should not be. Managers will argue that it is taking away a strategy of the game, which is true because some managers shift at least once every inning. That strategy will be completely eliminated with the banning of the shift, and will make it harder to differentiate between the good and great managers of our game. Also, many hitters have made adjustments to their game to hit for fly balls to neutralize the shift. However, some teams, like the Chicago White Sox, refuse to shift. This is partially because of their old school manager Tony La Russa, who was a very successful coach before the shift era. Another team, the Tampa Bay Rays, have fully invested everything they do into analytics and the shift. Rays manager Kevin Cash and Tony La Russa both have been successful in their tenures with their respective teams.

The shift takes away hundreds of runs across baseball every year. For example, bases loaded two outs, what would be a two run ground ball single between the second baseman and the first baseman will end up being an inning ending out. This could be the difference between winning and losing, and ultimately, whether or not a team clinches a highly coveted playoff berth. 

Yes, the shift is ruining baseball and because of its effects hitters change their approaches at the plate, causing longer games. But it shouldn’t be removed because it will take away from the managerial strategies of the game. It will be interesting to see what the MLB decides to do with the issue of the shift, and how fans will react to it.