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Cut The Shift, Play Ball

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There was an uproar of the idea of banning the shift this past week in Las Vegas. Out of the 16 managers that were asked their views on the possible rule change, seven sided with keeping the shift.

 

“My answer is no, I would not legislate against the shift. The shift should be organically maneuvered” – Joe Maddon, Chicago Cubs Manager.

“I’ll just say, I don’t see the sense in banning the shift at all. I don’t see how it improves the game” – Craig Counsell, Milwaukee Brewers manager.

 

Only two were in favor of banning it: Detroit Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire and Kansas City Royals skipper Ned Yost.

 

“Eliminate them. Do it now. Crazy. You’ve got my vote. I don’t like them. I don’t like the shift.  I really like the idea two players on each side of the field, you have to keep one foot in the dirt. The shift for me has eliminated the single” Yost said.

 

Seven managers didn’t provide a dominant stance either way. One of them was Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, who dug a little bit deeper and explained what he thinks the root of the problem is. He blamed the background of today’s hitters for consistently being handcuffed by the shift.

 

“It’s the way they’ve been raised. And a part of it is Major League Baseball, it’s what they get paid for. And we’ll be the first ones to tell you it all comes down to walks, strikeouts and runs, it’s not the same for the fan. The fan wants the action and a walk is not a big action play. A strikeout is not a big action play. The home run is nice. So more often than not it’s about what they’ve grown up learning” Hurdle stated. “Who’s doing the teaching? What results are they looking for in the leagues they’re playing or the showcase camps they’re going to? What are scouts looking for? What are they being graded on? And part, I think some of it, baseball has created this — the launch angle in its own way.”

 

Hurdle is right. The majority of the baseball world has been so fixated about launch angle, exit velocity and power numbers. They are great things, but this obsession has watered down a complete presence at the plate.

Long at bats are encouraged because walks are applauded. Loud outs are justified, so batted balls into the shift are forgiven. All of these efforts are used towards the goal of knocking out pitchers and wearing down a staff. It does makes a lot of sense, but they are primary reasons to the game’s pace of play issue and a lack of action. Hitters are force fed these tactics all the way to the major leagues. By that time, the opposing team has a much better idea of each hitters’ tendencies. So the effort of closing a stance and going the other way isn’t a simple choice, it’s a complete contradictory to everything they’ve tried to master through their career.  Not to mention how difficult that is to mentally compute in a major league ballpark against a major league pitcher.

Go into any major league locker room and you will hear batters talk about how they were trying to stay patient at the plate. How they were trying to wait for their pitch. How they were looking for something to drive. But every minor league hitter is saying that as well. Hurdle is right again.

In order to fix the problem, hitters need to learn how to hit against the shift. But it’s not that easy. It needs to start in high school and continue in the minors before it can succeed in the majors. Banning the shift would be the quick fix.  It’s also a drastic change. But how much longer can the game wait for hitters to adjust to it?

Most managers and general managers are against banning the shift; however, it’s not unanimous. During the recent discussions in Las Vegas, this rumor has evolved into a very possible rule change.

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