Baseball should ditch the shift because base hits are underrated


I’d like to wrap the shift in a Pop-Tart wrapper and put it in the microwave. Or better yet, give it 11:00pm grocery store sushi and let it die a slow, agonizing death, with shifted shortstops and third basemen in the outfield running out of its body like Harry on the toilet in Dumb and Dumber.

Let’s bring the single back!

The shift has swiped left on the single, leaving it alone and rejected, with the walk, the strikeout, and the home run as it’s fond lovers. The shift is Bodhi from Point Break and the single is all the banks he robbed. Left handed batters hit grounders, and instead of traveling to the right fielder, their paths are interrupted by Bodhi, who is the repositioned shortstop playing shallow right field. The ball’s fielded and thrown to first and Bodhi is waving a flamethrower triumphantly in the air.

Here are some notes on the shift:

It’s lowered batting averages across the league, no matter if you bat righty or lefty.

 The shift has increased the occurrence of the walk.

 More home runs are hit when the shift is employed versus when the shift is laid off.

 The shift increases the occurrence of the strikeout, the home run, and the walk. The three outcomes that dominate today’s game.

 The shift tips the scales even further in the pitcher’s favor.

One trip to Twitter and It’s pretty clear that current fans of the game are all in on the shift. I see their point. The shift stands for innovation in the game. Innovation leads to more competition in the game, especially with small market teams without the budget to match the big market dudes. Take the 90-win Tampa Bay Rays of 2018. Without their innovative pitching setup, they don’t win 90 games, and those 90 wins are great for the fans of that team. Those 90 wins are also great for baseball. Innovation creates small market contenders, which creates more competition, which creates more meaningful baseball. And baseball needs that more than any other sport, because it’s hard to keep this thing going for 162 games. The 97-win Oakland Athletics of 2018 started the season with the lowest payroll in all of baseball. That doesn’t happen without innovation in the game.

But we can ditch the shift.

I’d like to see more singles. I don’t care if banning the shift creates more runs or the same runs. I don’t care if banning the shift speeds up the game or keeps game time the same. The problem with baseball isn’t the pace at which it is played. That’s never been the problem. People are happy to give their time to a riveting sporting event.

The problem with baseball is that the story sucks. More singles will help the story. The improved story is the perception that things are happening during a baseball game.

Besides us baseball fans, the ones who already love the game, most people don’t care about the game. Baseball is irrelevant. People don’t hate it. People don’t like it. And that’s the worst place to be.

Seth Godin wrote a book called All Marketers are Liars. In his book, Seth talks about the stories we tell ourselves as consumers. You know, that wine tastes better out of a $30 glass, that a North Face jacket is warmer than the Champion one from Target, and that a Porsche Cayenne is way better than a Volkswagen Touareg, even though they are virtually the same vehicle made in the same factory.

All that matters is what people believe to be true, no matter what the numbers say. And people believe baseball is boring. More singles will make people believe things are happening.

Ma, the action. We want the action!

Recently, Payless Shoe Store set up a luxury pop-up event by installing a fake posh store in Los Angeles called Palessi. They invited top-dog fashion influencers to walk the red carpet, sip champagne, and buy Payless shoes for $600.

Yes, shoes that you can buy in a normal ass Payless Shoe Store. You know, the one right next to Cricket Wireless and Fat Boy’s Bail Bonds. Yes, those are bars on the windows. That’s to protect the inventory.

The fashion influencers told themselves a story, which was a lie. The lie that these shoes were well built, expensive, and fashion forward. Not Payless $20 shoes. And they bought them for hundreds.

Perception was built. People became aware of the high-end fashion. Logic took a vacation and the story was told.

People tell themselves stories, true or not, to make things work in their head. To turn the complicated into simple. To find fulfillment in their world. To find something to get behind, a passion, something funny, or competition to follow. It’s been proven time and time again that data takes a back seat to what we want to believe. This is why human attention spans are the same as a goldfish and Michael Scott drove his rental into the lake.

So I’m not concerned with data on the shift. I’m concerned with perception. The feeling that people get from watching baseball. I’m not too sure a viewer, with shitty beer in hand, can free ball the wOBA equation in their head, or really give a shit for that matter. I mean, damn, vaping is terribly bad for you, so are smoking cigs, and booze, and aspartame in Diet Coke. The data tells us it’ll fuck our shit up. But who cares?

When it’s June and there is nothing else on but the White Sox and Phillies, two rebuilding, young, exciting teams, I believe the action induced by the single is a gateway drug. The single is Marijuana. Oh, a hit, the viewer might think. Then they maybe stop and watch. Then they see Odúbel Herrera hit another single through the right side. And our would-be double play via the shift now leaves runners on the corners with no outs. Ducks on the pond!

Wait, what’s that dudes name again? Yeah, Odúbel is an exciting young player and people need to know him. And guess what? We got a new viewer. And I don’t care if all the data in the world tells me that taking away the shift leads to only three extra hits across the entire league each night. There can be a butterfly effect. The pitcher gets a bit shaky by the extra cheers from the crowd, and he’s thinking about throwing strikes now. He’s a robot that is self-aware, filled with pressure and anxiety. And now we have a game with more action.

I mean, if there’s a one-percent chance banning the shift can help the game, we have to ban the shift. Cause the same arguments for the shift—that the shift won’t change anything if we ban it, that advanced data says the shift doesn’t stop scoring, that it doesn’t stop hitting, that it doesn’t affect advanced hitting metrics which tell the true hitting story—can be used to argue against the shift. So let’s go ahead and get rid of it. Makes no difference anyway, right?

A hitter can’t simply adjust and hit the ball the opposite way. The game doesn’t work like that anymore. Spin rates are higher than Thurgood Jenkins in Half Baked and pitchers pitch to the shift. If you’re a lefty and the shift is on, you’re not getting anything on the outer half of the plate.

Here’s Daniel Murphy, one of baseball’s most clutch hitters, on the topic of hitting the ball where they ain’t:

“I’m not trying to hit it in one specific place. If I look up, and they’re full-shifting me, and I only have one defender in the 5-6 hole where the third baseman plays, I have to let the ball get a little deeper. But the pitchers are pretty good, and that’s now a foul ball. I’m really never in the business of trying to aim for a certain area because I have to be perfect, and I’m not perfect.”

Listen, man. Trying to aim a baseball coming from a missile on the mound that throws a clean hundo and can spin a baseball like a whiffle ball has the same success rate of finding a leprechaun at the end of a rainbow and getting a pot of gold. Grow up Peter Pan. Count Chocula.

Here’s what Matt Carpenter thinks:

“If you already have all these disadvantages against the hitting side of the game, I wouldn’t be opposed to getting back to playing the game the way it was always played, where you have two guys on the left side of the infield and two guys on the right side of the infield.”

“If you’re looking to help even out the advantage that pitchers have over the hitters, that’s the only way to do it.”

The game of baseball inherently gives the advantage to the pitcher. It’s not a fair fight. There is so much advantage already given to the defense because all teams have their own rocket launcher on the mound. Do we need to give them more of an advantage?

I don’t care about the data because I care about the gameplay, and how the game looks to non-fans. There are a lot of non-fans. I don’t remember the last time I walked through the hallway at work and heard random people talk about last night’s baseball game. But I always hear about last weekend’s Ohio State football game, or last night’s Cowboy’s game. Normal people don’t give a shit about baseball. So, the data? Get in the back seat of my cramped ass Iroc-Z. I care about the perceptions of non-fans. And when so much of the outcome lies in the walk, the home run, and the strikeout, then that’s boring baseball, and the attendance at live baseball games will tell you that it’s all boring.

Current fans of the game are weird, man. They get offended when you talk about change. Straight up snobby. They will annihilate you on Twitter like The Terminator going after Sarah Conner. They’re selfish with the game and fail to recognize that it’s on them just as much as it is on players and owners to take care of the game of baseball. And I’m sorry, but that does mean accommodating non-fans to some extent in order for baseball to continue its 120- plus years of success. Baseball is no different than a normal business that needs to adjust with the curve of societal change. Let’s not be Blockbuster Video.

I think of the single as the 4-yard run, or the 7-yard screen pass in football. Like an order of mozzarella sticks. An appetizer to get this thing going. During an entire football game, only four touchdowns may be scored. That’s like a 3-1 baseball game. But why the hell is baseball so damn boring then? We have about the same number of scores as a football game. Often times more.

It’s because in between the scores, baseball is like watching paint dry. There are no 4-yard runs, or 7-yard screen passes. There are only Hail Marys, sacks, and penalties. I.e., home runs, strikeouts, and walks. There’s no in-between offense. No singles to keep hope alive. And if there is ever a runner on first because of a single, the next guy grounds into a double play, right into the shift. Small ball is dead. Stringing two singles together in a row is mummified in a tomb deep in a pyramid built by Ancient Aliens. And I get it, it’s still going to be hard to hit today’s pitching, and hard to hit two singles in a row if you ditch the shift. But can we at least try?

I agree with Rob Manfred. I’d like to pack up the shift, send it to outer space and let it get sucked up in a black hole. I’d like to wrap it in a Pop-Tart wrapper and put it in the microwave. Or better yet, give it 11:00pm grocery store sushi and let it die a slow, agonizing death, with shifted shortstops and third basemen in the outfield running out of its body like Harry on the toilet in Dumb and Dumber.

The single is the ultimate rally starter. It keeps hope alive when your team is down by 4 runs in the 8th inning. The simple single can shake the pitcher in the big moment, crack the set-up man’s armor and light a fire in the dugout. And sure, the research says if you eliminate the shift, we may only see three more hits each night across the entire league. But those three singles have the ability to affect three games per night. Because once you get a hit, all bets are off. All of a sudden, Kenley Jansen or Craig Kimbrel are coming into the 8th inning for a 5-out save because that one single made the set-up dude sweat. The single affects the human psyche, determines if the dude on the mound has the clutch gene. Pressure is added from the liner that could no longer be fielded by the shortstop playing shallow right field.

For me, I love baseball how it is, but it needs change for the overall health of the game. For its non-fans and acquaintances. If we want our children and grandchildren to enjoy the game like we do, then we have to take care of this thing and make sure it lasts.

MLB’s held pretty true to the game as it was in the 1890’s, when polio and small pox and tuberculosis were real concerns. When the Model T was cruising up the road at 20 miles an hour to the saloon! But a pitch clock, banning the shift, and an NL DH won’t make baseball unrecognizable. The sum of all these parts can be great. They will give us more meaningful baseball. Changes will bring in new fans, bring back fans, and bring us the best athletes in the world to play this game, because the game can be cool, like it was in 1998, or before the strike. The preservation of the game only comes through change.

We make this game better, or we sit on it and it dies when we die.

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