Shifting on defense isn't a new innovation. It's been happening on a regular basis for years now. It's just that it's getting more and more extreme. Team that with the strikeout, walk and home run rates through the roof and people are starting to get worried about this, our baseball.
Here's a still if you don't want to watch the video:
That ... is not baseball -- at least not the baseball we grew up watching -- is the gut reaction. As CBS Sports baseball analyst Jim Bowden recently explained on HQ (which you can see in the video above), we're moving in the direction of positionless baseball. That just feels wrong on so many levels.
But is it really?
We've always seen defenders move. You can even go back to your Little League years. "Hey, Joe! Move back five steps and to your right seven steps!" *Watch Joe move back and left*
Baseball is a game of adjustments, after all. Remember the old phrase "hit 'em where they ain't?" How about, instead of trying to say we need a set of defensive rules like we're 10 year olds, just do that.
Before the shift was so prominent, we'd be saying things like "man, that's a huge gap in right-center," hoping the hitter would put one in said gap for a possible triple. Now we always want to legislate everything. Why? Why not teach the hitters to adjust and possibly pull the defense out of the shift? If a pitcher keeps getting a player on a low-and-outside slider, we don't suggest to ban that pitch. We hope the player starts making adjustments and laying off it.
Things can be done to combat the shift.
The hitters don't have to bunt every time, obviously. Making it a threat helps, as does using all fields when swinging away.
Baseball has always been a cat-and-mouse sport. Whether it's with a runner on the bases seeing how far he can get a lead while the battery duo figures out ways to mitigate the running game or whether it's trying to figure out the perfect pitch sequence in a big spot. Do we actually want to start legislating where defenders can play?
I'm in favor of letting this play out. Let the shifts get more and more extreme and then let's see the next generation of hitters who start emulating a Tony Gwynn type approach instead of a Jose Bautista approach. Use all fields. You're a left-handed hitter and the ball is outside? Good. Shoot it to left. You do that on a regular basis and we won't be seeing the Joey Gallo shift. Using all fields is good and it's part of being a well-rounded batsmith.
Gallo isn't productive, by the way. He's hitting .200/.281/.475 (95 OPS+). You know who is? J.D. Martinez. He's hitting .344/.395/.644 (171 OPS+). He has 12 home runs. He's also hit 36.2 percent of his balls in play to the opposite field compared to pulling 37.1 percent.
Maybe the problem is with Gallo's game and not how the defense sets up? J.D. Martinez isn't getting extreme shifted. I understand you can't shift as extreme on a right-handed hitter like Martinez, but the point stands when it comes to using all fields. If Gallo did so, he wouldn't face that extreme shift.
Makes you think, huh?