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Theo Epstein’s First Course Of Action Should Be To Ban The Shift

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According to reports, former Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein will join the commissioners office as a consultant for “on-field matters.” Just last month, Epstein apologized to baseball fans for supporting analytics and therefore “hurting the aesthetic value of the game,” and if he’s truly contrite, his new position can actually help him fix his mistake.

He can ban the shift.

As of now, defenders are allowed to stand wherever they want on the field, instead of playing their designated areas. Preventing players from playing too far out of position would help batters put the ball in play and draw more viewers to the games.

A common rebuttal to such a ban is that major league hitters should be able to overcome shifts on defense, that hitters should train themselves to adjust to fielders’ choices. That argument sounds logical on its surface, but it’s actually garbage for the sport. And here’s why.

New-school baseball

Pitch velocity has never been as high as it is today, which naturally makes the job at the plate much more difficult. Hitters are not only struggling to put the bat on the ball, but they’re also battling to find holes in the field.

Hitters have developed their approach since the second they leave tee-ball, and these approaches take years to develop. When the shift made its way into Major League Baseball, hitters took a few years to implement their adjustments. That adjustment wasn’t to “hit it where they ain’t,” but to hit the ball over their heads. It may sound fan-friendly to have more players trying to hit homers, but it had the opposite effect. Games now average almost 1.5 home runs, compared to the “steroid era” where we saw barely one every nine innings. It turns out that chicks don’t dig the long ball–they come to the field for action.

Take these two rare instances that Twitter pretends to like but that true baseball fans absolutely hate:

You think the Texas Rangers want Joey Gallo, who’s 6′ 4″ and 235 pounds, slapping a bunt to third base for a single? If he were a hitter who could run, then it would be a different story. Gallo would be a threat to steal a base, maybe cause a pitcher to rush to the plate and in theory help the man on deck make something happen. That would be a reason why a hitter would bunt. But in this case, Joey Gallo was just giving in to the defensive shift.

Or how about SS Carlos Correa and 2B Jose Altuve standing 20 feet into the right field grass? Sorry to hurt anyone’s feelings, but this is not where the inventors of baseball wished to see the game go. For 20+ years of his life, Gallo was praised for hitting the ball hard, and now, he’s crucified for “beating balls into the shift and refusing to go the other way.”

Why the shift would improve the game

If Theo Epstein helped negate analytics from taking over baseball by limiting the shift, fans would start to fall in love with the game again because they’d actually recognize it. People grew up watching Pete Rose and Tony Gwynn hit to their strengths and be rewarded for them, and that baseball experience was objectively more fun for the fans.

Baseball doesn’t need more runs scored. It doesn’t even need more home runs. America’s greatest pastime needs more action. Banning the shift would help hitters focus on putting the ball in play, not trying to hit the ball in the seats.

Theo, please save this game while you still can.

Written by Gary Sheffield, Jr

Gary Sheffield Jr is the son of should-be MLB Hall of Famer, Gary Sheffield. He covers basketball and baseball for OutKick.com, chats with the Purple and Gold faithful on LakersNation, and shitposts on Twitter. You can follow him at GarySheffieldJr

33 Comments

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  1. Not a fan of the shift. While some say a hitter should be able to go opposite field, a major league fielder should be able to field their position. But I’m not in favor of banning it. Its strategic. Bunt.

    Instead, I’d rather fine players who whine about batters who bunt against the shift. Especially in blowouts or no-hitters. If you play the shift, you lose the ability to whine about teams beating the shift

  2. I agree, ban the shift, keep the extra inning rule, minimize pitching changes, computerize balls and strikes. Let’s improve enjoyment, which means ground balls can be base-hits once in awhile, and keep it under 3 hours.

  3. It’s like saying you shouldn’t double team in football, because it makes it harder for an elite receiver to catch the ball. If I stand here, hit it somewhere else. The shift doesn’t ruin baseball, it’s the slow ass pace, strikeouts, long commercials and half the teams not trying to win does. Removing the shift won’t stop Joey Gallo from striking out 215 times. And removing the shift will raise his batting average from .210 to .220 – maybe. Or it’ll stay .210 because he can’t get the free bunt hits.

    • No it’s not that whatsoever. Double teaming in football has been in the game since the 60’s. Gallo strikes out 250 times because it’s not worth hitting a single the other way. He isn’t scoring because he can’t run. I suggest you re-read what I wrote instead of mentioning strikeouts that I addressed in the article.

  4. To me the shift doesn’t make the top 5 list of issues facing baseball. And it’s not like baseball is going away or anything, although it is certainly on a slow decline. You guys have named some things that are on point, and I would add the 100% guaranteed contracts are another issue. I’ve seen too many teams get caught up with expensive players past their prime or ravaged by injuries so they just enter rebuild mode for 4 years and don’t try.

      • Baseball is my first love. And it moves to the back burner more and more as a TV option. I don’t think most fans care about the shift. You can eliminate the shift and it won’t change the problems. Long games, slow games, and 95% of sluggers all have the same approach. I don’t think MLB can fix it either. Mainly cause players slow the game and want a lot of pitches. I like that bad teams win 40% and the best teams win 60%. Strategy helps win the 20% and I don’t think removing it helps the game.

  5. I absolutely 100% agree with you. Baseball needs to go back to the past and BAN all analytics. Baseball is a game that should be fun to watch. I know it’s not for everyone, but “Real baseball strategy” makes the game exciting. Nobody wants to watch a game run and ruined by damn mathematicians. I hope and pray Epstein helps bring baseball back to where it once was and not were it is going or already is, DOWN THE CRAPPER!!!

  6. Everyone says hitters can’t adjust. I just don’t believe it. Shift isn’t the problem its the approach at the plate that is. When kids are in higher end travel ball the coaches all teach hitting the ball the other way. Very few “tee ball” players have the power to hit it over heads. This swing technique and all or nothing approach also isn’t taught in high-school. Out side of some of the professional private schools in Florida not many high-school teams have 9 homerun hitters. This approach is taught in minor leagues. Changes that would help more are 1. Keep the rule on relief pitchers finishing innings or let’s say at least 5 batters in same inning. 2. Keep the extra innings rule with guy on 2nd in the 12th onward. 3. Keep visits to mound to 3 and pitching clock. All would be better for the game then changing shift

  7. As a baseball fan since the 90s…I’d agree the shift needs to go. The game has become boring if it is just strikeouts, walks and home runs. Little elements like stolen bases, bunting, situational hitting helped to make the game well rounded and you could have many different types of players succeed at baseball. Now we have lead off hitters who basically are up there to try and hit home runs when it used to be they were the speedy-high batting average guys up there to set the table. Outside of maybe Tony Gwynn most hitters aren’t going to try and hit it the other way to beat a shift.

    • I would bet because swing and miss rates are stupidly high now it has a higher percentage of failure. With Larussa coming back you might see a little more of that style from him. Today’s managers just blindly follow analytics, try to get walks and eventually your big guys run into a couple. You’d think the homer era would be more exciting, but it’s terribly boring baseball.

  8. I agree Gary! I hate the shift. What’s more I hate the prism of offensive baseball. It’s no longer her do what you do best to help the team. It’s HR, strikeout, or you are walked. It’s all about OPS. There is little value for a Pete Rose with today’s superstars.

    Where is the stolen base? There is no value for a Kenny Lofton or a Ricky Henderson unless they hit 40 HRs. Why aren’t players routinely knocking on the door of 100 steals like they are 60HRs? It used to be a baseball crime to strike out 100 times in a season, now half the starting 8 has 100.

    The game has become very boring at least to me.

  9. The shift is the RESULT of the home run mentality, not the cause. I do not favor introducing rules as the solution. I can’t even fathom how you would write such a rule. The game of baseball has survived much worse than this.

  10. I’m with you on the shift.

    I’d like to see them keep the 7 inning doubleheaders. If you have a rain out on Friday get it done Saturday or Sunday during that series if possible. Don’t play a 9 inning make up game 6 weeks later.

  11. I read it all and get your point, Gary, but still disagree. Will there be seven circles on the field, outside of which each position player may not ready himself? Or would it be a judgment call by the umpires? “The center fielder was five feet too far over; no catch, ground rule double.”

    And I LOVE that there’s no clock in the game! If ‘fans’ don’t like that, they’re not really baseball fans. Maybe ‘bu$iness’ mandates attracting more customers with a small attention span, generating more profits.

    But for me, what’s the hurry?! This crazy world is already way too much ON THE CLOCK. Baseball gives that beautiful time away from the madness…

    Pitcher looking for a sign, what’s the count, where and who are the base runners?, who’s warming up in the bullpen?

    Nothing can touch post season baseball, with all that going! EVERY PITCH MATTERS. Pitcher versus batter… It’s awesome!

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