Understanding The Shift


Baseball is a constant game of adjustments. In the 1940’s, Ted Williams

essentially forced opposing managers to enact a shift because it was the

only way to slow him down. It worked for a little while until the Red Sox

slugger made an adjustment to hit more to the opposite field. This is just

one of many examples on how teams have implemented the shift to

serve as an adjustment to get more hitters out.

Basic Positioning

In terms of the actual positioning, we have seen more varieties arise in

recent years. However, for the sake of this article, I’ll give the most

general one that’s been used. Here is how it looks: The third baseman

will move over to where the shortstop normally is. The shortstop will

slide over to the right of second base. Meanwhile, the second baseman

will move back into the grass and in-between second and first. The first

baseman will slide over closer to the line. As for the outfield, the right

fielder can get closer to the line and the center fielder will move into

right-center. This is the most commonly used shift, but it is still

important to gauge the hitting abilities of the player at the plate and

adjust appropriately.

Advantages of Using the Shift on Defense

Before even starting this section, I want to make it clear that merely

shifting a lot is not always an effective strategy. There is a substantial

difference between shifting a lot and shifting effectively (recording

outs). For younger levels, it might be hard to determine when to shift. If

it’s a team you’ve played before or one that you can watch the opposing

players take batting practice, then this might be a little easier. However,

there are plenty of advantages that can arise from implementing a shift.

The most prevalent one is limiting a hitter’s ability to pull the ball.

Obviously, baseball players love to pull the ball to nab extra base hits. It

is much more difficult to be a consistent opposite field hitter. In fact,

we’ve even seen some players dominate throughout the minors only to

struggle in the majors once managers start shifting against them. The

shift also benefits pitchers. When there defense is aligned appropriately,

they can limit hits against them and basically have to throw less pitches,

thus allowing them to go deeper into the game. In addition, they can

focus solely on the inner half of the plate to force the hitter to pull it.

These are two of the primary advantages that can be brought about by

shifting effectively.

null

Players Must Learn Other Spots

In order to implement a shift, the infielders must be capable of sliding a

little out of their comfort zone. For example, the third baseman is no

longer covering the third baseline. Rather, now he is forced to basically

act as a fill-in shortstop. The same goes for the rest of the infield,

including the second baseman, who is now technically in the outfield. All

of these may sound like minor adjustments, but when you get in an

actual game situation, they seem a little more rigorous. With this being

the case, I don’t think it’s a terrible idea for young infielders to work on

their versatility. This would include taking grounders at different

positions. Avoid being solely focused on one position. As for a Major

Leaguer that’s portrayed this exact versatility, check out the

increasingly valuable Ben Zobrist.

Since you have to practice other spots, it doesn’t hurt to study some

more online about these other positions. This instructional video from

CoachTube will walk you through some of these other spots. You don’t

have to spend a ton of time on them, but it can be helpful to get a

general idea!

How to Beat the Shift

Despite the clear advantages a shift can bring, there are also plenty of

ways for hitters to beat it. Jonathan Lucroy, who is the catcher for the

Milwaukee Brewers, is one example of a player who was shifted against

immensely. His response: just adjust! Lucroy referred to this adjustment

saying, “Personally, I love when teams shift on me. I try to hit ‘em where

they ain’t, like Willie Keeler.” There are a few ways, including the ones

Lucroy’s exhibited, that can beat the shift.

Bunt

Typically, we see bigger players get shifts put on them, so it might sound

a little crazy to ask these big power bats to bunt. But, why not? If the

infield is basically entirely on the right side, all you have to do is firmly

bunt it down the line and you’ll be safe every time. When you do this a

couple of times to the defense, they’ll start to respect your abilities and

they will no longer implement the shift.

Take Advantage

With a shift on, the pitcher is going to try to pound you inside to force a

pull. However, even at the Major League level, pitchers make mistakes.

They may intend to throw a cutter inside, but instead leave it hanging

on the outside corner. If you try to pull this ball, it will be an easy pop

out. The alternative is to go with it and hit a soft liner to left for a hit.

Take your pick on which you’d rather have.

Increased Relevance

As I mentioned in the introductory sections, coaches love to shift

nowadays. If a player is going to try to kill you by pulling the ball, then

why not put extra guys over there because you know that’s where it’s

going. The number of shifts in the MLB rose by over 10,000 from 2010

to 2014. That is certainly a staggering figure. You’d think of all players

that Major League players wouldn’t hesitate to make the adjustment to

continue to succeed. However, it isn’t difficult to see why they don’t

adjust immediately. These are players that have probably dominated

their entire lives and continuously been the best player on the field at

any given time. Now, the opposition is attempting to limit their abilities

by putting extra guys on the right side? This stubbornness and lack of

adjusting is a perfect explanation why managers will continue to

implement shifts!

Numbers Game

Baseball is a numbers game. Even at the youth level, players develop

tendencies. When they see an inside pitch, they want to pull it. After

multiple times of doing this, they’ll want to pull everything. With this

said, it is the defense’s responsibility to read and react to these

tendencies. A shift is one perfect example of it. If you think a younger

age like 12 is too young to shift, think again because it just might make

you a much better team!