Analysis

MLB: What Should We Do About The Shift?

There is a saying in the world of baseball that the ball will always find the man who is out of position. Which makes all the shifting in baseball a true test of a ball player’s skill.

The idea of shifting really wasn’t something that was done all that often throughout the history of baseball. Sure we have an instance in which Ted Williams was shifted on but it wasn’t something that truly lasted in the game.

However, over the last ten seasons “shifting” has become the “it” thing to do. Using FanGraphs to track the total number of shifts that have been employed since 2010 is astounding. An estimated total of over 101 thousand shifts were used from 2010-2017. FanGraphs defines a “Traditional Shift” as

Traditional Shifts:

1) If there are 3 infielders playing on one side of the infield, we consider that a Full Ted Williams Shift.

2) If two players are positioned significantly out of their normal position, we consider that a Partial Ted Williams Shift.

3) If one infielder is playing deep into the outfield (Usually the 2B 10+ feet out into right field), we consider that a Partial Ted Williams Shift. If the 2B is only a few steps into the outfield, that does not count.

Each year the number of shifts had increased from 2010 through 2016. In 2010 the total number of shifts was 2,273. Also in 2010, not everyone was on board with the concept of shifting. As the Florida (now Miami) Marlins did not shift a single time the entire season (as FanGraphs has shifting defined). Including the Marlins who did not shift once, there were 10 teams that shifted less than 7 times for the entire season.

The Marlins (0), Chicago White Sox (1), Kansas City Royals (2), Detroit Tigers (2), Los Angeles Dodgers (3), Chicago Cubs (3), Houston Astros (4), St Louis Cardinals (4), Toronto Blue Jays (5) and the Texas Rangers (6). Yes, you see correctly the last three World Series winners did not believe in shifting way back in 2010.

Again, using FanGraphs to track the number of shifts that have been employed since 2010 the breakdown is as follows. (Year: Total # of shifts in MLB; Team with the most shifts (total #); Team with the least shifts (total #)

  • 2010: 2,273; Boston Red Sox (451); Florida (Miami) Marlins (0)
  • 2011: 2,350; Boston Red Sox (451); Kansas City Royals (0)
  • 2012: 4,576; Tampa Bay Rays (445); San Diego Padres (4)
  • 2013: 6,881; Boston Red Sox (532); Colorado Rockies (35)
  • 2014: 13,298; New York Yankees (957); San Francisco Giants (81)
  • 2015: 17,737; New York Yankees (1,409); Miami Marlins (238)
  • 2016: 28,072; Oakland Athletics (1,485); Milwaukee Brewers (490)
  • 2017: 26,700; Chicago Cubs (1,316); Chicago White Sox (362)

As you can see over the last three season the use of the shift has increased dramatically as over 72,500 shifts were used across Major League Baseball.

Now it remains to be seen if we have reached the apex of the shifting movement as the total number of shifts and the individual team marks in shifting went down in 2017. 2018 will see another level of shifting and innovation as this past season the shifts began to morph and change. Previously, teams would really only shift on the big lumbering lefty first base/ DH types like a David Ortiz or Adam Dunn.

But then it transitioned and shifts were being used on mostly everyone that wasn’t Mike Trout or Jose Altuve. However, last season we saw a shift used by the Houston Astros that defined all logic.

They shifted on the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim’s Designated Hitter/First Baseman Albert Pujols. This is a shift that is almost a scenario you would see in a men’s slow pitch softball game. Carlos Correa is playing the “rover” position in left field and shifts like this may be something that becomes more of the norm going forward.

astros shift on pujols

Shifts are a controversial topic amongst baseball fans, some like them, some hate them. However, shifts are here to stay. Teams make adjustments each and every season and 2018 will be no different. It will be interesting to watch and see how the game trends whether like last season where the shifts started going down or if it bounces back up. To close out these are the total number of team shifts from 2010-2017 for each ball club.

  1. Boston Red Sox- 5,528
  2. New York Yankees- 5,397
  3. Seattle Mariners- 4,697
  4. Oakland Athletics- 4,583
  5. Texas Rangers- 4,410
  6. Toronto Blue Jays- 4,394
  7. Chicago Cubs- 4,236
  8. Baltimore Orioles- 4,215
  9. Tampa Bay Rays- 4,210
  10. New York Mets- 3,991
  11. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim- 3,911
  12. Kansas City Royals- 3,582
  13. Cleveland Indians- 3,545
  14. Minnesota Twins- 3,518
  15. Los Angeles Dodgers- 3,482
  16. Houston Astros- 3,290
  17. Philadelphia Phillies- 3,238
  18. Cincinnati Reds- 3,188
  19. Detroit Tigers- 2,843
  20. Washington Nationals- 2,804
  21. Atlanta Braves- 2,801
  22. Pittsburgh Pirates- 2,687
  23. St. Louis Cardinals- 2,613
  24. Chicago White Sox- 2,316
  25. Colorado Rockies- 2,296
  26. San Diego Padres- 2,287
  27. Milwaukee Brewers- 2,177
  28. Arizona Diamondbacks- 2,064
  29. San Francisco Giants- 1,905
  30. Miami Marlins- 1,869
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