Schuck's Clipboard

Baseball shifting away from traditional thinking

By Herald-Whig
Posted: May. 1, 2019 12:10 am Updated: May. 1, 2019 10:34 am

Each time left-handed hitting Quincy University first baseman Michael Nielsen came to the plate last weekend, Lewis third baseman Michael O'Brien sprinted across the diamond and settled into a spot in the grass in short right field.

Knowing Nielsen's penchant for pulling the ball, the Flyers weren't going to give him an open area to ping base hits into.

Instead, they dared Nielsen to hit it where they weren't.

He couldn't. Nielsen went 1 for 9 in 12 plate appearances in the series -- he walked twice and was hit by a pitch once -- and lined out to O'Brien once on what may have been his hardest hit ball of the weekend. His lone hit was a single he pushed through the open side of the infield and into left field.

Nielsen wasn't the only player forced to hit into a shift. Both teams made concessions and adjustments defensively, and it created an interesting conversation among fans.

Do shifts threaten the integrity of the game?

Traditionalist may argue it does, but such fans tend to lack the creativity to see the game in any other light. They believe the pitcher should always bat ninth, the leading hitter should bat third and the leadoff hitter needs to be the fastest player on the field with a chance to disrupt the game with his speed.

The game isn't played that way. Managers take chances, mix their lineups and study the game to such depths that they ignore traditional theory to exploit weaknesses or advantages.

That's what a defensive shift does.

It attempts to take away what a talented player does best.

Isn't that the intent of playing defense? Look at how coaches in other sports adjust their defenses in hopes of limiting what offensive-minded players can do.

Gimmick defenses in basketball such as box-and-1 or triangle-and-2 are designed specifically to limit a single player. Teams may shift from man-to-man to zone defenses to combat an opponent's strength on the perimeter or in the paint, but when they employ a gimmick defense, it's seen as risky. It's never viewed as out of touch with the game.

Football is the same way. Teams will load seven, eight or nine defenders into an area near the line of scrimmage to negate a team's ability to run the ball between the tackles. It dares teams to throw the ball to the outside. There's nothing unfair about it. It's actually smart, especially if it works.

The same goes for the shift in baseball.

It makes sense. You play the percentages and force a hitter to do something he hasn't shown he's comfortable doing consistently. If the hitter doesn't adjust, the advantage goes to the defense. Hit the ball the opposite way and the defense loses its edge.

It's strategic. It's creative. It's unique.

That's baseball and needs to be embraced.