Miller: MLB myth-buster: The shift isn’t curbing runs, it’s creating them

From Sam Miller at on August 7, 2018:

Turn on a baseball broadcast these days and there’s a good chance you’ll hear about launch angles, catcher framing, pitch tunneling, bullpenning and the like. Look up at the giant video screen or flip over a baseball card and you might see the hitter’s WAR. For the most part, the conventional wisdom in baseball isn’t much different from what you’re reading about on stathead websites.

But there’s one area where the conventional wisdom and the data seem to be holding totally different conversations: the shift. Shifting has gone up more than tenfold in the past seven years, and the conventional wisdom has become that the shift is something so effective, it might need to be banned entirely — like 16-inch gloves or too-tall pitching mounds. “Many in baseball fear that defensive shifts have simply made it too difficult to get hits, even as home runs increased in recent years,” wrote the New York Times after commissioner Rob Manfred signaled ongoing efforts to outlaw it. “[Agent Scott] Boras maintained that shifting essentially has broken the game,” wrote The Washington Post last month after Boras said shifts are “discriminatory” against left-handed batters.


The twist is that, eight seasons after the shift era really took off, two years after the first shift data became widely public and now a few months after Statcast-based shift data became available, we have a growing body of research into how the shift affects the game and, indeed, whether it even works. And the data confounds the conventional wisdom.

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Originally published: August 8, 2018. Last Updated: August 8, 2018.