Francisco Lindor, exercising his newfound bullhorn with the Mets, says the shift is bad for baseball. His reasoning makes pure baseball sense.
When Francisco Lindor speaks, New York media listens. Taking advantage of being away from the hum-drum small-market city of Cleveland, Lindor has come on heavy to root in favor of MLB’s minor league experiment to outlaw, or at least patently discourage what is known in baseball as “The Shift.”
“The shift has got to be cut down,” Lindor told Sports Illustrated. “Let me do me. Let me make the crazy play. Let me be like, ‘OK, he’s going to pull the ball. I can’t be on that side of the base.’ So as the pitch goes, I run on the other side of the base—pow!—and make the play.”
What Is “The Shift”?
We’ll get to the soundness of his reasoning in a minute, but first, for newer fans of baseball, here’s what he’s referring to as the shift.
First employed by the Tampa Bay Rays, the shift moves fielders around the infield to combat extreme pull hitters (image below) who have a profound tendency to hit the ball to their power side of the field.
For example, a left-handed batter will hit the ball to the right side of the infield more often than not, as opposed to hitting the ball “the other way” to the third-base and shortstop positions.
Thus the theory goes – why not “stack” the infield with extra and out-of-position fielders who can flag down balls that typically (without the shift) go through the infield for a base hit.
When it gets extreme, this is what happens:
Francisco Lindor believes the shift is ruining the game of baseball because it takes away from fans enjoying the opportunity of seeing gifted athletes (like himself) make extraordinary plays in the field on balls that now end up directly hit to a shifted fielder.
Lindor Say No To MLB’s Rule Change Proposal
Lindor’s observation is based on MLB’s announcement of a bevy of experimental rule changes that will be test-driven in the minor leagues this year.
The most notable rule change is coming at Class AA – that teams will be required to “have a minimum of four players on the infield, each of whom must have both feet completely in front of the outer boundary of the infield dirt.”
MLB has used its minor leagues as test cases before for rule changes, a few of which, like the minimum batters faced rule for relievers, were later installed at the major league level.
Rob Manfred And His Compulsion To Speed Up The Game
Nearly all rule changes these days are designed to speed up the game, and negating the shift also falls into that category for the time it takes for the third baseman (for example) to move to the right side of second base and then back again when the next hitter comes up.
The matter of fatigue on fielders is also a factor as “shifting” back and forth during the span of four or five batters in a single inning reduces the “spring” in a fielder’s legs over the course of a game.
Lindor For The Defense
But the salient point is the one that Francisco Lindor is making.
Fans come to the ballpark or tune into games on TV, to witness extraordinary athleticism on the playing field – the shortstop ranging far to his left to dive and snare a ground ball headed for a base hit – readjusting his feet to make a perfect throw to the first baseman for the third out to end an inning, leaving two runners stranded.
That’s baseball! – as opposed to a scorching one-hopper to a fielder who is “in position” to make the play only because the shift has moved him there. Or, for that matter, seeing a batter lay down a lame bunt for a base hit to “beat” the shift on the open side of the infield.
Teams and especially managers who employ regular use of the shift defend in two ways.
Managers Defend The Shift
First, it’s wrong to tell me where I have to place my fielders. As a matter of strategy (paraphrasing Manager X), “my team has taken the time and spent the money on the analytics that determines the best way for us to get a win.”
And second, “why don’t you tell these pull-happy home run, dependent hitters to learn how to become an all-around player by hitting the ball the “other way.” Do that, and you can beat our shift, but until then, just shut up.”
Thus, Francisco Lindor may be fighting an uphill battle to outlaw the shift, and that’s because he excels and takes immense pride in his defensive play, a minority of players these days.
He (literally) lives to make those acrobatic plays in the fie
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Lindor: A Breath Of Fresh Air In Baseball
Remarkably though, Lindor also excels with the bat, bringing him to the conclusion that he’s “the best shortstop in baseball,” a mighty statement when you consider the plethora of shortstop talent entering free-agency next year.
Although, he does acknowledge, “There’s that fine balance between being confident and being cocky. Sometimes for me, it’s hard to admit to myself who is the best shortstop. Why? Because of that fine balance. I’m confident. I think I’m the best shortstop.”
As stated in the beginning, the rule change regarding the shift’s use is only in an experimental stage in the minor leagues.
Still, some like Lindor see the writing on the wall, as in the case of the DH (eventually) coming to the National League permanently. He doesn’t like it, and he is not afraid to say so.
Lindor And MLB Agree: Let’s Create More Action
Defending itself, “We are listening to our fans,” said Michael Hill, MLB senior vice president of on-field operations. “This effort is an important step towards bringing to life rules changes aimed at creating more action and improving the pace of play.”
However, it seems to me that given a choice of who to believe between the suits at MLB and a player like Francisco Lindor who actually plays the game they regulate – I’ll take Mr. Lindor over Mr. Hill.
Often, we have this sense that baseball needs to change, and therefore, it must (change), come hell or high water.
MLB commissioners like Rob Manfred wish to have their legacy painted with innovation (good) that is rarely a substitute for change (depends). Hence, they view their job as a mission to tinker – and then tinker some more.
With all the other issues presented to the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), it’s not likely the players will make any of these rules changes a matter of negotiation come December when the current contract expires, especially if the change doesn’t affect them financially as in the case of shift rule.
“Go, Frankie, Go!
Still, the bully pulpit available to stars like Francisco Lindor in the mega-media city of New York is useful to fans to educate themselves as to more than ball one and strike three when viewing a ballgame.
In the meantime, how about the Mets draw a line in the sand telling their All-Star shortstop – “Go Frankie, go!” – by denying themselves the use of the shift.
Make those plays, delight the fans, and the hell with MLB’s experiment. What say you?