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In 2013, we had a dramatic amount of defensive shifting going on with the Orioles, Pirates, Yankees, Rays and Red Sox leading the way.  Research shows that even these teams' shifting a lot could stand to as much as triple the amount of shifting they do to save even more defensive runs, based on current hitters in the league against whom shifting saves runs.  So will we see more shifts occurring in the future?

There were 20,255 runs scored in 2013 and 2,693 stolen bases, 21,017 runs and 3,229 stolen bases in 2012 and 20,808 runs and 3,279 stolen bases in 2011.

Maybe this is all just a coincidence, but the eye test and the numbers bear out that it is not only harder to score runs against a shift, it's harder to steal bases.  It's much easier for the fielder to get to the bag and cover it when they are shifting (for steals of second base).


Burke Badenhop tries to get hitters to ground out to certain spots.
Photo by Steve Paluch, used under creative commons license.
It's interesting to think about what other types of blowback the effect of the increasing use of the shift by defenses will have in baseball.  Clearly, the shift is a powerful tool because the current generation of big leaguers in general like to pull the ball to certain spots.  They've been bred that way because in general, more pulling = more power = more home runs = more excitement, runs, ticket sales and all that.

But even regardless of hitter ability, there are certain pitchers who are great at inducing groundballs.  I read an article about Burke Badenhop (sadly cannot find the link) mentioning he could throw certain pitches to certain hitters and almost certainly induce a ground ball to a certain spot.  With analysis technology improving perhaps hitters will be able to become more and more exposed as to their weaknesses.

I believe that shifting may not be here to stay.  If baseball goes back to an emphasis on drafting and developing "all-fields" hitters as opposed to pull-power hitters, the value of the shift could go away.