If there is one thing that I dislike more than the dreaded pitcher batting eighth, it's all this shift nonsense the Cardinals are pulling these days.
It's one thing to lose a game because the other team out-hit or out-pitched you. But it's really irritating that the fact that the Redbirds tried to use a gimmicky trick in a major league game came back to contribute significantly to a pair of losses.
The bottom line is that when you play three infielders on one side of second base, you're pretty much offering the other team a free pass to stick it to you. A bunt to the weak side is a sure hit. A grounder inside the bag is a sure double. And the Cardinals' porous pitching staff doesn't seem to have too many free hits to give these days.
The thing that REALLY gets my goat about this is something that manager Mike Matheny said about the shifts after the first time he employed them. He basically said the front office pencil pushers have been leaning on him to do it by coming at him with suggestions based on their statistical research.
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Does their statistical research happen to mention anything about what happens when the hitter reacts to their defensive changes?
Where the rubber hits the road in the battle between the seat of their pants old school managers and the stat nerds is that statistical data collections can't completely factor in the human element. We can't suppose what would happen in a vacuum. If you sent a guy up to the plate whose spray chart indicates that 100 percent of the time he hits the ball to left field and the other team put all seven of its movable defenders in right field, it's probably a pretty safe bet that the batter will make a conscious effort to hit the ball someplace else.
The only time a shift works is when you have a guy like Ted Williams at the plate. And it wasn't because of his skills, his tendencies or his statistics that it worked. It was because he was basically a stubborn jerk who found it unmanly to hit to the opposite field. He was going to pull the ball just to prove a point. But, in my opinion, the shift still wasn't worth it because it only takes one time for him to decide to take advantage of the situation to cost the opposition a ballgame.
It is utterly foolish for a hitter not to take the ball the other way against a shift -- not only for the good of that individual at-bat, but also for the sake of the future. After all, how many times can a shift get burned before the other team decides to play it straight? Unless you have a guy who runs like he is carrying a piano -- but every time he pulls the ball he hits it over the fence, it is always going to be in the best interest of the offense to have another baserunner.
If you have competent fielders playing where they are supposed to play, it is the defense's best opportunity to properly do its job. That's part of the beauty of baseball. Trying gimmicks and trick plays stinks of desperation.