Tendencies and Infield Shifts

Recognition of tendencies, i. e., things we do almost by habit, are as evident in sports as they are in life. Coaches preparing for a game gather as much information as they can to determine opponents’ tendencies. For instance, how often will a baseball player not swing at the first pitch, or in football, what play does a team run most of the time on third and short yardage inside the thirty?

People are creatures of habit. We arise at the same time, go to work concurrently, put out the garbage twice a week, mow the lawn on Saturdays, and pay the bills on the same day each month.

So, too, are athletes and teams creatures of habit. They continue to act and react in the same manner over and over.

These sports tendencies can be noted in person, or as is now the case-even in high schools-a video recording of a game can be sent electronically to a firm, which will, overnight, analyze and return a report to a coach with every possible tendency noted. Coaches will then strategize and implement defenses to best address these tendencies.

For instance, an opponent with a decided tendency to run off right tackle on third and short is likely to meet the defensive line slanting to that side on the snap of the ball. Or a pitcher might be more enticed to throw the first pitch right down Main Street if a batter is likely to take it rather than swing, in order to get ahead of the batter in the count. In sports, as in life, little things mean a lot.

Baseball announcers years ago would say, “the center fielder is stationed a bit towards left-center because the batter has a tendency to pull the ball,” a comment based purely upon the announcer’s observations of previous at-bats of the hitter. Now algorithmic computer driven programs are presented to show that batter has hit the ball into a one hundred square foot rectangle directly between the center and left fielder’s straight away positions 37% of the time. In other words, teach “don’t run there, be there!” 

Extensive use of computer technology sees to that.

There is an argument afoot to outlaw the “Infield Shift” i.e., the placement of three or even four infielders between first and second base to put defensive players in a better position to field balls hit to right field by left-handed pull hitters. It began way back in 1946 against legendary slugger Ted Williams, whose line drives often splintered empty seats in Fenway Park’s right field bleachers.

The shift lay fallow until the recent emergence of statistical analysis showed it to be still effective.

I am against the shift and think it should be outlawed. It has taken the offense out of baseball to an alarming degree. Fans want more scoring in every game.

The NBA years ago outlawed zone defenses, stodgy, stand still type alignments which resulted in teams scoring only sixty or seventy points per game. The fans stayed away, and as a result, the league said only man-to-man defenses could be used, and the fans came back to more fluid motion and triple digit scores. They even added the three-point shot for further fire power.

One of the reasons soccer, hugely popular in the rest of the world, hasn’t caught on here is because we want more scoring, pure and simple.

Unless MLB stops ganging up on pull hitters, the excitement of rallies built around hits up the middle or down the foul lines will result in less offense and fewer fans at ball parks.

Even the NFL, our most popular national sport, as far back as 1978, made rule changes allowing linemen more opportunity to protect the passer by extending their arms forward while pass blocking, producing more scores, so much so that now you can’t get a ticket to an NFL game, sold out as they are every Sunday with excited fans.

4 responses to “Tendencies and Infield Shifts

  1. I’m with you coach!

  2. Really enjoyed the insight on this one, Coach!

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