There are No Shift Rules in Other Sports...

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by: Andy Zsiga @zsiga_andy

The NFL and NBA don't need shift rules. Why should the MLB?


This basic idea permeated the radio a few months ago, and while I don’t think all the places I heard it at were serious, it caused some serious reflection for me. 

The shift seems inherently fair, just hit the ball the other way. Scott Boras has an ulterior motive in his comments against the shift, but there are rules in other sports that seem similar to rules that would prohibit a shift, so maybe, just maybe the shift is not fair. 

In time, I have come to believe the idea that other leagues don’t use rules to keep shifts from happening is untrue, and the shift is unfair to left handed batters, so it probably should be regulated.

First, let’s take a look at the belief that other leagues don’t need rules statement that is so patently false. 


The NFL has hundreds of rules that deal with where a defense or offense lines up, how many players can be on the line, which players can move when, so on and so forth. 

The NFL has rules for nearly every possible unfair advantage that can happen (later we will take a look at why the shift might actually be an unfair advantage); a team can’t just stack all of their offense on one side of the field and plow through the defense.

The rules for the NFL are all over the place, but the NBA has subtle rules that similarly keep teams honest. Defensive three seconds is perhaps the most comparable rule to a MLB defensive shift rule. 

You can play a zone defense, but you can’t just park your most athletic big guy in the middle of the paint to stop opposing teams from driving. There is a rule in place to keep things fair for all players and teams.

So, the elephant in the room on this conversation is if the shift is actually fair to left handed batters. 


There is a shift that happens to right handed batters, but a full on shift of every infielder to the left side of the field doesn’t happen due to the need of a person at first base for a force out, thus, at the very least, the shift cannot be performed the same to a right-handed batter as it can to a left-handed batter.

This only becomes unfair if the extreme shift is effective in getting more outs and it does not address the idea that the defense is leaving a whole side of the field open, the batter should just hit it there. 

Two comments here. One, shifts are being done because research shows the shift helps the defense. Two, the extreme shift seems to be like an intentional walk with the option for an out or a homerun. So, if the choice is instead for a chance at a home run or an intentional walk, should a power hitter take the shot at a home run? 

Does it change if there were less than a 50% chance that the intentional walk was successful? My point here is that power hitters hit for power and while they could opt to take a single, they would not be successful every time, thus there is value in a power hitter deciding not to just hit where the fielders are not.

This article by Jerry Crasnick has some of the common insights you hear from players in it, but Daniel Murphy, Kyle Seager, and Matt Carpenter all make rarely heard points that need to be discussed. It addresses issues such as the speed of the hitters being shifted, the difficulty of placing the ball where you want it, and the value of a hit.

Carpenter is quoted,  "The likelihood of me hitting four straight ground balls to short and ending up 4-for-4 are very slim. If I succeed once or maybe twice, at best I'm going to go 2-for-4 with two singles, where if I just play the game, I might go 2-for-4 with a homer and a double. It makes no sense to me.

Just think about this: When there's a runner on third base and less than two outs and the infield is playing back, every hitter in baseball knows that all you have to do is hit a ground ball anywhere, and you score the run. That success rate is still super small. That play is easy, and it gets screwed up all the time. Guys can't hit a ground ball when all they have to do is hit a ground ball to score a run.”

The two interesting things here are the value of a 2-for-4 game that is only singles and the difficulty of actually successfully getting the ball to the right part of the field for a hit. 

If a player always attempts for the single, what batting average is necessary to make it worth taking all the power out of his game? This isn’t slow pitch softball where you can basically choose where you are hitting the ball; the pitchers and fielders here are elite.

I have slowly come to the conclusion that the shift should be regulated to some extent. It does not need to be an extreme rule, but there should be a rule taking away the extreme shift. 

Require at least one infielder and outfielder on each side of the field, or find some better way to avoid an entire side of the infield being vacated.




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