You’ve been able to see it coming the last several years, but in 2014, teams in Major League Baseball have gone absolutely Barnum & Bailey crackers with defensive shifts, totally out of control even if it’s smart to do so. It’s a function of getting so much detailed information on where hitters put the ball in play, and teams are using the predictability factors to adjust their defenses on virtually every hitter. They’re shifting on Eric Sogard, for crying out loud, and you don’t need his glasses to see it. It’s almost become rare when you see a batter who is played straight up anymore, unless it’s somebody like Miguel Cabrera, and there just aren’t that many Miguel Cabreras around.
Bob Melvin agrees that it’s getting a little nuts. For heaven’s sake, the Royals kept their shortstop in position on Monday night and moved their third baseman to the left side of second base. That should be against baseball law. You can just see this little bald egghead in a hermetically sealed booth somewhere saying, “Move the second baseman six inches to the left out there in right field.”
Look, we know shifts are as old as the game itself. Teams used to shift against Willie McCovey routinely. But they were rare, utilized for the dead pull power hitter. Now, everybody gets their own unique shift. Daric Barton would probably get a shift, if he were here.
It’s not just the information, said manager Bob Melvin, but it’s also teams “not being afraid to use it. You just have to adjust, and sometimes in baseball, it’s difficult to do it because you get set in your ways. But when one team starts doing it, and then another and another, now you see every team shift, at least every team we’ve played, and they’re just trying to put more guys in the area where a guy hits the ball.”
Melvin sees an evolution forthcoming as a result, though, a counterattack through counsel and instruction.
“I think that’s the next step in trying to beat these shifts, whether it’s bunting, or in spring training, trying to teach some guys with two strikes to hit the ball the other way,” he said. “That’s how you get guys back into position where some of the holes you’re used to hitting the ball won’t be covered as much.”
Enter Brandon Moss, who had four hits in an 11-3 win over Kansas City Tuesday night. Moss gets the most exaggerated shifts of any A’s player. Everybody’s to the right side of diamond except one infielder playing very close to second. So what did Moss do? He hit two balls for hits to the opposite field, and also dropped a bunt up the third base line for yet another of his four hits.
Melvin said before the game he didn’t Moss would bunt the rest of the year, but afterward, said he wasn’t surprised he dropped one.
“Obviously, I told you a story,” he said, smirking. “But (Moss) knows what we think, and we talk to him about it.” Melvin added that Moss works on bunting every day.
Melvin said he told Moss afterward, “I don’t even know you anymore” and compared his swings to that of Wade Boggs. Moss laughed at that.
“The resemblance is uncanny,” he said. “Yeah … I’ll take that for a day. I’d take that career in a heartbeat.”
I told Moss that on Wednesday night, everybody might be shifted to the left side of the diamond based on what he did Tuesday night.
“That would be a good thing,” he chuckled. “A very good thing.”
Moss, who can talk about hitting until your eyes glaze over and you can feel yourself turning into a pillar of salt, noted that the exaggerated shift hasn’t bothered him all that much for the most of the year because with the second baseman basically playing in right field, he feels he can beat out balls that are hit to that spot. But ever since he turned in an ankle in the batter’s box a few weeks back, he doesn’t have the speed to do it. And of course, he’s been in a horrific slump, too. Hence, he’s been trying to make some adjustments, and thinking about reincorporating the bunt. He dropped one successfully in the first series of the year but hasn’t had one since.
He hasn’t been getting a lot of great pitches to hit, either, and as he readily admitted, he’s been chasing badly, like an overweight security guard trying to catch a Rally Possum. So he had it in his mind he’d do it in the right situation. And he executed it brilliantly. And for good measure, he drove two other hits the other way.
“I’ve been working on it, for different reasons than just using the whole field,” he said. “I’ve been swinging under the ball, and part of that is guessing a little bit, and also being a little late and when I try to catch up, I pull off. So I was just trying to work on staying above the ball and hitting line drives middle and the other way the last few days. To be honest, I feel really comfortable doing it right now, and it’s helping me see the ball a little bit better even when I don’t get hits.”
Are your eyes glazing over yet?
Don’t fret, Moss isn’t going to become Wade Boggs. Going the other way too often robs the power of his swing, and he can’t drive the ball. He’s paid to be a double/home run guy, so he’s not going to become the player Jon Lester remembered from the minor leagues who “sprayed the ball everywhere.” But he knows, deep down, he has to keep the opponent honest.
Moss definitely refutes any notion his recent struggles have been a function of him applying too much pressure on himself to produce in the wake of the Yoenis Cespedes trade.
“I was already struggling before he got traded,” he said. “But then we started not scoring so many runs and I was a guy who was coming up with runners at second and third with one out, and I was striking out or popping up. That’s when you really start to press, and you start thinking, `Oh my gosh, I have an opportunity to help us, and I’m not getting it done.’ It just snowballs on you.”
Moss seems to be out of that funk now, though, and that can only mean good things for the Oakland offense. It will be intriguing to see how Moss moves forward, whether he’ll drop a few more bunts and hit the ball the other way a little more often. Whatever happens, we applaud any hitter who attempts to counter all this ridiculous shifting. It makes it hell to score, for one thing … was that the second baseman or the shortstop who threw the ball? And how do you give a third baseman an assist when he’s to the left of second base? Is he really the second baseman or the third baseman? This just seems to fly too much in the face of baseball convention. And yes, I’m once again picturing that dweeby bald guy in the booth radioing to the dugout and saying, “Move the shortstop 4 centimeters closer to the center fielder.”
Stop! This isn’t the NFL with its prevent defenses. This stuff filters down, you know, and pretty soon we’ll be seeing radical shifts against little Corky Blimpton from Torkeltown, Ill., in the Little League regionals on ESPN. I, for one, shudder in horror at the thought. Yes, I know it’s baseball science with every last detail of a struck baseball being chronicled and assimilated, and it makes sense to play the odds with these shifts. I can’t really explain it with the proper vitriol, but it’s just too, too much. It’s driving me crackers, and I don’t even wield a bat. It’s high time to bring everybody back in line at their normal positions, or close to it. But that’ll be up to the hitters to do that.
With that in mind, bravo Brandon Moss for what he did Tuesday night. He may yet bring the solar system back into its proper alignment.