The Sacramento Bee (another fine McClatchy newspaper) recently published an article about infield shifts. According to the Bee and Baseball Info Solutions (and some poor dope who had to count them): “Major league teams employed infield shifts more than 13,000 times in 2014 — a 440-percent rise over their usage just four years ago.”
For the moment, let’s not question what constitutes an infield shift. Baseball players have been shifting position since the game was invented, but for now let’s talk about those dramatic infield shifts that have three infielders stationed between first and second base when there’s a left-handed pull hitter at the plate.
And that bring us to Mike Moustakas.
During spring training in 2014 Mike was spraying the ball around the park and talking about the virtues of using the entire field, hitting the ball up the middle and to left field. Mike had been working with Pedro Grifol during the winter and spent time on his opposite-field stroke. In spring 2014 Mike Moustakas looked like a different ballplayer — but then the regular season started.
Last year Mike Moustakas had 457 at-bats, and he hit the ball to left field 47 times. Because Moose was hitting the ball somewhere other than left field almost 90 percent of the time, teams felt free to use overloaded infield shifts. It was not unusual to see three infielders stationed between first and second base, and in 2014 Mike hit .212.
With only one defender on the left side of the field some people started saying Mike should bunt in that direction. Late in the season I asked Mike if he planned to bunt against the shift or keep trying to go over or through the shift. He said he was going to keep going over and through, but later did try bunting.
And that brings us to Brandon Belt.
In game five of the 2014 World Series, the Giants’ left-handed first baseman bunted for a single against a shift. As the Bee reported, Belt bunted because the Kansas City Royals were giving it to him.
“It’s something I’m going to do again and I’ll probably do it early in spring, too,” Belt said. “I’m going to let people know that I’m not going to just sit there and let them play over like that.”
Here’s more from the Sacramento Bee:
Shifting on left-handed batters has become so prominent that new commissioner Rob Manfred expressed an openness to outlawing the practice — comments that many immediately decried as an overreaction.
There’s a far easier, more organic way to combat the shift. And Belt, now the shining example for this movement, plans to keep the bunt in his back pocket.
“I’m surprised more players haven’t done it already,” said Giants bench coach Ron Wotus, who is in charge of identifying shift candidates and positioning infielders. “You’ve got two options: keep hitting into the shift and make outs, or do something about it.”
So should Mike Moustakas join Brandon Belt and bunt against the shift?
There are two schools of thought:
Ned Yost has said he’s not in the business of giving up hits and if someone bunts against a shift a couple times, he’ll quit shifting. So should Moose lay down some bunts — or at least hit the ball the other way — and force teams to play him straight up?
The other point of view is that Moustakas should forget going to the opposite field, belly up to the plate and make every pitch inside and pullable — go for home runs and RBIs and forget about his average.
Ideally Moustakas could combine both approaches: Bunt or go to the opposite field when the situation calls for it, get teams to play him straight up and then pull for power when the circumstances are right. (Much easier said than done.)
So should Mike Moustakas bunt against the shift?
Making the opposition pay for overloading one side of the field seems logical to me, but last time I checked I had a total of zero at-bats in the big leagues — I’m not the one with the bat in my hands.
We’ll find out what Mike Moustakas think starting on April 6.