Extreme Shifting in the Anti-Shift Era – Can You Still Pull It Off? Would the Cubs Try It?
You will recall that, in the new set of rules coming to Major League Baseball this season, teams must have two defenders on the infield dirt on either side of second base. The three outfielders, therefore, are the only three defenders who’ll be on the outfield grass.
Gordon Wittenmyer, writing at the Sun-Times, talked about how teams might try to game the new anti-shift rules against extreme pull lefties. Yes, that specifically means some teams are at least talking internally about how it would look if they tried to use an outfielder in that now-extinct deep second base spot.
For example, the Cubs have mulled it.
“Everyone’s going to have those thoughts,” Cubs president Jed Hoyer told Wittenmyer. “We’ve talked about doing it before — do you go five infielders against a pitcher or something like that because of the ground-ball rate?”
“There’s real egg-on-your-face risk when you start playing two outfielders against a non-pitcher,” Hoyer added. “…. We’re gonna have to weigh that risk-reward and what that looks like when the ball goes in the corner, and the guy’s running for 30 seconds to get to the ball. There’s risk, but I bet some teams will give it a shot against the right hitters.”
Some teams … or your team?
To pull it off …
- You’d still have to have two infielders on the dirt left of second base, so you can at least cover up the middle with one of those guys.
- Then you’d have your second baseman playing somewhere on the dirt to the right of second base, maybe slightly more up the middle than usual? But certainly not straight up the middle, because again, that’s where the shortstop is going to be.
- And THEN you would have the “extra infielder” – note the quotes, because it would have to be one of your outfielders – play that deep, on the grass spot between the second baseman and the first baseman. (You’ll remember it as the spot Nico Hoerner played so well in the Cubs’ version of the extreme shift.)
Having one of your outfielders playing a glorified shifted second base would mean your other two outfielders have to cover everything else. You would have your right fielder somewhere near his normal spot, and then you would be shading the center fielder over toward right (because the whole point is this is a pull lefty). That, in turn, means more than half of the outfield is completely uncovered. Any kind of groundball or fly ball to the left side of the field that reaches the outfield is going to be serious trouble.
(Be advised: apparently teams have been told that they cannot have one or more of their infielders start running into a different position (i.e., the shortstop over to second, and the second baseman back into the outfield) on the pitch. That will be deemed an illegal circumvention of the rule.)
I think we WILL see this use-an-outfielder-as-the-shifted-second-baseman setup sometimes, but it’s going to be in only very specific circumstances: a super extreme pull lefty who almost never goes oppo, the batter is also not a great baserunner, the right combination of athletic defenders, in a ballpark where you maybe have a smaller area out there in left, and a game situation that dictates that the value of stopping a single is worth SO MUCH that it’s worth risking a triple the other way.
For the Cubs, they do have a left fielder who used to play second base in Ian Happ, and they do have a very athletic center fielder with good range in Cody Bellinger. The rub at Wrigley Field is that the deep outfield well would turn anything hit left of the power alley into a triple or an inside-the-park home run every single time, even for a slow runner. UNLESS the ball got stuck in the ivy! Then it’s a ground rule double. Ha ha! Tricky!
If I had to guess, we might see this from the Cubs just once or twice in the entire season (if that), when all the circumstances align perfectly, and so much of the game is riding on that one at bat. Maybe I’ll be surprised, though …