A Shift in Thinking

Great news, Yankees fans: Mark Teixeira’s batting average might suffer no longer!

The new MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred recently said in an interview with ESPN that he is open to eliminating the infield shift that has burgeoned throughout the majors in recent years. When asked to clarify, Manfred explained that the league is in the process of determining whether or not the implementation of the shift is what’s best for the league.

Teixeira is one of the more obvious victims of the infield shift. More often than not, when he enters the batter’s box, the opposing shortstop moves over to the right side. And more often than not, Teixeira hits a ground ball right into the teeth of the defense.

Marc Carig/The Star-Ledger

When asked annually if he plans to add bunting to his offense, Teixeira generally comes up with the same response: he’s a power hitter, so why would he give in to the defense by only getting a bunt single when he can easily smack 30+ home runs into the bleachers?

Teixeira does make a valid point. His forté is slugging home runs, so if he concedes to the shift, he’s basically removing instant runs from the Yankees’ offense. And let’s be honest: having a slow-running Texeira on the base paths isn’t a good method for scoring runs, especially when he’s on second base and can’t score with a single. Although, in fairness, nobody runs harder on the Yankees than Mark Teixeira.

But Teixeira needs to remold his attitude towards hitting against the shift. It becomes glaringly evident when he constantly has an entire side of the infield empty, just begging for a surprise drag bunt. The most important aspect of this change would be that teams would eventually stop shifting against him if he becomes successful at bunting. It sure would help his batting average of .216, which was the lowest in his 11-year career.

His teammate, Brian McCann, has already felt the effects of the shift on his offense. Statistically, he had the second-lowest batting average of his career in 2014 at .230. As a dead-pull hitter, McCann managed to hit 53 out of 115 hits to the right side, but it took 186 plate appearances to do so, according to FanGraphs.com.

However, McCann has a different attitude towards beating the shift. When asked about it, McCann said that he has to be able to use the entire field in order to be successful. “You’ve got to get your swing to where you can go foul line to foul line,” he said, “and they can’t take away one part of the field.” He did acknowledge that it requires a balance between hitting with his strengths and hitting smart. He isn’t willing to disrupt his natural tendencies if ultimately he isn’t comfortable hitting to the opposite field.

The Yankees are in desperate need of offense, and it’s clear that their home run dominance will not return any time soon. Over the last two seasons, both of which they missed the playoffs in, the Yankees hit 144 and 147 home runs, respectively. The last season in which they hit less than 150 home runs is 1995. The absence of Robinson Cano’s offense, coupled with Alex Rodriguez’s suspension and Teixeira’s constant health issues, caused the Yankees to plummet in terms of slugging.

If that’s the case, and the Yankees pitching rotation isn’t exactly dominant, players like Teixeira and McCann, who actually hit back-to-back in the lineup, need to understand that hits are in dire need for the betterment of the team. Whether it be by bunting, walking, or even just hustling down the line, the Yankees need to get on base and produce runs in order to beat the shift.

Commissioner Manfred’s new ideas could supplement this process. Because it’s clear that the Yankees don’t have the long ball working for them, any advantage that they get will be greatly appreciated. Also, baseball as a sport needs to get rid of the infield shift altogether. Objectively, a player hitting a home run will generate more excitement for fans than  a team successfully implementing the shift. Therefore, for the Yankees and for the sake of the sport, a shift in thinking might not be a bad idea.

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