The infield shift is a generic term used in baseball to describe a defensive realignment from the standard positions to blanket one side of the field or another. Used primarily against left-handed batters, it is designed to protect against base hits pulled hard into the gaps between the fielders on one side.
Originally called the "Boudreau" or "Williams" shift, the strategy is often associated with Ted Williams, but it was actually first employed against Cy Williams during the 1920s. It was later used against Ted Williams during the 1946 World Series between the Red Sox and the Cardinals as a defensive gimmick by St. Louis manager Eddie Dyer to psych out and hopefully contain Boston slugger Williams. It was devised by Cleveland Indians manager Lou Boudreau on a blackboard between games of a doubleheader in July 1946 to halt Williams' hot hitting. "I always considered The Boudreau Shift a psychological, rather than a tactical victory," wrote Lou Boudreau in his book, Player-Manager. The shift has been employed since then to thwart extreme pull hitters (mostly lefties), such as Barry Bonds, Ryan Howard, Jason Giambi, David Ortiz, and Mark Teixeira.
Typically the third baseman moves to the left where the shortstop plays; the shortstop plays to the right of second; the second baseman plays between first and second and usually on the right field grass; the center fielder plays right-center; and the first baseman and right fielder hug the foul line. Sometimes the third baseman (rather than the short stop) will play to the right of second, allowing the shortstop to remain near their usual position. While this is the most common type of defensive shift seen in baseball, there are numerous variations that can be implemented according to the hitting ability of the batter. For example, an effective defensive shift against Joe Mauer would have the infield shifted for a pull-happy left hander, and the outfield shifted for a pull-happy right-hander, due to Mauer's tendency to pull nearly all of his groundballs, and hit nearly all of his flyballs to the opposite field.
Drawbacks to the shift
With the infield shift becoming more common in recent years, the tactic's drawbacks have become more apparent.
Stolen bases, or extra bases, on a shift
- In the 2009 World Series, Johnny Damon of the New York Yankees stole two bases on one pitch against the Philadelphia Phillies due to an infield shift: Damon stole second, and, after the third baseman covered second and was pulled away from the base, immediately headed for the uncovered third base.
- In regular-season play, multiple Boston Red Sox players have taken advantage of infield shifts to either steal multiple bases, or advance multiple bases, on an infield shift.
- On August 9, 2014, in a game at Angel Stadium, Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia stole second and then stole third with no one covering.
- On April 13, 2015, in a home game against the Washington Nationals, Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts stole second base, and then noticing no one covering third base, beat Nationals pitcher Jordan Zimmermann to third base
- On May 6, 2016, in a game at Yankee Stadium, with first base open and the Yankees electing to keep an infield shift on, Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts stole third base unchallenged because the third baseman was playing at the shortstop position.
- On June 11, 2016, in a game at Target Field, Bogaerts again took advantage of a shift deployed with David Ortiz batting, going from first to third on a groundout against the shift. Because no one was covering third, combined with Bogaerts' speed, the Twins' attempt to turn a double play was unsuccessful (the throw to force Bogaerts at second was late as Bogaerts had already passed second base), and while the throw back to first base retired Ortiz, Bogaerts again reached third base unchallenged.
- In the 2015 National League Championship Series, on a walk to Lucas Duda, Daniel Murphy stole third base on a walk because no one was covering third.
In such a case, it is necessary for either the pitcher or catcher to cover third to prevent two steals by one player on the same play if the steal of second is successful, with the player not covering third covering home plate.
Bunts for extra bases on a shift
- On May 3, 1970, in a home game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Willie McCovey of the San Francisco Giants bunted hard down the third base line when the shift was on. With no one covering third, Willie Mays, on first at the time, came all the way around to score, while McCovey reached second for a double.
- On September 13, 2013, on a play similar to McCovey's, but with the bases empty, in a road game against the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano bunted against the shift for a double.
- Vass, George (August 1999). 20th Century All-Overlooked Stars. Baseball Digest. Books.Google.com. Retrieved 24 April 2012.
- Vass, George (July 2004). Baseball's Forgotten Stars. Baseball Digest. Books.Google.com. Retrieved 24 April 2012.
- "Mauer's Splits | FanGraphs Baseball". Fangraphs.com. 2010-02-08. Retrieved 2012-10-16.
- Neyer, Rob. Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Legends.
"Who’s on Third? In Baseball’s Shifting Defenses, Maybe Nobody". Waldstein, David. http://nyti.ms/1nBGaIX accessdate=13 May 2014. New York Times. 12 May 2014