Note: This is the first of a three-part series looking at the trend of infield shifting in Major League Baseball, its history, current usage, and how shifting can shape the game in the next decade.
CLEVELAND, Ohio — Ten years ago, a one-hopper up the middle that got past a major league pitcher was almost certain to become a base hit in the center field grass. The same could be said for most screaming line drives pulled to right.
But then the shift happened.
Data displaying hitters’ tendencies became more readily available thanks to Major League Baseball’s StatCast automated tool and Web sites such as Fangraphs.com. Teams embraced it and designed defensive strategies, and a major change in how baseball is played at the highest level was born.
Nowadays, nobody bats an eyelash when a shortstop or second baseman — ostensibly out of position behind the bag — slides over to field that one-hopper and dash a hitter’s hope of reaching safely. Nor do they blink when a third baseman asks for time with two strikes on a left-handed power hitter and repositions himself in shallow right field. It’s as common in today’s game as a routine pop to left field, and it drives baseball…