WHY DID IT TAKE SO LONG FOR BASEBALL TO START USING ALL THOSE SHIFTS? I posted here on the dramatic increase in the use of shifts in the positioning of fielders, depending on who is at bat. There were 8134 shifts in the major leagues in 2013, compared to 2357 in 2011, with a “shift” being defined as putting three infielders on one side of second base. There are even more in the 2014 season.
Adam Gopnik asks a question here on the New Yorker blog that should have occurred to me, but hadn’t. Why has this heavy use of shifts occurred now, rather than years ago? Gopnik has a theory. He sets aside the role of big data, that computers provide statistical support for the change in strategy. Gopnik thinks that the most important reason is that managers have been reluctant to experiment because they risk criticism and even job loss if they adopt strategies which are different from what everybody else is doing. A similar tendency to track what competitors are doing is said to exist among some managers of stock market funds.
I am inclined to accept Gopnik’s explanation that managers fear to innovate because it is the only explanation I can think of for why there are no catchers who throw left handed. I posted on that mystery here.