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Defensive Shifts Shifting Their Way Down to High School

Scott Bullock is an avid follower of baseball.

He watches plenty of Major League Baseball and college games, and that influences how he approaches coaching his high school team.

Bullock, who is the head varsity baseball coach at Rocky Mountain High School (Fort Collins, Colorado), has always been fascinated by the effectiveness of defensive shifts.  

For the last six years, Bullock has used shifts with his team.

“It makes a ton of sense,” Bullock said. “Obviously, I follow pro baseball pretty close. You get to know guys around, especially in your league. You maybe see them for a couple years and they sure have hit a lot of ground balls through the 4 hole, and I’ve never seen him hit a ground ball to shortstop. Why not?”

Why not is right.

Bullock plays around with shifts a lot more during the summer, but he’ll use it during the spring season, too. Bullock noted he’s the only team in Colorado that he’s seen use the shift.

“I think it’s fun,” Bullock said. “I love it. The kids love it. It keeps them in the game. We’re to the point now that we have kids come up and say, ‘Coach, shouldn’t we shift  on that kid? I feel like he’s pulling everything.’”

Bullock primarily calls for a shift when a left-handed hitter is at the plate with no runners on base. He doesn’t feel quite as comfortable using a shift in double play situations. During his 21 years of coaching, Bullock has noticed lefties tend to hit fly balls to the opposite field, but they will pull ground balls. Bullock generally won’t shift his outfielders, he’ll keep them straight away.

One big thing that Bullock has picked up along the way is scouting opposing players. He looks back on previous games' spray charts on GameChanger and takes note of tendencies. 

“We get as many charts on guys in the state as we can, especially in our league,” said Bullock, who will pull out charts of an opponent before playing the team.

Bullock uses a couple different methods of shifts: swinging his third baseman to shortstop and moving the shortstop over to the second-base side. He will also use a shift in which he leaves the third baseman in his customary position to eliminate the option of a bunt.

“Depending on the field, sometimes we’ll just leave the second baseman in the 4 hole,” Bullock said. “Sometimes we’ll put him out in the outfield. Sometimes in Colorado the outfield’s in such bad shape we’ll just leave him in the dirt and just play three guys over there.”

Using a shift is almost a surprise element when the opposing team sends up a left-handed hitter and Bullock motions for his infield to move.

“Part of the reason why we do it and what we’ve found in lefties is it really takes them out of their game,” Bullock said. “They start thinking about trying to hit the ball opposite field or you see a 4-hole hitter and all of a sudden he’s trying to drag bunt because we’re in the shift. Part of it is definitely the mental side of it, just start challenging that hitter to start thinking about what he does. ”

Bullock said his players love using the shift. During batting practice, Bullock will have his guys play a game called 21. A group of hitters will take on the defense. If the offense gets a hit or the defense commits an error, the offense gets one point. If the defense retires the hitter, it’s one point for that side.

“All the time our kids are shifting,” Bullock said. “We don’t have to tell them to. Somebody will come to bat and they’ll be like, ‘Shift’ and the whole infield will run to the other side. It’s awesome. They’re smart. They see a kid take BP and hit 100 groundballs through the 5 hole or through the 4 hole or whatever.”

Bullock, who has helped his team to the Class 5A state title game eight of the last 11 years and captured six championships, has clearly seen success with the shift and truly believes the shift will make its way to high school baseball sooner than later.

“I think it’s just common sense,” Bullock said. “Why would the big-leaguers be doing it if it doesn’t work?”

From GameChanger and Greg Bates

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