Once upon a time in baseball, a ground ball up the middle was actually a hit. And, amazingly, a line drive to short right field used to land in open space, instead of the glove of a second baseman standing 40 feet behind the infield dirt.
But that, of course, was way, way back in baseball's prehistoric era -- in, like, 2011. Before The Shift began to devour baseball life as we used to know it.
Believe it or not, we've uncovered shocking evidence that this sport hasn't yet reached the stage where some sort of devious shift is in place on every single pitch, to every single hitter. And if you can keep a secret, we can tell you why:
It's because some players are still "shift-proof." Really. No kidding.
Oh, not David Ortiz or Ryan Howard or Adam Dunn. They remain the living embodiment of why shifts were invented in the first place -- to mess with slow, pull-hitting mashers who aren't wired to hit a ground ball through the left side, even when there isn't an infielder within 50 feet of the shortstop hole.
But there are still hitters walking the earth who defy modern shifting. With bat control. With brain power. With the increasingly rare ability to swing at a pitch in nearly any quadrant of the strike zone and hit it where the defense isn't standing.
So who are the most "shift-proof" hitters in baseball? There are more than you might suspect, to be honest. But here are five who belong on anyone's list:
If you think Puig is still a wild, uncontrollable, hacking machine who's up there wailing away, here's our advice: It's time to start watching him more closely.
According to Baseball Info Solutions, he'd been shifted on in only 1.3 percent of his plate appearances through Monday. And that, just as much as his .345* average and .440* on-base percentage, is an indication of how tough he has become to both pitch to and defend.
Over his career, Puig has pulled the ball in 77 percent of his ground balls and short line drives, a fairly high rate for a guy who isn't shifted on much. But when one NL scout who helps devise his team's shift strategies was asked why Puig has gotten so shift-proof in his second year in the big leagues, the scout replied: "You just can't do it anymore."
"The reason is .345* and that high on-base percentage," he said. "He's going line to line now. He's not chasing much. And he's spitting on those sliders off the plate that he used to swing at. Too much strength to all fields to shift on."