Defensive shifts like this — with three infielders on one side of second base — have become commonplace in major league baseball and are contributing to low batting averages. David Zalubowski/Associated Press

Sunday was a somewhat unusual day in Major League Baseball. Every team had at least one hit.

That’s right. Not a single pitcher threw a no-hitter. Hard to believe, isn’t it?

Welcome to baseball, 2021 style. There have already been six no-hitters in Major League Baseball this season. The record for most no-hitters in a season since 1900 is seven.

There’s no turning back the hands of the clock on the mound. Pitchers are throwing harder, with better breaking stuff, than ever before. Batters continue to strike out at a record pace.

When they don’t strike out, they tend to hit it right at a fielder. Someone strategically placed in the perfect spot for that batter. As difficult as it is to make contact, “hitting ’em where they ain’t” is nearly impossible.

That’s why it’s time to regulate the shift. For all the talk of great pitching, the simple truth is that there are more balls being hit directly at fielders than at any point in the history of the game.

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Those fielders are there because there are analytic groups placing them where a hitter is most likely to hit a ball if he succeeds in making good contact.

“The shifts make the game really difficult,” Red Sox hitting coach Tim Hyers told me during his recent appearance on the “TC & Jerry Podcast.” “I’m there, and there are hitters saying, ‘I’m trying to hit this ball opp field but he’s throwing a 97 mph two-seamer in on my hands.’ Let’s say you have a left-handed hitter. It’s lefty-on-lefty and they’re shifting everybody to the right side. He’s throwing 97 in on my hands and I’m trying to hit it opposite field. It’s really difficult.”

I watch baseball every night. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a batter rip one back up the middle … only to see an infielder (sometimes two) standing right behind the bag for an easy out.

Many baseball fans hate the idea of legislating defense. They believe it’s a simple solution — batters need to do a better job hitting the ball to openings in the defensive alignment.

That’s easier said than done. Former Red Sox slugger and 1995 American League MVP Mo Vaughn said legislating the shift would be the first step to opening up offenses across the game.

“The shift,” Vaughn said, “has forced guys to say, ‘You know what? I’m not going to continue to hit that ball through the first and second base hole with the second baseman standing in short right field and it’s an out. Why don’t I just swing over it or swing through it or swing up and hit it over … it’s the same out that we made before. The same out we were making.’ Guys need to be rewarded for hitting the ball back up the middle where the ball is pitched.”

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Vaughn’s solution is simple. Teams should be mandated to keep two infielders on each side of second base. No overloading them on one side. I’d go one step further: all infielders would have to be standing on the dirt with at least some part of their foot. No more moving an infielder to shallow right field for left-handed pull hitters. At the Double-A level this season, infielders are required to keep both feet on the infield dirt.

Banning, or legislating, the shift won’t fix all the offensive problems facing the game, but it’s a good place to start. And it’s a much simpler fix than moving the pitcher’s mound back, a move being experimented in the Atlantic League later this summer.

Restricting formations is common in virtually all sports. Football alignments are legislated. Basketball players can’t camp out in the paint. Hockey players can’t wait in the offensive zone unless the puck is already there.

“The NBA took the zone out of defense to try to open up some of the offense,” said Hyers. “I think there are some things that need to be looked at.”

Let’s start by taking a good, hard look at defensive alignments. A little less shifting, and a little more offense, would be a welcome sight here in the Age of the No-Hitter.

Tom Caron is a studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on NESN.


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