Monday, April 16, 2012

Is The Shift Just A Fad?

Is this going to be a regular site from here on out?

I was at the LoHud Yankees Blog reading the game notes from last night's victory over the Angels. I love anything that gives me a different perspective on things, which is why Pardon The Interruption is one of my favorite shows, and some times you can get that from those notes. This time, however, nothing really stood out. There were more notes on Jeter hitting well at the beginning of this season, which even he is getting tired of. There was some talk about Nova not geting rattled, and challenging hitters rather than trying to nibble at the plate (perhaps you heard the word "rock" used by some other guy, in reference to Super-Nova). But it was this note that caught my eye...
Girardi was asked about whether or not he’s had any discussions with Teixeira about adjusting to the shift. “You don’t,” he said. “You tell him to swing the bat, hit balls hard, and things will work out. It’s not like it’s something new to him this year.”

"...hit balls hard, and things will work out." I've thought the same thing, but hearing that made me think whether or not that's true. Seeing the shift against Teixeira when he bats from the left side made me wonder if that extra fielder made his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) go down. A quick trip to Baseball Reference answered that question.

I decided to look at 2011, as that was the year in which we saw the shift on Teixeira night in and night out. And it turns out that Mark's BABIP versus right-handed pitchers, while batting from the left-side, was only .222. Which is incredibly low when you figure that league average is usually around .300. Look at Tex's BABIP vs. LHPs, while batting from the right-side, which was .278. And this isn't a case of small sample size skewing the numbers, as Mark had 397 at bats from the left-side, and 189 at bats from the right-side, last season.

And the same thing is happening in 2012. Mind you, this time it could be small sample sizes playing tricks on us, but Teixeira's BABIP vs. RHP, as a left-handed batter, is a paltry .222. Batting from the right-side, and facing LHPs, that BABIP is .308. Even though Tex has only had 22 at bats vs. RHP, and only 14 at bats vs. LHP, I'm willing to bet that unless Mark stops being so pull-happy when batting from the left-side, that we're going to continue seeing him struggle when hitting from the left-side.

I was thinking about other pull hitters in Major League Baseball, and came across Ted Williams. Ted was a strong pull-hitter, who had a career BABIP of .328. Now, I'm not saying Williams wouldn't still be considered one of the better hitters in the history of the game, but what if teams employed the shift against Ted a lot more back then, like we see today? Keep in mind that Ted was not a switch-hitter like Teixeira is, as Williams was a left-handed hitter only. So it's not like Teddy Ballgame could just feast on left-handed pitching, sort of like how Teixeira still bats well against lefties from the right-side of the plate.

So this begs the question... "should Girardi start employing the shift more often too?"

I can hear shouts of "NO" coming from a number of Yankee fans. Now, certainly he shouldn't shift against every player, but if spread charts show that a batter is way more likely to hit the ball to one side, like Teixiera tends to pull the ball the vast majority of the time while batting left-handed, then it makes sense to do it. It would also help if the pitcher was able to hit his spots, unlike what we saw from Freddy Garcia in his first outing of 2012. If a pitcher is supposed to throw the ball inside to a left-hander, but the pitch goes to the outside of the plate, then it's going to be easier for the batter to go the other way and get a cheap base-hit (or, as I like saying, "bitch hits").

If Yankee pitchers can at least hit their spots, then don't be surprised if the team employs the shift more often this season.


  1. Teams used the shift on Ted Williams pretty much every time.

    1. From what I read on the subject the shift didn't start being employed by opposing teams until 1946, after Williams had played 4 seasons (of course, not counting his military service). Not only that, nowhere did I read that all teams employed the shift as one source even said it was considered "gimmicky". I could be wrong, as could be the writers I read from, as I wasn't alive then.

      Either way, good looking out. And the point still stands.


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