Ever since its introduction into baseball, “the shift” has taken over America’s pastime. Today, every team can be seen shifting into abnormal positions in a strategic attempt to get an out. But is the shift as effective as people believe it to be? And, is it helping the Mariners?
Although the sensationalist culture of baseball would tell you shifting is a fairly recent phenomenon, shifting is not as new as we think it is.
The shift was first used against Cy Young in the 1920’s and later used against Ted Williams in the 1946 World Series.
However, since 2010 the number of shifts in baseball is rising at an astonishing rate.
In 2010, all of Major League baseball shifted a total of 2,464 times. In 2015, that number rose to 13,296 times. And it continues to skyrocket every season. But the debate remains: is shifting an effective form of defense?
Shifting by the Numbers
According to Fangraphs.com, the 5 most shifted against players in 2014 were David Ortiz, Ryan Howard, Brian McCann, Albert Pujols, and Brandon Moss. But according to the numbers, the shift not only didn’t work, it increased their statistics.
Here are the BABIP’s (Batting Average on Balls in Play) with and without the shift for the five guys I listed earlier.
- David Ortiz: No Shift BABIP – .150, Shift BABIP – .252
- Ryan Howard: No Shift BABIP – .467, Shift BABIP – .274
- Brian McCann: No Shift BABIP – .268, Shift BABIP – .215
- Albert Pujols: No Shift BABIP – .254, Shift BABIP – .292
- Brandon Moss: No Shift BABIP – .268, Shift BABIP – .275
In order for the shift to be considered effective for a player, the No Shift BABIP would need to be higher than the Shift BABIP. But when you look at the numbers, for 3 of the top 5 most shifted hitters, this in not the case.
However, the Seattle Mariners are one of the better teams as far as utilizing the shift. In 2016, they had a No Shift BABIP of .294, compared to that of a .289 Shift BABIP. This makes the Mariners one of the better teams as far as using the shift to their advantage.
What do These Numbers Mean?
Basically, these stats are saying that the shift is helping these hitters get base hits. This isn’t saying the shift isn’t effective, it just depends on who you are shifting against.
An example of someone you don’t want to shift against is Robinson Cano, the Mariners second baseman. In 2014, Cano figured out how to beat the shift with the New York Yankees.
The Boston Red Sox tried to shift against Cano. They moved the shortstop to the right side of the infield assuming Cano would pull the ball. That left the third baseman to be where the shortstop usually plays.
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Cano then bunted the ball down the third base line and got a double.
Shifting against a hitter like Cano doesn’t make sense. He has consistently shown the ability to hit the ball to all sides of the field.
However, shifting against a hitter like Brian McCann makes a lot of sense. Looking at his spray chart, he abuses the pull side of the field, allowing teams to predict where he will hit the ball. The numbers also support this claim.
The shift, like anything, can be useful when used correctly and in moderation. Shifting against premier hitters who have power to all fields makes no sense. Just makes the decision about where to hit the ball easier for the hitter.
Over shifting is what baseball is currently struggling with. My advice to all teams, especially the Mariners, is to shift only when you are almost certain that where you shift is where the ball will be hit.