Thursday, April 19, 2012

Hitting into the Shift

I am a Yankees fan, as such I read River Ave Blues pretty regularly. Recently they’ve been putting together a short series on Mark Teixeira’s swing, most importantly, the difference between his left and right handed swings, and what has gone wrong with his lefty swing. Teixeira has been labeled as a “victim of the shift”, largely because his pull happy swing has made it very easy to load up the right side of the infield with 3-4 men and basically make an impenetrable wall of defenders that will smother any ground ball he puts into play. Tex isn’t the first, nor will he be the last man to suffer the effects of this shift.

As per Wikipedia, Ryan Howard, David Ortiz, Jason Giambi, and Barry Bonds, and Willie McCovey are all examples of shift victims. The most remarkable thing about the shift is the lengths to which people go to thwart it. Tex has developed an uppercut swing to avoid the infield, though this has only served to keep his stats depressed, he’s still pulling the ball, aiming for the right field porch in Yankee Stadium, but now, in lieu of readjusting (which I say because this problem has not been extant his entire career) his swing and accepting that he has power to all 3 fields, Tex is locked in on ripping the ball to right field.

Not everyone adjusts their swing to combat the shift, and for some of the power hitters (David Ortiz) it may not really be necessary, but the shift has caused problems for the defensive team (Johnny Damon stealing 2 bases on a single pitch because of the shift). That said, obviously the shift works, if not nobody would be doing it, but what’s interesting is that the batters are only willing to fight it so much. Leaving the left ½ of the infield wide open is begging for a good bunt toward 3rd. if it gets past the pitcher, it’s a hit every time. A lot of the players who suffer the ill effects of the shift however are power hitters, and are reluctant to see their power numbers dwindle for even a month during the season to “correct” the shift.

For someone like Tex who’s not exactly an excellent base runner, the bunt might be a hard sell, but you can’t help your team with a bunch of fly balls to right-center field without a man on 3rd. Getting on base helps your team, creating opportunities for the other batters in the lineup is something these guys need to recognize. It doesn’t matter if it’s a walk year or you’re in the heart of a 10 year contract, you need to help your team, and getting on base is a great way to do that. If a batter’s going to beat the shift, they need to stop thinking about their power numbers and start thinking about their on base percentage. I’d be just as happy to see Teixeira with a .480 OBP and a ..310SLG  as I would be with seeing 30 homeruns and a .340 OBP. Take the bunt, get on base, leave the bat in the 4 or 5 hitter’s hands.


  1. I can't believe you missed the guy that the shift was practically invented for in your list. One TS Williams of Boston fame.

  2. Here's a great example of why this isn't a 1 man show. I was destined to overlook someone here, but that's a bad miss on my part. Regardless of which names I included I think the sentiment is totally valid, despite Ted Williams being the absolute exception to the rule. Shift or not the guy ended his career with a .344 batting average and a .482 OBP.

  3. I remember reading once that Teddy got a letter from someone instructing him on how to hit around the shift. He crumpled it up and threw it out. The author of the letter? TR Cobb. Why am I abbreviating the first and middle names of HoF players? Because I want to.