View Full Version : In general, how well does the shift work?

05-23-2006, 08:53 AM
It's an interesting question, and a question that I may have thought of a different way to analyze, but I need the board's help :p:

We all know the defensive alignment opposing teams put on hitters such as Barry Bonds and Adam Dunn, and it has to work to some degree otherwise teams would stop incorporating the shift into their defensive alignment. What I'm curious about is attempting to identify how much the shift is expected to help when teams decide to incorporate it, and which hitters it has more of an effect on than others. Now while I'll watch nearly every Reds game this season, I don't get to see too many out of market games, and this is where I need the board's help.

For those who see a large number of non-Reds games, which hitters do you see having to regularly deal with the shift?

I'd like to try to take a look at as many of these hitters as possible for a better sample size - preferably every hitter that deals with the shift - rather than look at only a half dozen or so.

05-23-2006, 08:56 AM
I have another question regarding the shift. How come it's almost always used for LH hitters? You don't see variations of a RH shift that often?

05-23-2006, 09:27 AM
I found this about the beginning of "The Shift" in the early dawn of baseball history - from Baseballfever.com. It would be interesting to read Cobb's two page letter.

The "Williams Shift" Is Born
July 14, 1946 / Fenway Park

Teddy Ballgame was definitely a "pull hitter," and Williams himself once estimated that eighty-five percent of his hits went to the right of the centerfielder. During the second game of a doubleheader on July 14, 1946, these tendencies inspired Cleveland Indians player-manager Lou Boudreau to try to stymie Williams by shifting most of his fielders to the right side of the diamond.

Both Williams and Boudreau had been incredible in the first game of the doubleheader. Boudreau had four doubles and a home run and Williams slammed three home runs, driving in eight. With the Indians in sixth place, Boudreau decided he had nothing to lose in the second game.

Williams' first at-bat went normally; he ripped a base-clearing double. While Boudreau had been creative enough to come up with such a specific defense against Williams, he was not daring enough to do it with runners on base.

In Williams' second at-bat of the night, however, Boudreau threw the shift at him. Indians third baseman Ken Keltner moved directly behind second base. Second baseman Jack Conway moved to shallow right field. Boudreau moved from his usual position between second and third to a spot between first and second -- almost an opposite-field shortstop. First baseman Jimmy Wasdell moved behind the bag at first and played on the line, along with rightfielder Hank Edwards. Centerfielder Jim Seerey moved to right-center, leaving leftfielder George Case as the only player on the left side of the field.

The shift was no defense against bad pitching. Cleveland pitcher Charley Embree walked Williams on four straight pitches. Williams had another walk and a groundout to finish off the day.

Other managers soon followed suit and came up with their own shifts to stifle Williams. These unique defenses annoyed Williams, but didn't affect his hitting.

Even though Williams' production hadn't slowed, there was no shortage of unsolicited advice on how to beat the shift. The media accused him of being too proud to hit to the now wide-open spaces in left field, and Ty Cobb sent Williams a two-page letter on how Cobb himself would have handled the shift. Paul Waner told him to just step away from the plate a little.

In a game against the Indians at Cleveland Stadium later that season, Williams showed up all his critics. Boudreau used an extreme shift against Williams with two out and none on in the first inning, bringing in left fielder Pat Seerey to cover the left side of the infield. The move left left field unprotected, and Ted hit a routine fly over Seery's head that rolled to the 400-foot mark. While the ball was rolling, Williams raced around the bases for his first -- and only -- inside-the-park home run. That run won the game and clinched the pennant for the Sox in 1946.

Now back to the regularly scheduled discussion.

05-23-2006, 09:29 AM
And from The Baseball Page this answer to the question why do you not see the shift against righthanded batters:

Putting on a shift for a right-handed batter is rare but it does happen. I believe a shift was used against Frank Howard for example. I think you would have to be very careful about a shift for a righty. If you move your second baseman to the left side of the infield that leaves your first baseman with a lot of ground to cover in addition to covering the bag. I would think you would shift only for a slow-running right-handed pull hitter.

05-23-2006, 10:40 AM
which hitters do you see having to regularly deal with the shift?

Giambi and Ortiz are two -- though I don't know how regularly they face it.

05-23-2006, 10:44 AM
I believe Thome faces it as well. It's interesting that you rarely see the shift against a righty. Perhaps it's because if the SS fields a ball in short left, it's gonna still be a hit, so you don't really gain much. Plus, the 1B is still anchored to 1B so actually get less coverage up the middle. Great topic Cyclone. I can't wait to see what you're able to do with it.

05-23-2006, 11:16 AM
Giambi and Ortiz are two -- though I don't know how regularly they face it.

Giambi does - almost all the time. Last night against the Sox, the Yanks had Damon on 2B, and they still moved the SS to the right side of the bag. However the 3B had to maintain position otherwise Damon could've swiped third easy. So there was a huge hole between 2B and SS...Giambi popped up.

05-23-2006, 11:17 AM
The Bonds shift is really exaggerated. The second baseman plays in short right field. It's closer to a 4 man OF. The pic below is from the World Series v. the Angels when Barry could still run. Now that he's slowed to a crawl, I've seen second basemen drop back further into the OF.


05-23-2006, 11:22 AM
I wondered once why the outfield didn't shift very much while all the infielders moved over. Then I heard somewhere (this was a few years ago, so I don't remember the source) that it's not so much that these guys always pull the ball, it's that when they go the opposite way, the ball's almost always hit in the air. It was explained that with a typical power hitter's uppercut swing, when he swings "late" making the ball go the other way, it's unlikely he'll top the ball because the bat is fairly low in the zone at that point. If he meets the ball out front (pulling), the bat is higher on the swing plane, making it more likely to top the ball and hit a grounder.

05-23-2006, 12:33 PM
in high school, the "inward shift" used to really mess with my weak grounders

05-23-2006, 01:01 PM
in high school, the "inward shift" used to really mess with my weak grounders


well done!

05-23-2006, 03:45 PM
Ok, we've now got a beginning list to work with ... Bonds, Dunn, Giambi, Griffey, Ortiz and Thome.

Here's some other hitters I'm curious about whether or not the shift is employed on them more times than not: Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Derrek Lee, Brian Giles, Jason Bay, Manny Ramirez, Gary Sheffield, Mark Teixeira, Carlos Delgado, Jeff Kent, Miguel Cabrera, Morgan Ensberg, Bobby Abreu, David Wright, Jim Edmonds, Richie Sexson, Travis Hafner, Cliff Floyd, Troy Glaus, Nick Johnson, Eric Chavez and Lance Berkman.

The vast majority of NL hitters I'll see regularly only against the Reds, and I'm not sure if what the Reds do defensively holds true throughout other opponents. Likewise for AL players, I'll maybe only see a half dozen games or so throughout the season for most of those guys so I'm not really sure who sees the shift often and who doesn't.

05-23-2006, 04:02 PM
I just wonder why nobody has tried a defense with all 7 IF/OF standing right in front of the plate ;)

05-23-2006, 05:08 PM
I just wonder why nobody has tried a defense with all 7 IF/OF standing right in front of the plate ;)

For the same reason why you don't see 3 forwards, 2 defencemen and one goaltender standing in front of the net while trying to protect a lead in hockey.

Fear of certain death.:laugh:

05-23-2006, 05:29 PM
I just wonder why nobody has tried a defense with all 7 IF/OF standing right in front of the plate ;)

In soccer we call that "the wall". Thought I think we'd need more than shinguards. And of course, getting the pitch through the wall could be tricky.

05-23-2006, 05:37 PM
In soccer we call that "the wall". Thought I think we'd need more than shinguards. And of course, getting the pitch through the wall could be tricky.
Leave a space for the pitch and then the pitcher runs forward

It could work!! ;)

That death thing isn't a big deal :evil:

05-24-2006, 04:02 PM
This is a very short list here, but it's a start with the guys that I at least know face the shift regularly. I'm looking for more hitters to include that face the shift, and I'll also start going back one or two seasons with some guys who have likely seen the shift for quite awhile now ...

Anyway, thanks to Hardball Times (http://www.hardballtimes.com), who provides "Predicted Stats" (see the stats with the Pr preface) and Fan Graphs (http://www.fangraphs.com), who provides BABIP and LD% numbers, I've compiled a small chart to compare each player's actual statistics with their predicted statistics.

Hardball Times uses play by play data for balls in play, and for each hitter determines what their batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, etc. should be with average luck given their ball in play events. They measure each hitter's type of balls in play - ground balls, fly balls and line drives - and factors in each player's strikeout rate, walk rate and home run rate.

The MLB league average line drive percentage is about 19 percent, and it should be self-explanatory that hitters who are high percentage line drive hitters will likely hit for a higher batting average. The formula for predicting what a player's BABIP should be is their line drive percentage + 0.120.

Of course, the BABIP isn't the most important factor here, but instead, the final column of OPS-PrOPS, which is merely the difference between the hitter's actual OPS and what their OPS should have been with average luck and average defense behind them. If OPS-PrOPS is a positive number, then the hitter probably had some good luck. If OPS-PrOPS is a negative number, then a combination of bad luck and good defense is a probable contributor of a lower than expected OPS.


2005 Carlos Delgado 0.301 0.306 0.582 0.571 0.981 0.977 0.338 0.349 22.90% 0.004
2005 Ken Griffey, Jr. 0.301 0.305 0.576 0.591 0.946 0.964 0.311 0.335 21.50% -0.018
2005 David Ortiz 0.300 0.314 0.604 0.624 1.001 1.034 0.309 0.345 22.50% -0.033
2004 Jim Thome 0.274 0.288 0.581 0.607 0.977 1.014 0.301 0.297 17.70% -0.037
2005 Adam Dunn 0.247 0.277 0.540 0.570 0.927 0.981 0.281 0.295 17.50% -0.054
2005 Jason Giambi 0.271 0.308 0.535 0.615 0.975 1.087 0.293 0.313 19.30% -0.112
2004 Barry Bonds 0.362 0.479 0.812 0.949 1.422 1.685 0.314 0.311 19.10% -0.263

Of course, we cannot just immediately sit back and proclaim, "hey, the shift is shafting these guys!" What we're looking for a is a noticeable pattern of players who have to deal with the shift having an actual OPS lower than their predicted OPS. Of the seven players and seasons above, only Carlos Delgado in 2005 had an OPS higher than his Predicted OPS, and that was by a tiny four points. All six other players had a lower actual OPS than their Predicted OPS, including Dunn, Giambi and Bonds being significantly lower. What I'm hoping to do is generate a list of many hitters over quite a few seasons to see if this pattern holds up since seven random guys is merely scratching the surface.

It is likely, however, that the shift plays some role in the pattern we're seeing of actual OPS being lower than Predicted OPS, but how much is beyond anybody's knowledge. Other factors would come into play too, such as speed of the hitter and just plain ole bad luck.

Anyhow, I just thought I'd toss this out as an interesting way to look at the shift, and I'm definitely looking for more hitters that deal with the shift to be included.

05-24-2006, 11:05 PM
in high school, the "inward shift" used to really mess with my weak grounders
i myself was one who hit groudners like crazy i swear my junior year everyball i hit was right at somebody

05-26-2006, 02:34 PM
Giambi and Ortiz are two -- though I don't know how regularly they face it.

The Devil Rays always put on an extreme shift for Ortiz...

Four outfielders composed of the regulars plus the third baseman cover Left, Left Center, Right Center, and Right...

and the remaining three infielders are all to the right of second base...

Meaning there is nobody left of second until you get to the deep outfield.

I'm not sure if its possible to take note of the different kinds of shift, but this has to be one of the strangest.

The Devil Rays have stated that they just try to get the hitter out of their normal mindset... seeing that huge hole to the left might just do it :)

Red Leader
05-26-2006, 02:46 PM
The Devil Rays have stated that they just try to get the hitter out of their normal mindset... seeing that huge hole to the left might just do it :)

I watched the D-Rays-BOS game last night, and the D-Rays shift was the biggest by far I've seen vs a LH hitter. Like you said, no fielders to the left of second base. Even the LF was playing in LCF. The announcers stated that the shift is primarily used to play mind games vs the hitters, moreso than for actual strategy purposes. The next pitch Ortiz lined a ball to the left of the first baseman and to the right of the 2nd baseman standing in shallow RCF for a base hit. The 3rd baseman took the throw into 2nd base. :laugh:

Red Leader
05-26-2006, 02:51 PM
If you can get the hitter to try and hit to the opposite field, or hit "away from the shift", I believe you are having an effect on them. I'd like to see how many hits to LF and LCF that Delgado, Ortiz, Dunn, Griffey, and others have in the last 2-3 years since the shift became popular. Most hitters that face the shift, however, aren't phased by it and just hit either right into it, or right through it like it was never there. Like Ortiz did last night.