There’s an MLB hitter who has beaten the shift 14 times this season. By “beaten the shift,” we mean that he put a ball in play which would have normally been an out if the defense was positioned in their typical fashion, but due to the shift, it became a hit.
Curious about who that hitter is? Hold on. Don’t scroll down and peak at the images yet! First here’s quick explainer on how we track this stuff:
First, we log all kinds of defensive alignments, ranging from the standard (straight up) positioning to the classic “Ted Williams shift” with three players on one side of the infield, and even things like 5-man infield and “no doubles” defense.
When a shift is on and the ball is put into play, we make an expert judgement call as to whether the shift : a) prevented a hit, b) caused a hit, or c) didn’t matter either way. Often, we’ll look at these plays several times and get a consensus opinion.
So, rather than relying on something like BABIP with and without the shift to sort of tell us which hitters are beating the shift or not beating the shift, we are getting right to the heart of the matter. We can say with confidence that it has been a better idea this season to play Adrian Gonzalez with traditional positioning than it has been to put on a defensive shift against him. Gonzalez has beaten the shift a league-leading 14 times this season. Meanwhile, the shift has prevented only 9 would-be hits against him. That’s a +5 in A.G.’s favor.
Because visuals are nice, here are just a few of the shift-beaters from Gonzalez this year:
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