Like Dua Lipa Major League Baseball has got new rules and one of them is a ban on the shift. Specifically the rule is that two infielders must be on each side of second base when a pitch is released and all four infielders must be in front of the outfield grass. Left-handed hitters across the league rejoiced.
But what about the lefties for the St. Louis Cardinals? Bernie Miklasz wrote on Scoops with Danny Mac some of his thoughts, which included a list of batting averages against shifts pulled from Fangraphs. Per Miklasz:
...statcast data shows that the Cardinals’ left-handed batters had one of the lowest percentages of ground balls pulled against the shifts in 2022. That’s one of the reasons why the Cards were able to beat the shift more often than most other teams.
That got me thinking... how did Cardinals hitters do that?
Looking at the list of batting averages Miklasz provided the reason seemed a little clearer. The Cardinals lineup consists of mostly righties. The lefties are Nolan Gorman, Lars Nootbar, and Brendan Donovan and then the switch hitters Tommy Edman and Dylan Carlson. Let’s focus on them and pull up the stats Bernie was looking at on Fangraphs, but with a little more context, just for fun.
So those are just the raw hit numbers. In about a third a season of plate appearances Donovan and Edman seemed to have some success against the shift based on these averages, but the zero homeruns across the board seems to suggest something more. Let’s looks deeper:
The power numbers are low, perhaps suggesting the shift is causing a change in approach for these hitters. For instance I would guess that hitters that know they might be facing a shift on two strikes would try to avoid going deep into a count and once they face a shift they might sacrifice power in order to guide a hit to the opposite field. Let’s see how their batted ball profiles compare against the shift versus not:
So what does all this mean? Honestly, I am not even sure — a few things jump out to me here. First of all, though, there just isn’t enough data to draw meaningful conclusions, but that isn’t what we are doing! We are doing this for fun and for fun let’s look through some batted ball results that stand out.
The first thing I noticed was groundball percentage on the shift is higher for most players than it is against a regular defense. This might be due to the shift being implemented more when a player is in a less hitter friendly count.
The same goes for the Hard Hit percentage — it is higher against a standard defense, but that might be due the count the hitter is in too...
In fact, count almost seems to be more of a factor for the result than the hit does and that brings me to the next interesting thing I noticed. While the Cardinals may pull the ball against the shift less than any other team, among the lefties pulling the ball more does not necessarily correlate to a lack of success. Tommy Edman and Dylan Carlson pulled the ball against the shift almost the exactly same percentage and while Edman hit slightly above average with a 111 wRC and .329 average, Carlson only hit for a 61 wRC+ and .238 average. Intuitively it seems like not pulling the ball into the shift would lead to better results, but not all batted balls are created equal. Is a weak batted ball in the opposite field against a shift any more likely to be a hit hard hit ball towards the side of the field that a team has shifted in? It is hard to say.
Now we don’t have to, though, and hopefully the Cardinals lefties see some of benefits — at least enough to outweigh the lost outs the shift brought on defense, but that is another article.
Bernie On The 2023 Cardinals: Nine Questions On My Mind Before The Start Of Spring Training. | Scoops with Danny Mac
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