Yankees Analysis: Bombers Very Susceptible to Infield Shifts


The recent revelation that new Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred would consider eliminating shifts to spark league-wide offense created much ire on Twitter and around the Web. Intellectual articles including this one by Dave Cameron of Fangraphs showed that shifts have not really contributed much to the depressed run scoring environment. Additionally, many analogies such as “pitchers can’t use sliders because they move too much” were bandied about. In the end, all of this might be moot as Manfred amended his statements recently and clarified that they would look at all possible solutions to increasing scoring, if the lack of scoring is even a “problem” in the first place. Therefore, Jeff Sullivan’s article on which teams are the most “shiftable” is very relevant if the shift is indeed here to stay for the 2015 season. 

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Jeff used the depth charts at fangraphs.com to get the projected amount of plate appearances for each hitter on every team. Then he looked at the pulled ground ball rates for each individual hitter from 2012-14. Finally, he used those rates and weighted them by projected plate appearances to get the projected pulled ground ball percentage at the team level. The Tampa Bay Rays are the most shiftable team at 60.7%. The Miami Marlins are the least shiftable team at 50.1%. The second most shiftable team? The New York Yankees at 60.3%. Mark Teixeira (50.7% career ground balls pulled), Brian McCann (50.3%), Garrett Jones (55.2%), Carlos Beltran (52.9%), Chase Headley (64.8%), and Jacoby Ellsbury (63.4%) all contribute greatly to this rate of pulled ground balls. Players, as a whole, tend to pull ground balls more than they go the other way. The Yankees, however, seem to have many hitters who do this to the extreme. This effect is especially exacerbated with many left-handed hitters who will typically be shifted on more often than righties.

The Yankees have always targeted pull-lefties to exploit the short porch in right field. Lefties will be shifted against more than righties because their pull-side is on the first base side of second where the throw is shorter for an infielder. Additionally, many of these pull hitters (Teixeira, McCann, Headley, Beltran) are slow so a lone fielder on the left side of second base could still have a chance on some slow choppers. They also seldom bunt to discourage other teams from implementing the shift. It makes intuitive sense that the team would be shifted against often as Jeff’s projections indicate. As for the decreased run scoring: fix the strike zone.

Next: How The New Commissioner's Rule Might Affect The Yankees

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