Five misleading hitters

Teams often employ the shift against these guys, but they shouldn't

Updated: June 8, 2013, 7:29 PM ET
By Scott Spratt | ESPN Insider

Josh HamiltonKyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsJosh Hamilton's numbers would be even worse this year if teams stopped shifting against him.

Defensive shifts are becoming more and more popular in baseball. In 2011, the Tampa Bay Rays were the only team that shifted more than 200 times on balls in play, and only three other teams -- the Cleveland Indians, Toronto Blue Jays, and Milwaukee Brewers -- exceeded 100 shifts that season.

Last year, three teams shifted 400 times or more and another five teams shifted at least 200 times. This season, the shift leaders are still on pace for between 400 and 500 shifts, but the number of teams on pace to reach 200 shifts has skyrocketed to 14.

Since the start of 2012, the batting average on ground balls and short line drives of players that have seen at least 50 shifts has been 35 points lower against the shift than against a conventional defense. Meanwhile, the difference between their average on balls to the outfield is negligible. 

However, teams can get into trouble if they simply assume that all left-handed power hitters should be shifted. Some hitters have been able to take advantage of the holes opened by a defensive shift by using the entire field. Teams should reconsider their decisions to shift the following five players.

Scott Spratt

Baseball Info Solutions