The title of the article is an allusion to Schott’s Miscellany, which you should definitely check out if you never have and feel compelled to know that a group of larks is called an exaltation or that a member of the 32nd degree of Freemasonry is known as a Sublime Prince of the Royal Secret.
–Shift Candidates by Oppo%–
The question of whether teams should use defensive shifts against certain batters is complex. Even applying the term defensive shift fails to do the decision justice because defensive positioning is not limited to either yes or no. However, we do know that teams are more and more willing to deploy defensive shifts. According to the Fielding Bible—Volume IV, shifting has nearly doubled every season since 2011, and early indications are that trend will continue this season.
That teams have been willing to frequently deploy defensive shifts indirectly tells us that many batters have extreme pull tendencies. We may not have all of the same data that teams are using to make their shift decisions, but the new Oppo% data from Baseball Info Solutions—full disclosure: I work for Baseball Info Solutions—provides us a fair proxy of a batter’s shift candidacy.
From a fantasy perspective, it is less important whether a batter has or has not been shifted. The important question is whether we have reason to expect his shift treatment to change. For left-handed power hitters, the damage shifts cause to their batting averages has likely already been done.
I grouped all hitters with at least 100 at-bats since 2011 into four types: (1) is a left-handed batter or switch hitter and is a power hitter, (2) is a left-handed batter or switch hitter and is not a power hitter, (3) is not a left-handed batter or switch hitter and is a power hitter, and (4) is not a left-handed batter or switch hitter and is not a power hitter. I used a rate of three home runs per 100 at-bats as my divider between power hitter and not a power hitter. As you can see, left-handed power hitters dropped 15 points of batting average from 2011 to 2014.
|Batting Averages by Batter Type|
|Is Lefty/SH, Is Power Hitter||.263||.259||.256||.248||.258|
|Is Lefty/SH, Not Power Hitter||.257||.254||.256||.255||.254|
|Not Lefty/SH, Is Power Hitter||.262||.263||.261||.259||.245|
|Not Lefty/SH, Not Power Hitter||.252||.253||.250||.250||.251|
Or if you prefer it visually:
Just a month into the 2015 season, I’m not sure we can trust the numbers from this year—hence the vertical line in the chart to help make the visual distinction.
The other three types of hitters have shown a decline in batting average by only a few points each, at least until this season. However real the 2015 trends are, it’s probably fair to say that batter projections for hitters who do not fall into the left-handed power-hitter camp did not anticipate any increase in their shift treatment.
The question is, then, who could potentially be affected? I took the 30 qualified hitters with the lowest Oppo% rates since 2014 and sorted them into their four categories.
|Is Lefty/SH, Is Power Hitter|
We can safely assume this group of power lefties is already being shifted by teams.
|Not Lefty/SH, Is Power Hitter|
Based on data from last June, we know that Albert Pujols, Edwin Encarnacion, and Evan Longoria were all among the five most-shifted right-handed hitters. Considering how low even Longoria’s shifted plate appearance total was then to still qualify him for the top five, the other names on this list were unlikely to have been frequently shifted prior to this season.
|Is Lefty/SH, Not Power Hitter|
Apparently the World Series Phillies team had a monopoly on this sort of player. The question is will teams see their low Oppo% rates as evidence enough to start to regularly shift these players? Neither Rollins nor Utley had a bunt hit in 2014, but Rollins did have three sacrifice attempts. Perhaps that is the concern with the non-power hitters?
|Not Lefty/SH, Not Power Hitter|
There are several good bunters in this list. Desmond Jennings had three bunt hits and nine successful sacrifice bunts in 2014. Jose Altuve and Alexei Ramirez had one of each as well as a bunch of other infield hits. In my mind, that makes Aaron Hill, Starlin Castro, Salvador Perez, and Xander Bogaerts the likeliest of this group to start being regularly shifted.
Scott Spratt is a fantasy sports writer for FanGraphs and Pro Football Focus. He is a Sloan Sports Conference Research Paper Competition and FSWA award winner. Feel free to ask him questions on Twitter – @Scott_Spratt