• Steve Potter

5/23/22 : Some Comparative Data on defensive shifts


The legend is that infield defensive shifts date back to 1929 when managers would employ them against lefty hitter Cy Williams. In 1946 a defensive shift against another left handed hitter, Ted Williams, became known as the “Boudreau Shift” when the Indians manager tried it against the Boston slugger. As time evolved other left handed pull hitters such as Willie McCovey and Boog Powell in the 1970’s would face shifts as did Barry Bonds some years later. But shifting didn’t become a regular widespread occurrence until the 2010 decade.


Here’s an excerpt from an article written by Travis Sawchik for 538 - “Shifts have grown at a staggering rate. In 2011, defenses deployed the shift — counting both the traditional (three infielders to one side of second base) and non-traditional varieties — during 3,065 major league plate appearances that ended with a ball being put into play, according to Baseball Info Solutions data at FanGraphs. That’s only 2.6 percent of all at-bats where balls were put in play. The number of plate appearances where hitters faced the shift has increased every year since, save for 2017. Last season ( 2021 ), batters faced the shift in a record 40,730 total plate appearances ending on balls in play — that’s about 34 percent of such plate appearances.”


I previously wrote a blurb before about how the 2022 “banning the shift” rule being used in the minor league Low A to Double A levels hasn’t really been noticeable in regards to watching games. Digging into the numbers here’s what we find ( comparing this season to date to 2021 ).


Focusing on the leagues the Phillies have affiliates in 🤔


AA Eastern League : runs, hits down as compared to 2021, K’s up - HR’s flat


Data reflects combined tallied of both teams


2022 - Thru 231 games - shifts restricted to two infielders each side of 2B - no infielder in outfield


AVG Runs per game - 9.2

AVG Hits per game - 15.1 ( 9.3 AVG number of singles )

AVG HR per game - 2.1

AVG K’s per game - 19.9


2021 - shifts restricted 1st half to infield only - no restrictions on # of fielders each side of 2B - 2nd half - two infielders each side of 2B - no infielder in outfield


AVG Runs per game - 9.4

AVG Hits per game - 15.9 ( 9.8 AVG number of singles )

AVG HR per game - 2.2

AVG K’s per game - 18.9


High A South Atlantic League : basically same output each year - HR’s down 🧐 - that could be weather related


Data reflects combined tallied of both teams


2022 - Thru 226 games - shifts restricted to two infielders each side of 2B - no infielder in outfield


AVG Runs per game - 10

AVG Hits per game - 16.3 ( 10.6 AVG number of singles )

AVG HR per game - 1.9

AVG K’s per game - 19.7


2021 - 707 games - no shift restrictions


AVG Runs per game - 10.2

AVG Hits per game - 16.1 ( 10.2 AVG number of singles )

AVG HR per game - 2.4

AVG K’s per game - 20.1


Low A Florida State League : runs are down as are hits ( slightly ), HR’s flat, K’s slightly up


Data reflects combined tallied of both teams


2022 - Thru 193 games - shifts restricted to two infielders each side of 2B - no infielder in outfield


AVG Runs per game - 8.5

AVG Hits per game - 14.8 ( 10.1 AVG number of singles )

AVG HR per game - 1.4

AVG K’s per game - 20.6


2021 - 586 games - no shift restrictions


AVG Runs per game - 10

AVG Hits per game - 15 ( 9.9 AVG number of singles )

AVG HR per game - 1.5

AVG K’s per game - 19.9


AAA International League : shown as a comparison - shifts are not banned at the AAA level - output is basically flat from year to year however numbers are very comparable to the AA level which has employed a shift ban for both seasons


Data reflects combined tallied of both teams


2022 - Thru 413 games


AVG Runs per game - 9.8

AVG Hits per game - 16.1 ( 10.3 AVG number of singles )

AVG HR per game - 2.1

AVG K’s per game - 18


2021 - games


AVG Runs per game - 9.6

AVG Hits per game - 16.1 ( 10.2 AVG number of singles )

AVG HR per game - 2.3

AVG K’s per game - 18.1


More intense Minor League Research - excerpt from an article written by Kyle Glaser - Baseball America


“In theory, the ban on shifts would allow more balls to get through the infield for hits and increase offense. In practice, it has made little difference. The batting average on balls in play at Double-A in 2019, when there were no shift restrictions in place, was .305. In the first half of 2021, when infielders were required to be on the dirt, the BABIP was .307. In the second half of 2021, when two infielders were required to be on either side of second base, the BABIP was .308.


The overall BABIP on balls in play at Double-A in 2021 was .307—right in line with the Double-A BABIPs in 2019 (.305) and 2018 (.309), when there were no shift restrictions.


"I wouldn’t say that there was anything in the data so to suggest a dramatic effect of the shift restrictions,” MLB executive vice president of baseball operations Morgan Sword told Baseball America in September. “We kind of rigged it up by righties and lefties, who are affected a little bit differently by shifting, and in terms of how hard the balls are hit. There’s slight differences, but generally there was not a large effect of those restrictions being in place."


In the opinion of managers whose teams played with the shift restrictions last year, the reason for the lack of impact was simple: while many balls that would have been outs with the shift turned into hits, a roughly equal number of balls that would have been hits against the shift turned into outs with infielders playing straight up.”


How would it effect the Major Leagues ?


MLB Findings - impact largely skewed towards lefty hitters


“According to Baseball Savant, which has shift data going back to 2016, nearly 31% of PA had shifts in 2021. This number is a slight decrease from 2020 when it was 34% but is significantly increased from 2017 when it was 12.5%. Over the last two seasons, 52% of all PA by a left-handed hitter had some sort of shift while only about 17% of PA by a right-handed hitter did. Every single team in MLB employed a shift for at least 1 out of every 6 ABs over the past two seasons.


There is one baseball event that happens at a significantly reduced rate when playing against the shift, double plays. Over the last two seasons, 3.9% of all balls in play with no shift have resulted in a double play and only 2.3% have had the same result against the shift. When looking at the last six seasons those numbers are slightly closer, 3.4% and 2.5% respectively. That difference may be small but ground balls are about 25% less likely to result in a double play against a shift than with no shift over the past six years and 40% less likely over the past two seasons.” - Jonas Thoms- Call to the Pen


I will check back on the numbers as the season progresses but at least to date the “no shift” rule doesn’t appear to be having a large impact on offensive output or some concerns that strikeouts might increase. It’s basically been a wash - so maybe the shift or no shift in regards to overall offensive production is much adieu about nothing 🤷‍♂️ - of course we left handed batters, at least in our minds will always think differently 🥴🤓.


Happy Day, Happy Baseball ⚾️




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