Like Dua Lipa, Major League Baseball has new rules, one of which is no shifts. Specifically, when pitching, two infielders each must be on the second base side, and all four infielders must be in front of the outfield grass. Left-handed hitters across the league rejoiced.
But what about the St. Louis Cardinals lefties? Bernie Miklasz wrote some of his thoughts in Scoops with Danny Mac. This included a list of batting averages for shifts pulled from Fangraphs. Per Mikulas:
…according to Statcast data, Cardinals left-handed hitters had the lowest percentage of ground balls pulled for the shift in 2022. This is one of the reasons why Cards has been able to win shifts more often than most other teams. .
How did the Cardinals hitters do that?
Looking at the list of batting averages provided by Miklasz, it seemed a little clearer why. The Cardinals’ lineup consists primarily of right-handed players. Lefties are Nolan Gorman, Lars Nutvar, Brendan Donovan, and switch hitters Tommy Edman and Dylan Carlson. Let’s focus on them and pull out the stats Bernie was looking at in his Fangraphs.
So these are the raw hit counts. In his one at-bat about a third of the season, Donovan and Edman appeared to have had some success with the shift based on those averages, but zero home runs across the board. seems to suggest more than that. Let’s look deeper:
The power numbers are low, suggesting that perhaps the shift is causing these hitters to change their approach. Trying to avoid going too deep into the count, and facing a shift, I think might sacrifice power to direct the hit to the opposite field. Let’s see how their hitting profiles compare with and without shift:
So what does this mean? I honestly don’t know. A few things pop out here. First of all, we don’t have enough data to draw any meaningful conclusions, but that’s not what we do! We do this for fun. Just for fun, let’s take a look at the outstanding hitting results.
The first thing I noticed was that most players had a higher percentage of ground balls during the shift than they did against normal defense. This is likely due to the shift being implemented more when the player is on a less friendly count of hitters.
The same applies to the percentage of hard hits. It’s higher against normal defense, but that could also be because of the hitter count…
In fact, the number of counts seems to be a more decisive factor than the number of hits. This leads to the next interesting thing I noticed. The Cardinals may pull the ball less against shifts than any other team, but pulling the ball among lefties doesn’t necessarily correlate with lack of success.Tommy Edman and Dylan Carlson drew the ball at about the same rate to shift, with Edman slightly above average with 111 wRC and a .329 average, while Carlson only hit 61 wRC+ and a .238 average. Intuitively, it seems like not pulling the ball into the shift leads to better results, but not all hits are created equal. Is a weaker hit on the opposite side of the field to the shift more likely to be a stronger hit toward the side of the field that the team shifted into? It’s hard to say.
Hopefully the Cardinals’ lefties are seeing some gains.
Barney on the Cardinals in 2023: 9 questions on my mind before spring training starts. | | Danny Mac and the Scoop
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