Fangraphs recently released data measuring the use and impact of the defensive shift. As you would expect, the Mets players whom the shift impacts the most are Lucas Duda and Curtis Granderson, both lefties who like to pull the ball. Let’s find out just how many hits the shift has taken from those two players.
First, we’ll limit our scope to shift data starting in 2012, the first year in which the shift’s use became widespread around the league. The data for 2016 are current as of the beginning of this week. Keep in mind that the shift data only includes plate appearances in which the ball was put in play. Home runs, strikeouts, walks, and hit-by-pitches don't count.
Let’s start with Duda. From 2012 to 2016, Duda collected 172 hits in 624 at-bats against the shift, good for a .276 batting average. Now let’s assume that, had the defense not shifted against Duda in those 624 at-bats, he would have produced about the same numbers that he did in his at-bats when the opposing defense did not shift. In Duda’s 527 non-shift at-bats from 2012 to 2016, he collected 161 hits, good for a much better .306 batting average. Assuming that he would have hit .306 in his 624 at-bats in which the opposing team employed the shift, he would have had 191 hits instead of 172 in those at-bats. We can therefore say that the shift cost Duda around 19 hits from 2012 to 2016.
To see how those 19 extra hits would have affected his rate stats, let’s first assume that those hits would all have been singles. That seems like a fair assumption, given that the shift generally saves ground balls and low-struck line drives hit up the middle and in the 3-4 hole on the right side of the infield. With 19 extra singles in his 2,034 plate appearances from 2012 to 2016, he would have hit .252/.353/.454, rather than the .241/.344/.443 he actually hit in those plate appearances. Therefore, it’s safe to say that the shift cost Duda around 10 points each in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage over the last five years. That’s significant.
|Lucas Duda, 2012-2016||PA||AB||H||BA||OBP||SLG|
|Balls in play, shift||630||624||172||.276||.273||.370|
|Balls in play, no shift||533||527||161||.306||.302||.368|
|All plate appearances||2,034||1,743||420||.241||.344||.443|
|All plate appearances, hypothetical without shift||2,034||1,743||439||.252||.353||.454|
The shift’s impact on Granderson has also been significant, although it hasn't been quite as large as it’s been on Duda. Based on the same method used above, we can say that the shift cost Granderson about 12 hits in his 2,316 plate appearances from 2012 to 2016. With 12 extra singles, Granderson would have hit .242/.337/.445 instead of .236/.332/.439. Whereas the shift cost Duda about 10 points in each of his major rate stats, it cost Granderson about five.
|Curtis Granderson, 2012-2016
|Balls in play, shift
|Balls in play, no shift
|All plate appearances
|All plate appearances, hypothetical without shift
The only other Mets with meaningful numbers of at-bats against the shift are Yoenis Cespedes and Neil Walker. Interestingly, both hitters have performed better against the shift than they have against a traditional defensive alignment. Since 2012, Cespedes has hit .380 in his 276 at-bats against the shift, compared to .295 in his 1,382 non-shift at-bats. Walker has hit .324 in 139 at-bats against the shift, compared to .299 in 1,438 at-bats against a traditional defense. While one can’t draw definitive conclusions based on a couple of hundred at-bats, these splits should at least give opposing teams pause before shifting against Cespedes or Walker.
Michael Conforto is an interesting player to watch going forward. Conforto has been a pull hitter so far in his young career, as evidenced by his above-average 46.0% pull rate. Accordingly, teams have started to aggressively shift against him. Nonetheless, Conforto has shown that he can hit the ball with authority to all fields, leading Keith Hernandez to frequently question opposing teams’ use of the shift against Conforto during Mets broadcasts.
The early evidence seems to support Hernandez’s point, although the sample size is far too small to have any real meaning: Conforto has hit .383 in his 47 career at-bats against the shift, and .279 in 104 at-bats against a traditional defense. It will be interesting to see whether Conforto can continue to beat the shift as he accumulates more at-bats and, if he does, how opposing teams respond.