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Saturday, July 05, 2014

Kepner: Hitters in M.L.B. This Season Have Struggled at Historic Rates

I lived through Jose Vidal once…ain’t doing it again.

As teams passed the 81-game midpoint of the season, they were averaging just 4.13 runs per game through Wednesday. If the average stays at that level through the end of the season, it will be the majors’ lowest mark since 1992. Strikeouts continue to rise; walks and home runs continue to decline; and the major league batting average, .251, is the lowest since 1972, the year before the creation of the designated hitter.

A stronger testing program for performance-enhancing drugs, more sophisticated analysis of hitters’ tendencies, a changing amateur scene, and, especially this season, a sharp increase in defensive shifts have coalesced to help the pitchers — with no end in sight.

...If pitchers are not recording strikeouts, they are often daring hitters to put the ball in play. The avalanche of data in the modern game naturally benefits pitchers, who control the action, more than hitters, who simply react. Teams are more aware of hitters’ tendencies than ever, and many have responded with extreme defensive alignments.

According to Baseball Info Solutions, an analytics service that provides most teams with data, major league teams are on pace to use almost 14,000 shifts on balls in play this year, which would shatter last year’s record of just over 8,000. In 2011, the service counted fewer than 2,500 shifts.

This trend, naturally, turns many would-be hits into outs. Yet hitters, so far, have been slow to adjust, partly out of competitive pride.

...The game remains interesting for those who love it, and it probably always will. But baseball is different than it was just a few years ago, and nobody knows quite when, or how, the hitters can reclaim an edge.

Repoz Posted: July 05, 2014 at 11:23 AM | 30 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: fselig, history

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   1. boteman Posted: July 05, 2014 at 12:52 PM (#4743927)
If the average stays at that level through the end of the season, it will be the majors’ lowest mark since 1992.

So near the beginning of the sillyball era?
   2. PASTE Thinks This Trout Kid Might Be OK (Zeth) Posted: July 05, 2014 at 01:04 PM (#4743936)
I wonder if the day approaches that, like football teams (and I think this is already starting to catch on in the NBA) major league baseball teams begin to employ defensive coordinators.
   3. boteman Posted: July 05, 2014 at 01:54 PM (#4743990)
The Nationals have this guy Weidemaier whose title is something like "Defensive Advisor" for all the good it did them earlier in the season when they were making more errors than outs in the field.
   4. cardsfanboy Posted: July 05, 2014 at 01:58 PM (#4743999)
Yet babip really hasn't changed. Is there any real evidence that the shifts are making a league wide impact? (I'm sure on an individual level there might be some, but league wide?)

I guess in theory it could be making a difference, if everyone successfully employs shifts, then that means you can use less athletic defenders who bring a better bat to the table which would give you guys in a normal environment that would have a higher babip, but that seems pretty far fetched of a concept for it to be happening in the first season of wide use of the shifts.

As it stands babip is .297 in the NL this year. .298 in 2009, .296 in 2004, .300 in 1999, .299 in 1996(avoiding strike/lockout years), .281 in 1991....

The article perfectly explains why the average runs scored has declined.
Strikeouts continue to rise; walks and home runs continue to decline


People focusing on shifts, just doesn't seem to make much of a difference league wide. The most shift heavy teams (Houston/NYY/Bal/Tor) aren't performing better on babip.(Of the 6 teams that use the shift the most, I would say only the Brewers are seeing a noticeable positive effect on their babip(Bal/Pit have a slight positive)....obviously not the only metric, but the first and easiest down and dirty way to look at it)

I wonder if the day approaches that, like football teams (and I think this is already starting to catch on in the NBA) major league baseball teams begin to employ defensive coordinators.


I wouldn't be surprised to see teams start adding more coaches/coordinators/stat gurus or whatever, but I'm not sure that with the small number of players playing, that it would be wise to have too many voices talking to the players at once. With the NFL, you have 55(?) and at least 30 of them can be considered to be playing a major role in the game plan for that day, add in you have a weeks prep time and it makes sense to break it down to smaller parts. In baseball you have 25 man roster, of which only 12 generally figure into the current days game plan, and the amount of useful actions that can be done is limited.

If you are meaning guys talking defense with the manager and pitching coach for a game plan, yes I can see that happening, but I don't see a hands on, uniform wearing coach happening anytime soon as a defensive coordinator.
   5. PASTE Thinks This Trout Kid Might Be OK (Zeth) Posted: July 05, 2014 at 02:01 PM (#4744003)
Yet babip really hasn't changed. Is there any real evidence that the shifts are making a league wide impact? (I'm sure on an individual level there might be some, but league wide?)


There is not, that I know of, and I remain skeptical that shifting is having very much leaguewide impact on defensive performance.
   6. bobm Posted: July 05, 2014 at 03:51 PM (#4744075)
babip is stable. BA on contact, including HR, appears down. Hard to say the shift affects HR though, except if batters are changing their approach due to the shift or if teams are pitching inside to complement the shift and that is having an effect unrelated to the placement of fielders.

For single team seasons, From 1990 to 2014, All Teams in Major Leagues, Fair Terr (within Hit Location), sorted by smallest Batting Average for this split

                                                  
Rk       Split Year    G   BA  ERA   GS   HR BAbip
1    Fair Terr 1992 4212 .315 3.97 4209 3038  .293
2    Fair Terr 1991 4208 .316 4.17 4205 3383  .292
3    Fair Terr 2002 4852 .324 4.62 4850 5052  .294
4    Fair Terr 2011 4856 .331 4.57 4853 4545  .303
5    Fair Terr 2014 2584 .333 4.52 2584 2298  .306
6    Fair Terr 2010 4858 .334 4.66 4856 4609  .306
7    Fair Terr 2013 4862 .334 4.61 4860 4660  .306
8    Fair Terr 2003 4860 .335 4.92 4860 5192  .304
9    Fair Terr 2001 4858 .335 4.98 4857 5452  .302
10   Fair Terr 2005 4862 .335 4.80 4861 5004  .305
11   Fair Terr 2012 4698 .336 4.79 4697 4819  .305
12   Fair Terr 2009 4860 .338 4.89 4859 5039  .308
13   Fair Terr 2008 4854 .338 4.88 4851 4873  .309
14   Fair Terr 1993 4537 .338 4.75 4537 4026  .311
15   Fair Terr 2004 4856 .339 5.04 4856 5440  .307
16   Fair Terr 1998 4864 .339 4.96 4860 5062  .309
17   Fair Terr 2000 4858 .339 5.16 4855 5683  .306
18   Fair Terr 2007 4862 .341 5.02 4860 4955  .312
19   Fair Terr 2006 4858 .343 5.07 4856 5373  .311
20   Fair Terr 1997 4501 .344 5.08 4480 4635  .313
21   Fair Terr 1999 4856 .344 5.19 4856 5528  .311
22   Fair Terr 1990 4206 .348 4.72 4200 3207  .323
23   Fair Terr 1994 3200 .348 5.19 3199 3301  .318
24   Fair Terr 1995 4034 .352 5.23 4031 4076  .322
25   Fair Terr 1996 4532 .365 5.65 4530 4954  .333
Rk       Split Year    G   BA  ERA   GS   HR BAbip
   7. Tiboreau Posted: July 05, 2014 at 03:57 PM (#4744082)
major league batting average, .251, is the lowest since 1972, the year before the creation of the designated hitter.

In addition to this, both OBP & BB rate are at their lowest since 1968.

Greater reliance on relief pitching & emphasis on pitcher strikeouts, and greater emphasis on hitting for power vs. for contact also play a role. (The article prob'ly mentions that, but it need to get back to work. . . . )
   8. Ray (RDP) Posted: July 05, 2014 at 04:06 PM (#4744090)
How are the defensive metrics dealing with the shifts? Do they just ignore the plays where the 3B is at SS or behind 2B, or do they still zone it out somehow? And is he really still defined as playing "3B" during a shift?
   9. cardsfanboy Posted: July 05, 2014 at 04:14 PM (#4744094)
How are the defensive metrics dealing with the shifts? Do they just ignore the plays where the 3B is at SS or behind 2B, or do they still zone it out somehow? And is he really still defined as playing "3B" during a shift?


UZR excludes defensive shift plays from the results--acting as if they didn't exist. DRS makes a half way effort, excluding shifts from their individual data, but including it in the team data per this article.


What about shifts? DRS gives fielders credit for positioning, but you can’t blame a second baseman for not making a play when his coach told him to stand ten feet out into right field.

Correct. Both DRS and UZR ignore plays where there was a shift. DRS then circles back around and computes runs above average on shifts separately, on a team-wide basis.


one article talking about this.
   10. Walt Davis Posted: July 05, 2014 at 05:16 PM (#4744172)
I noticed you used a "fair territory" split which I didn't know existed. Does this exclude foul-outs? Has there been any substantial change in foul-outs?

I ask because BA on-contact in 1996 was 332 but your table reports BA for fair territory at 365. That's a massive difference. BA on-contact for 2014 is 325 vs. 333 fair. For a 365 BA fair and 333 on-contact, you'd need about 11,500 foul-outs in 1996 ... and about 1700 so far in 2014 ... a 70% decline in foul-outs?

Or is there a lot of missing data?

SFs? Doesn't matter ... 700 so far this year, 1400 in 1996.

Looks like a glitch in the data or the algorithm.
   11. bobm Posted: July 05, 2014 at 06:01 PM (#4744238)
[10] looks like 1700 so far in 2014. As for missing data in earlier years? 2002 looks awfully weird. See foul split data:

http://bbref.com/pi/shareit/8NaOx
   12. bobm Posted: July 05, 2014 at 06:23 PM (#4744275)
[10] Note the out totals by season:

For single team seasons, From 1990 to 2014, All Teams in Major Leagues, For any choice in Hit Trajectory, sorted by greatest percentage of total in this split

                                                                                                      
Rk           Split Year    G   Out Outtot    %    PA    AB     H   HR CS BB SO  GDP HBP   SH   SF  ROE
1     Ground Balls 2014 2584 25603  69939 36.6 31299 31299  7602    0  0  0  0 1906   0    0    0  783
2        Fly Balls 2014 2584 16844  69939 24.1 19969 19458  3125 1598  0  0  0    0   0    0  511   51
3      Line Drives 2014 2578  5785  69939  8.3 16906 16721 11121  700  0  0  0    0   0    0  185   43
4            Bunts 2014 1096  1190  69939  1.7  1485   790   313    0  0  0  0   18   0  695    0   42

5     Ground Balls 2013 4862 48067 131318 36.6 58359 58358 13989    0  0  0  0 3698   0    0    0 1310
6        Fly Balls 2013 4861 33200 131318 25.3 40391 39421  7191 3680  0  0  0    0   0    0  970   98
7      Line Drives 2013 4846 10096 131318  7.7 30452 30203 20356  981  0  0  0    0   0    0  249   61
8            Bunts 2013 2060  2238 131318  1.7  2732  1349   528    0  0  0  0   34   0 1383    0   80

9     Ground Balls 2012 4860 48159 130642 36.9 58484 58484 13908    0  0  0  0 3583   0    0    0 1473
10       Fly Balls 2012 4860 35415 130642 27.1 45270 44191  9855 4506  0  0  0    0   0    0 1079  130
11     Line Drives 2012 4808  7086 130642  5.4 24769 24625 17683  428  0  0  0    0   0    0  144   40
12           Bunts 2012 2134  2420 130642  1.9  2977  1498   590    0  0  0  0   33   0 1479    0   99

13    Ground Balls 2011 4858 48409 131166 36.9 58856 58856 13943    0  0  0  0 3496   0    0    0 1513
14       Fly Balls 2011 4857 37500 131166 28.6 47612 46464 10112 4134  0  0  0    0   0    0 1148  118
15     Line Drives 2011 4795  6870 131166  5.2 24444 24318 17574  417  0  0  0    0   0    0  126   49
16           Bunts 2011 2294  2638 131166  2.0  3216  1549   608    0  0  0  0   30   0 1667    0  103

17    Ground Balls 2010 4860 48287 130495 37.0 58243 58243 13650    2  0  0  0 3694   0    0    0 1477
18       Fly Balls 2010 4860 37346 130495 28.6 47509 46327 10163 4196  0  0  0    0   0    0 1182  132
19     Line Drives 2010 4819  6972 130495  5.3 25107 24988 18135  415  0  0  0    0   0    0  119   37
20           Bunts 2010 2195  2455 130495  1.9  2991  1448   564    0  0  0  0   28   0 1543    0   88

21    Ground Balls 2009 4860 47994 130256 36.8 57917 57917 13697    0  0  0  0 3774   0    0    0 1414
22       Fly Balls 2009 4860 38080 130256 29.2 48692 47433 10612 4496  0  0  0    0   0    0 1259  133
23     Line Drives 2009 4821  6887 130256  5.3 25511 25404 18624  545  0  0  0    0   0    0  107   43
24           Bunts 2009 2170  2571 130256  2.0  3098  1463   550    0  0  0  0   23   0 1635    0   89

25    Ground Balls 2008 4856 48930 130552 37.5 59039 59038 13957    0  0  0  0 3849   0    0    0 1460
26       Fly Balls 2008 4856 38117 130552 29.2 48689 47443 10572 4243  0  0  0    0   0    0 1246  144
27     Line Drives 2008 4811  7147 130552  5.5 25983 25864 18836  635  0  0  0    0   0    0  119   33
28           Bunts 2008 2141  2439 130552  1.9  2961  1435   557    0  0  0  0   35   0 1526    0   75

29    Ground Balls 2007 4862 49044 130774 37.5 59737 59737 14647    0  0  0  0 3954   0    0    0 1459
30       Fly Balls 2007 4862 38934 130774 29.8 49371 48105 10437 4340  0  0  0    0   0    0 1266  153
31     Line Drives 2007 4830  7154 130774  5.5 26448 26273 19294  611  0  0  0    0   0    0  175   44
32           Bunts 2007 2144  2451 130774  1.9  2969  1429   549    0  0  0  0   31   0 1540    0   90

33    Ground Balls 2006 4858 49468 130371 37.9 59957 59957 14412    0  0  0  0 3923   0    0    0 1503
34       Fly Balls 2006 4857 38661 130371 29.7 49755 48361 11094 4821  0  0  0    0   0    0 1394  136
35     Line Drives 2006 4824  6892 130371  5.3 25903 25901 19011  555  0  0  0    0   0    0    2   50
36           Bunts 2006 2156  2585 130371  2.0  3107  1456   545    0  0  0  0   23   0 1651    0  103

37    Ground Balls 2005 4862 50092 130259 38.5 60322 60320 14110    0  0  0  0 3880   0    0    2 1516
38       Fly Balls 2005 4860 39007 130259 29.9 49644 48337 10637 4505  0  0  0    0   0    0 1307  136
39     Line Drives 2005 4826  6795 130259  5.2 25445 25439 18650  501  0  0  0    0   0    0    6   37
40           Bunts 2005 2272  2652 130259  2.0  3203  1583   582    0  0  0  0   31   0 1620    0   93

41    Ground Balls 2004 4856 49717 130813 38.0 60227 60226 14269    0  0  0  0 3759   0    0    1 1552
42       Fly Balls 2004 4856 38690 130813 29.6 49406 48044 10716 4706  0  0  0    0   0    0 1362  165
43     Line Drives 2004 4815  6708 130813  5.1 25657 25657 18949  743  0  0  0    0   0    0    0   48
44           Bunts 2004 2316  2770 130813  2.1  3325  1594   584    0  0  0  0   29   0 1731    0  102

45    Ground Balls 2003 4860 50261 130624 38.5 61032 61031 14590    2  0  0  0 3820   0    0    0 1558
46       Fly Balls 2003 4859 38840 130624 29.7 48810 47490  9970 4506  0  0  0    0   0    0 1320  141
47     Line Drives 2003 4747  6871 130624  5.3 25735 25719 18864  696  0  0  0    0   0    0   16   37
48           Bunts 2003 2284  2719 130624  2.1  3318  1692   629    0  0  0  0   30   0 1626    0  128

49    Ground Balls 2002 4852 49679 130471 38.1 54914 54914  9043    0  0  0  0 3808   0    0    0 1712
50       Fly Balls 2002 4852 40096 130471 30.7 46470 45071  6374 5058  0  0  0    0   0    0 1399   17
51     Line Drives 2002 4839  5636 130471  4.3 32799 32799 27163    1  0  0  0    0   0    0    0  105
52           Bunts 2002 2152  2384 130471  1.8  2971  1338   626    0  0  0  0   39   0 1633    0   77

53    Ground Balls 2001 4858 49150 130447 37.7 55229 55227  9703    0  0  0  0 3624   0    0    2 1766
54       Fly Balls 2001 4857 39597 130447 30.4 45054 43633  5457 5456  0  0  0    0   0    0 1421    8
55     Line Drives 2001 4845  5742 130447  4.4 33653 33652 27914    2  0  0  0    3   0    0    1  143
56           Bunts 2001 1984  2146 130447  1.6  2687  1080   567    0  0  0  0   26   0 1607    0   97

57    Ground Balls 2000 4858 49778 130402 38.2 55320 55320  9401    0  0  0  0 3859   0    0    0 1860
58       Fly Balls 2000 4858 40065 130402 30.7 45761 44248  5696 5693  0  0  0    0   0    0 1513   21
59     Line Drives 2000 4855  5786 130402  4.4 35403 35402 29617    0  0  0  0    0   0    0    1  149
60           Bunts 2000 1900  2094 130402  1.6  2530   902   470    0  0  0  0   34   0 1628    0   67

61    Ground Balls 1999 4856 49385 130240 37.9 59703 59703 14128    0  0  0  0 3810   0    0    0 1712
62       Fly Balls 1999 4856 38556 130240 29.6 48355 47067  9799 4743  0  0  0    0   0    0 1288  146
63     Line Drives 1999 4819  7177 130240  5.5 28001 27825 20824  785  0  0  0    0   0    0  176   51
64           Bunts 1999 2197  2484 130240  1.9  3027  1423   576    0  0  0  0   33   0 1604    0  127

65    Ground Balls 1998 4864 50036 130944 38.2 60225 60224 13853    1  0  0  0 3665   0    0    0 1721
66       Fly Balls 1998 4863 36844 130944 28.1 45387 44121  8543 3943  0  0  0    0   0    0 1266  152
67     Line Drives 1998 4824  8107 130944  6.2 29630 29494 21523 1106  0  0  0    0   0    0  136   65
68           Bunts 1998 2209  2559 130944  2.0  3074  1369   555    0  0  0  0   40   0 1705    0   52

69    Ground Balls 1997 4532 46469 121938 38.1 56226 56225 13179    1  0  0  0 3423   0    0    0 1552
70       Fly Balls 1997 4529 33038 121938 27.1 39845 38649  6806 3413  0  0  0    0   0    0 1195  141
71     Line Drives 1997 4417  8515 121938  7.0 26840 26652 18325  948  0  0  0    0   0    0  188   63
72           Bunts 1997 2068  2415 121938  2.0  2895  1318   504    0  0  0  0   24   0 1577    0  119

73    Ground Balls 1996 4534 47014 122378 38.4 56964 56964 13531    0  0  0  0 3581   0    0    0 1656
74       Fly Balls 1996 4533 33942 122378 27.7 41240 40044  7298 3688  0  0  0    0   0    0 1196  162
75     Line Drives 1996 4515  8324 122378  6.8 28894 28690 20570  886  0  0  0    0   0    0  204   78
76           Bunts 1996 2110  2447 122378  2.0  2948  1404   530    0  0  0  0   29   0 1544    0   86

77    Ground Balls 1995 4034 42316 108661 38.9 51525 51525 12336    2  0  0  0 3127   0    0    0 1396
78       Fly Balls 1995 4033 29950 108661 27.6 36256 35236  6306 3054  0  0  0    0   0    0 1020  131
79     Line Drives 1995 4006  7378 108661  6.8 24886 24733 17508  734  0  0  0    0   0    0  153   53
80           Bunts 1995 1943  2335 108661  2.1  2847  1358   532    0  0  0  0   20   0 1489    0   77

81    Ground Balls 1994 3200 33486  86198 38.8 41458 41458 10394    0  0  0  0 2422   0    0    0 1191
82       Fly Balls 1994 3200 24381  86198 28.3 29846 28969  5465 2580  0  0  0    0   0    0  877  114
83     Line Drives 1994 3187  5630  86198  6.5 18973 18858 13343  585  0  0  0    0   0    0  115   53
84           Bunts 1994 1600  1903  86198  2.2  2281  1074   400    0  0  0  0   22   0 1207    0   61

85    Ground Balls 1993 4537 47261 122230 38.7 57844 57844 13983    0  0  0  0 3400   0    0    0 1735
86       Fly Balls 1993 4538 35874 122230 29.3 43281 42041  7407 3142  0  0  0    0   0    0 1240  148
87     Line Drives 1993 4513  8274 122230  6.8 27196 27006 18922  724  0  0  0    0   0    0  190   75
88           Bunts 1993 2354  2851 122230  2.3  3441  1630   612    0  0  0  0   22   0 1811    0  122

89    Ground Balls 1992 4212 44118 114025 38.7 52302 52302 11263    2  0  0  0 3079   0    0    0 1390
90       Fly Balls 1992 4212 35360 114025 31.0 41435 40289  6075 2538  0  0  0    0   0    0 1146  134
91     Line Drives 1992 4193  6922 114025  6.1 25433 25285 18511  498  0  0  0    0   0    0  148   58
92           Bunts 1992 2142  2486 114025  2.2  3146  1481   695    0  0  0  0   35   0 1665    0   76

93    Ground Balls 1991 4208 44373 113878 39.0 52651 52648 11284    2  0  0  0 3007   0    0    2 1510
94       Fly Balls 1991 4208 34569 113878 30.4 40957 39863  6388 2740  0  0  0    0   0    0 1094  127
95     Line Drives 1991 4185  6509 113878  5.7 24729 24576 18220  641  0  0  0    0   0    0  153   57
96           Bunts 1991 2118  2470 113878  2.2  3115  1490   666    0  0  0  0   21   0 1625    0   84

97    Ground Balls 1990 4210 43681 113361 38.5 52561 52561 11935    1  0  0  0 3055   0    0    0 1579
98       Fly Balls 1990 4210 34787 113361 30.7 41052 39916  6265 2407  0  0  0    0   0    0 1136  139
99     Line Drives 1990 4178  7054 113361  6.2 24774 24649 17720  550  0  0  0    0   0    0  125   62
100          Bunts 1990 2045  2476 113361  2.2  2989  1430   538    0  0  0  0   25   0 1559    0  120
   13. FrankM Posted: July 05, 2014 at 08:19 PM (#4744435)
I hope bobm never leaves this site, or decides he can't be bothered looking stuff up any more.
   14. Walt Davis Posted: July 05, 2014 at 08:47 PM (#4744444)
As I've noted before, there seems to have been a change in the measurement of LD vs. FB, resulting in "worse" performance on both. Note that in 2011-12, you get about 45,000/25,000 FB/LD and in 2013 and so far this year it's more like 40/30 -- similar totals, different split. Note also the absolutely massive jump in HRs on LDs -- from 428 in 2012 to 981 in 2013 and on pace for 1400(!) this year. Those are surely much too dramatic to be real changes, they have to be mostly due to different coding/coders, whether intentional or not.

You even see it in the SF data where we've gone from 120-140 to 250 and now 300+ on LDs. I'd want to know more but my best guess is we need to lump FBs and LDs together if we want any sort of consistent measurement across this time period.

And yes, thanks to bobm for producing all this data in every thread.

   15. Walt Davis Posted: July 05, 2014 at 09:07 PM (#4744452)
I'm curious how somebody can reach on an error on a play in foul territory. :-) Not to mention all of the hits. :-) These errors don't occur after 99 and from 93-99 are trivial enough not to matter. Clearly in 91-92, when batters recorded 600 hits and 500 doubles in foul territory, they must have included fielding fair balls down the line in foul territory.

As expected, we have not seen any massive change in foul outs. So the mystery remains why there's such a big difference between BA on-contact and BA fair-contact in 1996 (and some other years).

Now, for on-contact I use AB-K which is a bit lazy as it ignores SH and SF. In 1996, "fair" reports 115,352 AB and "foul" reports 3,232 AB so a total of 118,584 AB on-contact. ML totals report a AB-K of 127,493 and we've lost 9,000 AB. Am I missing an AB outcome?

This shows up in the main table too where we get roughly 122,500 BIP resulting in ABs plus about 5000 HR. Between balls in play and balls not in play, 42320 hits (including HR) were recorded. On fair balls, 42,115 were recorded (plus the mysterious 4 on foul balls), leaving batters at 201 for about 9000 on the un-recorded fair/foul.
   16. JE (Jason) Posted: July 05, 2014 at 10:00 PM (#4744471)
Regarding the use of shifts and BABIP, has everyone seen this article?
2. Hitting back
Hall of Famer Wee Willie Keeler said the key to success was to "hit 'em where they ain't." That's sound advice for today's lefty pull hitters, who face plenty of shifts. Take Rockies slugger Carlos Gonzalez. Through June 2, ?70 percent of his 50 hits were either up the middle or to the opposite field, up from 55 percent last season. Gonzalez was hitting .333 on grounders and short liners against the shift, fourth among batters with at least 50 such plate appearances. Others performing well against a loaded right-side defense include the Pirates' Ike Davis (.619 BA on grounders/short liners against the shift), the Cardinals' Matt Adams (.390) and the Mets' Curtis Granderson (.381). ...

4. Shifting sands
Shift runs saved (SRS), a Baseball Info Solutions metric, estimates the number of runs a team has saved-or lost-with a shift. As this chart shows, some of the teams shifting often this year appear to be benefiting the least. Teams often keep their own proprietary shifting data and might take issue with SRS. But if it is to be trusted, the Yankees, using the shift to compensate for their aging infield, might be better off doing nothing at all. This is in part why the Tigers' Brad Ausmus, a sabermetric-savvy skipper, says the use of shifts has gone overboard. If more and more hitters learn to exploit it, as Adams has, teams might shift back the other way.
   17. Astroenteritis Posted: July 05, 2014 at 10:38 PM (#4744489)
The game remains interesting for those who love it


More interesting, for many of us.
   18. PASTE Thinks This Trout Kid Might Be OK (Zeth) Posted: July 05, 2014 at 10:57 PM (#4744495)
JE (#16): The takeaway, as I read it, is flatly that shifts don't work.

I've always personally been skeptical of shifts for the simple fact that you only get to put nine guys on the field regardless of where you put them, and major league hitters are generally plenty good at hitting the ball into the wide open holes on the field if you leave wide open holes on the field--often enough, at least, to make the entire exercise a wash.

Smarter and better informed people than myself believe shifts work... but until I see hard evidence of it, I don't believe it.
   19. JE (Jason) Posted: July 05, 2014 at 11:10 PM (#4744502)
I've always personally been skeptical of shifts for the simple fact that you only get to put nine guys on the field regardless of where you put them, and major league hitters are generally plenty good at hitting the ball into the wide open holes on the field if you leave wide open holes on the field--often enough, at least, to make the entire exercise a wash.

Particularly if one of those nine is named Derek Jeter? :)

I'd like to see more than two seasons of data before making any final judgments.
   20. Dog on the sidewalk Posted: July 05, 2014 at 11:26 PM (#4744513)
The takeaway, as I read it, is flatly that shifts don't work.

I don't know why that would be the takeaway, rather than that shifts don't work against all players. Some players, like Teixeira, seem unable to adjust. I'm sure teams will get better at knowing how and when to deploy shifts as more research is done and more data acquired.
   21. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: July 05, 2014 at 11:29 PM (#4744515)
Some players, like Teixeira, seem unable to adjust

you misspelled "Ortiz"
   22. Walt Davis Posted: July 06, 2014 at 12:00 AM (#4744526)
Ortiz on GB

career 200/200/211 -- pretty much dead-on league average I believe
2002 210
2003 177
2004 218
2005 223
2006 198
2007 278 (!!)
2008 198
2009 152
2010 219
2011 207
2012 200
2013 230
2014 152

Nothing obviously shift-related there. 2014 is bad but only as bad as 2009 and a bit worse than 2003. Among the reasons it doesn't really matter is that Ortiz only hits about 150 GB a year. Taking away 6-7 singles from Ortiz would obviously be the smart thing to do if it costs you nothing but it's not gonna make a big difference. Of course Ortiz has been shifted on, at least with bases empty, his entire career.

Tex that might be a case (very good 2006-8) except it won't be clear whether it's shift-related or just that he's declined.

career 210/210/232
2003 201
2004 152
2005 222
2006 244
2007 240
2008 271
2009 190
2010 191
2011 215
2012 204
2013 hurt
2014 106 (yikes)

As soon as he got to the Yanks, he started hitting fewer GB. But compare this to his production on FB:

career 285/852
2003 259/815
2004 331/1054
2005 327/937
2006 257/762
2007 358/1061
2008 287/815
2009 304/916
2010 263/775
2011 250/750
2012 245/699
2014 258/871

Roughly, he used to hit about 300/900 on FB and has hit about 260/780 from 2010. The simplest explanation for declined production in GB and FB is broad decline.

   23. Walt Davis Posted: July 06, 2014 at 12:20 AM (#4744529)
Possibly this year we're starting to see some effect in the overall numbers.

OPS, Pulled LHB for MLB
2014 981
2013 1057
2012 1040
2011 1063
2010 1119
etc.

However, the drop is in both BA and ISO although more in BA (about 2/1). In previous years, this drop was partly counter-acted by increases up the middle and away but those are both at low-ish levels this year too. How much is shifts, tough pitchers, ridiculous relievers, etc. I don't know.

However, pulled balls produce more and, if anything, what we've seen is not batters going the other way more but rather an increase in the proportion of pulled balls, at least for LHB. Back in the early 2000s, you'd see an opp/mid/pull mix of about 12/30/16 (in thousands) and now it's about 10/31/16 -- remember, less contact these days. That's not huge (27.5% to 28.5%) and opposite way has been consistently in the 9000-10,000 per year range since 2004, before the shifting craziness.

Still, although it's pretty terrible this year, 347/635 for pulled LHB is a lot better than 322/447 on opp LHB. Sure, opp LHB BA would be higher against a shift but it takes a lot of GB singles to make up for 200 points of ISO.
   24. Dog on the sidewalk Posted: July 06, 2014 at 12:50 AM (#4744534)
Walt, are line drives included as FB, or are they excluded from the numbers? If it's the former, shifting could have a significant impact on fly balls as well as ground balls.

   25. shoewizard Posted: July 06, 2014 at 03:31 AM (#4744568)
Careful with the line drive data. HUGE shift in how they are defined in the bb-ref data the last couple of seasons.
   26. BDC Posted: July 06, 2014 at 09:06 AM (#4744594)
I've always had the opinion re: shifts that they work better with some pitchers than others; I don't know if that's been studied. I've come to accept that even major-league control is an approximate thing. But still, as a broad general rule, ML pitchers can hit different parts of the plate or its surroundings with greater or less accuracy, and some can adjust their placement better than others. Shifts favor the pitchers who can consistently get the ball low and inside, and have good stuff in that vicinity to begin with. At least that seems logical; I may just be fabulating.
   27. Greg K Posted: July 06, 2014 at 10:16 AM (#4744616)
Hall of Famer Wee Willie Keeler said the key to success was to "hit 'em where they ain't." That's sound advice for today's lefty pull hitters, who face plenty of shifts. Take Rockies slugger Carlos Gonzalez. Through June 2, ?70 percent of his 50 hits were either up the middle or to the opposite field, up from 55 percent last season. Gonzalez was hitting .333 on grounders and short liners against the shift, fourth among batters with at least 50 such plate appearances.

I recall a month or so ago seeing a spray chart of Bautista's singles. He had more to right field than anywhere else. He's popped singles the other way often enough that teams have shifted on him early in the game, only to give up on it later. Which is very noticeable with Bautista as up until this year he's been a 100% pull hitter.
   28. Ziggy Posted: July 06, 2014 at 11:43 AM (#4744658)
"Smarter and better informed people than myself believe shifts work... but until I see hard evidence of it, I don't believe it."

Isn't the fact that smarter and better informed people believe it hard evidence? Or at least meta-evidence? Sure sounds like good evidence.

In fact, I have trouble seeing how you could fail to believe it, if someone whom you take to be smarter and better informed than you believes it. (And you don't doubt their sincerity.)
   29. Walt Davis Posted: July 06, 2014 at 06:40 PM (#4744804)
#24 ... sorry, thought I'd answered that. In the Tex splits, FB does not include LD.

#25 ... covered in #14.

#28 ... smart, informed people still need to provide evidence, their beliefs and claims aren't inherently convincing.

Shifting is essentially a classic "policy" example. We have a problem (BABIP), we know where the problem concentrates (hit charts), we don't necessarily understand why/how the problem occurs or why it concentrates where it does, we put our resources where the problem is assuming that will help (which it usually does but not necessarily much), we don't necessarily understand the consequences of shifting our resources, the world adapts to the policy so the system the policy was designed for is not quite the same system the policy is applied in.

Sometimes you get it all right anyway, sometimes you get it a little right, sometimes it makes no difference at all, sometimes it solves the problem where you put the resources only to have the problem increase elsewhere, sometimes it may even be counter-productive.

Lots of people smarter and better-informed than we are have been developing policy and programs to address obesity and yet the problem has been getting worse for 40 years. And of course that doesn't necessarily mean the policies and programs have failed, it's possible they have slowed the increase from what it would have been without the policies.

Baseball is much simpler than social policy of course. It makes perfect sense to place IF where balls are more likely to be hit. But three issues to start with. Production on GB was already trivial to begin with ... about 235/255 ... so how much can it help. If it works, maybe it results in batters hitting a bit more up the middle or going the other way and the effect is lost. Or to make it work, maybe pitchers have to throw more inside, resulting in more pulled balls including more pulled fly balls ... as we've seen, production on pulled balls is on average much higher than others.

Batters hit 235 on GB, they hit about 120 on FB in play, they hit about 700 on LDs in play (bearing in mind the changes in FB/LD measurement discussed earlier). BABIP is all about the LDs but nobody knows how to stop those.
   30. PASTE Thinks This Trout Kid Might Be OK (Zeth) Posted: July 06, 2014 at 07:14 PM (#4744815)
In fact, I have trouble seeing how you could fail to believe it, if someone whom you take to be smarter and better informed than you believes it. (And you don't doubt their sincerity.)


People smarter, better educated and better informed on matters of both science and theology than myself are Christians, Muslims and Hindus. Even smart and well-read people sometimes choose to believe things.

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