Those Ortiz shifts? They do hurt

February, 19, 2014
Feb 19
10:16
AM ET
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The 10th edition of the Hardball Times Annual is out, with an eclectic mix of baseball coverage unlike anywhere else. Admittedly, I’m way over my skis on some of the deeper statistical analysis that is included, although it is indicative of the extraordinary impact advanced metrics has made on the industry.

But one story that immediately grabbed my attention was Jeff Zimmerman’s piece on defensive shifts, entitled “Shifty Business, or the War Against Hitters." Employing data he collected from InsideEdge, Zimmerman reports that Red Sox DH David Ortiz hit against shifts more than any player in baseball in 2013, and it had a measurable effect on his performance.

Ortiz batted 266 balls into the shift (home runs, of course, were not counted). When there was no shift, his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) was .330; against the shift, it was .312, a drop of 18 percentage points. When there was no shift, Ortiz’s percentage of doubles and triples was 14.7 percent; against the shift, it was 8.7 percent, a decline of 6 percent.

No American League hitter was impacted more by shifts than Orioles slugger Chris Davis. With no shift, Davis had a .425 BABIP and a 17 percent extra-base hit rate (not including homers). Against the shift, his BABIP was .302 (123 percentage points less) and his extra-base hit percentage dropped to 10.1 percent.

Zimmerman also cited research by Bill James and Baseball Info Solutions that showed Ortiz pulled ground balls 82 percent of the time and line drives 60 percent of the time -- “pull” defined in these instances as any ball hit to the right of second base.

No team employed more defensive shifts last season than Buck Showalter’s Orioles, who employed 470 shifts, four more than Joe Maddon’s Rays. The Sox were sixth, with 364 shifts, although John Farrell didn’t have to strategize against Ortiz.

Concludes Zimmerman: “It seems that this is a trend that will only continue. Shifts will be used not only more often, but more creatively. As teams uncover the relationships between hitting tendencies, pitcher strengths and fielding reactions, their strategies will become more complex and, well, interesting. Hitters... will have to adjust.

“Watch the game within the game. It will never end."

Good stuff. You can follow @Hardball_Times.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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