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Clayton Kershaw is right about shifts ... and definitely wrong about shifts

So Clayton Kershaw says he isn't a fan of infield shifts, telling Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register:

"I think just mentally for me I can live with a hard-hit ball getting through a hole as opposed to a soft, cheap ground ball that goes through because no one is playing there because of a shift. Mentally, it's just easier for me to swallow. You start making excuses in your head like, 'Ah, I made my pitch.' You just don't want to have that in the back of your mind. At least I don't."

OK, that's fine. I can't counterargue that considering the last pitch I threw in a baseball game was fifth grade and that was only after the coach removed the starter after he walked like 14 guys in a row and needed somebody who could throw the ball over the plate.

But Kershaw seems to be missing the bigger consequences of why shifts exist: Fewer of those hard-hit balls get through for hits. Or maybe he does realize that but simply believes those extra hits don't outweigh the negative mental influences of giving up a cheap hit. "I think it's a little more complex than that," he said, referring to spray charts. "How does he hit me? And how am I going to pitch him? All that stuff. If they do all that and they show me all that, I can't argue with that."

Here, however, are Kershaw's hit charts on groundballs over the past three seasons:

Against left-handed batters, the picture is pretty clear: Kershaw has allowed five groundball hits to left field in three seasons. Why would you play straight up when left-handed batters rarely hit a grounder the other way? Teams still shift left-handed batters much more than right-handed batters (of the 20 hitters most shifted on in 2015, 18 were lefties or switch-hitters) but since Kershaw doesn't face that many lefties to begin with and struck out 38 percent of the lefties he did face, whether the Dodgers shift on lefties with Kershaw pitching is a relative non-factor.

So the bigger issue is what happens against right-handed batters. You see a larger cluster of hits on groundballs to left field and center field. His location on grounders since 2013: Left (58 percent), center (28 percent), right (14 percent). So if 86 percent of your groundballs to right-handed batters are going to the middle or left side, it certainly makes sense to shift. With more shifting, more of those grounders would presumably turn into outs.

But how many hits are we talking about? Maybe not that many. Here are Kershaw's batting averages allowed on grounders versus right-handed batters the past three seasons:

2013: .180

2014: .205

2015: .199

The Dodgers had 316 shifts on balls in play in 2015, which ranked 10th in the NL, although well behind the Rockies (1,011 shifts) or Pirates (971 shifts), let alone the Astros and Rays, who both shifted over 1,400 times. I don't have the numbers on how often the Dodgers shifted with Kershaw against right-handed batters, but it was certainly very few.

Kershaw allowed 42 hits on groundballs to right-handers in 2015. (Shifts can also affect short liners, although I don't have data for those.) According to John Dewan's essay in "The Bill James Handbook," the overall MLB average on grounders and short liners in 2015 was .263 with no shift versus .230 with a shift. Doing some very basic calculations, if Kershaw's batting average allowed on grounders dropped 30 points with more shifts behind him, we'd be looking at 37 hits allowed instead of 42.

So Kershaw is wrong. Shifting would help him.

But is saving five hits worth losing peace of mind? Probably not. So maybe in his case, Kershaw is right.