I hope the Sox don't yank us around tomorrow like they did for last year’s opener.
The forecast is pretty similar to the one we had last year: It's going to be cold, between 30 and 40 degrees, and there's an excellent chance for some precipitation. As of right now, it is calling for increasing chances of moisture from noon on, peaking at 4 p.m. around 65%, with a temp right around 38 for the game. And that’s without the wind chill, which will make it worse.
Last season they let us all in, sold us beers for a couple hours, even went so far as to take the tarp off the field for the Ford Mustang parade around the warning track, let Scotty Pods throw out the first pitch, then covered the field back up and told us all to go home.
I'm going, no matter what. I'll pregame, hang out with my Sox people, some I know from the park exclusively, do a little day drinking, and hopefully see the Chicago White Sox offense come to life and light up Jordan Zimmermann and the Detroit Tigers. However, if the White Sox decide there won't be baseball, let us know a little quicker, please. The Mustangs can stay parked one more day. Don't jerk around 30,000 for that tired gimmick again, that wasn't cool. Mother Nature already conspired against us in Kansas City, robbing us of Lucas Giolito and giving the home opener to James Shields. Hopefully She diverts the rain and lets the sun poke out a bit on this most glorious of days.
Last week, I talked a bit about the shift and how MLB teams were infatuated with it. I assumed it was working, based solely on the fact that teams were using it more than 10 times than they had been previously, jumping from 2,350 shifts in 2011 to 28,130 shifts just five years later. Exponential growth must mean it’s working, but I wanted to take a deeper dive into the numbers.
Over at FanGraphs, they have all kinds of stats you can play with on a splits leaderboard. I took a look at last season’s numbers they had, and plugged in all the left-handed hitters and slapped them onto a spreadsheet when teams lined up normally, setting a baseline of greater than or equal to 70 plate appearances. Then I did it again, with 100 ABs, same LHH, and this time put in the parameter of hitting vs. the shift for the 2017 season. I actually started with 100 each but changed the no-shift to 70, because notable left-handed bats like Freddie Freeman and Anthony Rizzo were both in the 70's and I wanted to see their comps, too.
Next, I eliminated all the guys that were switch hitters, and all the true left-handed hitters that either didn't see enough shifts, or in some cases saw the shift exclusively. Because of my 70 ABs minimum (FanGraphs’ default is 80), several guys only showed up in only one set of players. They were all thrown out.
So guys like Jay Bruce and Brandon Belt didn't meet the 70 PA without a shift at all, while others never saw the shift enough. What we have left are pairs of stat lines for each remaining hitter, first showing what they did vs. the shift, and secondly what they did when it wasn't on.
Here is a link to that google doc if you would like to check it out. It's crude, I'm not an actuary, but the data is there for us to consider.
In the thread last week, the discussion seemed to think the proof would be in BABIP, so I used the advanced stats for access to that, and from this we see that you should never shift on Andrew Benintendi. That guy actually gets better against it. Probably because he's a complete hitter and can go the other way. Charlie Blackmon falls into this category as well, hitting with a .412 batting average on balls in play. Speedster Billy Hamilton also gets better against the shift, likely because he can beat out any dribbler towards third base with the guy usually on the hot corner playing closer to short. It seems like the shift doesn't help against guys that can really handle the bat and can run a little bit.
So who does the shift work on? Joey Votto seems to be susceptible to it. He still managed to be the best-hitting lefty in the game despite a BABIP of .274 against 190 shifts, and a BABIP of .355 the 255 times teams played him straight up. Arizona's power-hitting third baseman Jake Lamb saw the biggest disparity in 2017. His BABIP was a meager .246 against the defensive shift, a robust .370 when it wasn't on. The Chicago Cubs‘ expensive outfielder Jason Heyward hits right into the shift: His slugging percentage is only .297 when facing it, .381 when it isn't on. Other than Votto, other big-name LHH bats who don't seem to notice the shift are Corey Seager and Bryce Harper, who put up excellent numbers regardless. Rizzo saw the shift 300 times more than he didn't in 2017, 77 to 377. Insane, considering he actually hit better against it across the board.
It's only one year of data, and perhaps later in the year I'll revisit this and dig a little deeper, back a few more years when this nonsense began. But at a quick glance, the exponential growth of the defensive shift is a head-scratcher. It doesn't seem effective enough to warrant its excessive use. The Twins put the shift on a rookie catcher while up by seven runs in the ninth inning the other day. He laid down a bunt single, and they got all pissed off. How is bunting against the unwritten rules, but the shift isn't? That should be the common counter move!
I'll see some of you guys at the G spot tomorrow. Go Sox.