I’m a big fan of Doug Glanville. He’s a bright guy, was a solid big league outfielder, and uses his brains and experience to explain both simple and complex baseball situations in an easy-to-read style.
His May 17th article, “Beating the Shift,” Glanville points out the adjustment David Ortiz has made to the infamous pull shift.
The answer is pretty simple (hit it where they ain’t!), but up until now, power (pull) hitters have been very reluctant to give in; choosing to hit into the shift, instead of taking advantage of the gigantic hole the shift creates.
Ask a big bat why he refuses to hit the ball away from the shift, and he’ll spit out something along the lines of “that’s not my game.” According to them, they are paid (key word) the big bucks to hit bombs. Slapping the ball the other way will only turn them into a singles hitter, which (aside from hitting into the shift and essentially getting themselves out) is exactly what the defense hopes they do.
That may be true… to a certain extent. But ALL great hitters (not named Carl Yastrzemski) know that you cannot produce consistently without using the whole field.
Ortiz is the perfect example of a player who gets it. As the article points out, Mark Teixeira, is a hitter who hasn’t figured it out yet.
Before Yankee fans point out the advantage David Ortiz has (the Green Monster) versus the short porch/jet stream Teixeira has creeping into the corner of his right eye, let me beat you to the punch: You’re right… to an extent.
Left-handed hitters of Red Sox past like Ted Williams and Mo Vaughn have admitted using the Green Monster in two-strike counts, collecting “cheap” hits, and as a way to bust out of a slump. Knowing you can get beat or not having to completely square the baseball up in order to make something happen, is a pretty comforting thought when you’re standing in the batter’s box. Having a short porch (like the one in New York) on the pull side of the field – while tempting – can easily turn a .300 hitter that drives pitches to all fields into a .250 hitter (or worse) with a penchant for rolling over on pitches away and for swinging and missing. Ask Jason Giambi – Yankee years.
But at the same time, hitters can’t simply go up to home plate with the same game plan (pull or spray) every time they step in the box. Doing so is the reason for the invention of defensive shifts in the first place, as well as an easy-to-execute plan of attack pitchers create for what are ultimately one-dimensional hitters. As Glanville points out, Ortiz “seems to recognize how to adjust his approach when the shift is on versus when it is off.”
Glanville also points out that while Ortiz’s power numbers – as well as overall batting average – has increased since hitting away from the shift, Teixeira (hitting left-handed) has not found the holes he used to when he’s hit the ball on the ground. (Who woulda thunk that using the whole field could be so great for hitters?!)
What Ortiz is doing however is not new to baseball, and is not foreign to today’s great hitters like Josh Hamilton, Joey Votto, and Prince Fielder. They all have pop, and they all make it very hard to defend and pitch against because they hit the ball hard everywhere. Sure, they make it look easier than it really is, but they are showing that it can be done.
I’m only talking about left-handed hitters today. There are some right-handed hitters that face a shift, but for the life of me, unless you’re name is Jose Bautista, or a hitter too old and weak to drive the ball to the opposite field, dead-pull right-handed hitters are as one-dimensional as it gets, and don’t stick around for too long.
Glanville’s article is a good quick read with solid points. But if I may add a few more:
- If the pitcher is doing his job and pitching you into the defensive shift, use the batter’s box.
- Back off the plate if you’re getting hammered on the inside half of the plate, allowing you to inside out the ball (ala Miguel Cabrera and probably more famously Derek Jeter).
- Crowd the plate if the pitcher is trying to “paint” on the outer half of the dish. Dare him to bust you inside!
- Pay attention to both infield AND outfield shifts and plan your AB accordingly. Big League shifts are not all-or-nothing where the entire defense shifts in one direction. Amateur shifts are not that advanced. Just look at what happens when a left-handed hitter steps up to the plate and someone automatically yells “Lefty!”
- Pick out a pitch and/or location and continue to look for it until you have two strikes. Even the best pitchers on the planet miss their location once in a while. Lesser pitchers miss a lot more than once than a while.
- Remember that most shifts happen when nobody is on base. Unless the game calls for a solo shot, scoring multiple runs is the way to go. Don’t be selfish and try and go Big Fly with nobody on base. Get on base and start the rally.