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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Matt Adams is Beating the Shift

Mike Petriello had a nice article yesterday describing what the Reds observed first-hand when they faced the Cardinals: Matt Adams has been beating the shift.  He's mostly doing this by taking the ball to left field, especially on outside pitches:
But just about no one really bunts against the shift, especially not power hitters like Adams. (So far as I can tell, he has never successfully done so in the regular season, though he has tried in spring training.) Instead, he’s just taken advantage of it in a simpler way. In all of 2013, he had 17 hits to the left side of the field. In 2014, in less than 10 percent of the season, he already has 11.
Interestingly, it seems to be because he's offering more at pitches on the outer half of the plate:
All these minor differences begin to add up. Adams is seeing a higher percentage of pitches on the outside of the plate, he’s swinging at more of them, and he’s making contact with more of those — and overall, he’s got a .425 BABIP across all pitches. So maybe this is small sample size noise, but considering how close he is to matching his 2013 opposite field hit total, maybe there’s some amount of signal to it. Adams probably can’t exert a huge amount of control over where the ball goes — this isn’t billiards — but he can exercise some choice on which balls he chooses to swing at. Understandably, more outside pitches lead to more balls the other way. (And raises questions about whether teams choosing to shift should be more in tune with their pitchers about where their pitches go.)
I tried to visualize this by going to Mike's preferred site, Baseball Savant, and looking at spray charts.  Below, I'm reporting all ground balls and line drives by Adams in 2013 (left) and 2014 (left).  Green squares are singles, purple squares a ground-outs, blue-green triangles are doubles, green triangles are line-outs.
...I dunno.  I think this is a case where I'd rather just have the total event numbers than try to extract it from this.  But if you compare what's happening in left field, I'd say that Adams has roughly half as many left field events as he did in 2013.  And far less than half of the events to right field.  I'm going to have to look around and see if I can find a better source for this info that will compile the numbers better.

In any case, I think the notion is interesting here.  I love that the Reds are going to invoke the shift on batters this year.  But if you're going to do it, you have to be aware of how you're planning to pitch the batter.  If the pitching approach is to pound a hitter outside, then it might not make sense not to do a dramatic shift.  Not a revolutionary idea, but one worth keeping in mind.

.....

Update: I'd forgotten this, but FanGraphs actually provides a Pull/Center/Opposite split.  Here are Matt Adams' career splits:
Direction
AB
H
%BIP
wOBA
To Left
78
32
24%
0.418
To Center
118
39
36%
0.353
To Right
131
55
40%
0.547
And Adams' 2014 performance:
Direction
AB
H
%BIP
wOBA
To Left
19
12
39%
0.643
To Center
9
1
18%
0.099
To Right
21
8
43%
0.434

So, we're seeing Adams hitting many more balls to left field.   But it's worth keeping in mind the sample size here; we're dealing with a total of 50 PA's, here.  The difference between this year's pattern and his career pattern is about 10 balls hit to right field.  That's not irrelevant, but we might not want to declare him to be a radically new hitter based on 10 balls hit to right field.

Also, just for comparison, here's Jay Bruce's career numbers:
Direction AB H %BIP wOBA
To Left
520
157
23%
0.345
To Center
720
235
32%
0.370
To Right
1012
395
45%
0.508
Bruce looks to be even more of a severe pull hitter than Adams--though Adams was at about these numbers prior to the season.  It's no wonder that pretty much every team plays him to shift.