Like it or not, the shift has become part of the game of baseball, after seeing a meteoric rise in implementation over the past five seasons. The Brewers have been at the forefront of that defensively, but how has this impacted their hitters?
The change in defensive positioning for hitters has become a focal point of discussion. Here are how Brewers have been impacted by the shift.
30.9% of all plate appearances involved a shift of some part last season, up from 25.6% in 2019. It does primarily affect left-handed batters, who as a whole saw a shift in 52.5% of at bats.
Which Brewers players performed better with a shift?
Of the 15 batters who saw a minimum of 100 plate appearances with Milwaukee this season, seven had better wOBAs (weighted On-Base Average) when facing a shift. Those seven: Eduardo Escobar from the left side of the plate, Daniel Vogelbach, Jace Peterson, Avisail Garcia, Manny Pina, Lorenzo Cain, and Kolten Wong.
Only three are currently on the Brewers roster, and Wong did not see much of the shift, only seeing it in 19.8% of his plate appearances. In his time seeing the shift, he had a wOBA of 0.348 as opposed to a wOBA of .334 when there was not a shift.
The most common shift the Wong saw was bringing an additional infielder over to the right-side of the infield, often deep, and on the edge of the outfield grass.
Peterson on the other hand did see the shift fairly regularly, not up to league average for left-handed batters however, seeing it in 42.4% of his plate appearances. When Peterson saw the shift, he did primarily see it in a way that the third base line was unprotected. His wOBA difference of .351 against the shift, as opposed to .294 without the shift, was the largest on the team.
Lorenzo Cain only saw 5 shifts in the entirety of 2021, with a wOBA of .666 against the shift, and .313 without.
Which Brewers players performed better without the shift?
Perhaps not surprising, but most of the batters on the Brewers in 2021 performed better when the shift was not implemented. Of the players returning to the Brewers for the 2022 season, Omar Narvaez and Christian Yelich are the only two who saw a shift in the majority of their plate appearances.
Previously, Yelich did mention that the goal of the shift was to eliminate power, and teams would see hitting a dribbler down the line as preferable to hitting a liner up the middle.
The increase in the shift on Christian Yelich is quite noticeable, and perhaps his struggles have been accentuated by the meteoric rise he has seen in the shift.
When facing the shift, Yelich would typically see three infielders on the right side of the bag, and the third base line was completely exposed.
Omar Narvaez also saw the shift in a near even split, seeing it 51.1% of the time. During his time with the shift, he had a wOBA of .332 without the shift, and .313 with the shift.
The most dramatic difference between the shift and no shift comes from Luis Urias, he had a wOBA of .226 against the shift, but a wOBA of .342 without the shift. He only saw 10 shifts, making up less than 2% of all plate appearances he saw. Tyrone Taylor had a wOBA 97 points higher without the shift (.372) than against the shift (.275).
It is unclear the future of the shift, previously Rob Manfred suggested the shift could be banned. Negotiations are currently ongoing for the next CBA, and a ban could very well be included, but at this point the shift is a part of the game.