Once the 2022 MLB season starts, it appears one of the most noticeable changes will be a ban on the shift. What is yet to be seen is the impact that the shift will have on offense, and specifically the Brewers.
The shift appears to gone for the 2022 season. With that change in place, it makes sense to look at who might benefit without the shift for the Brewers.
Left handed batters are the demographic most impacted by the shift, specifically left-handed power hitters, which Christian Yelich is. Yelich has consistently performed better with no shift throughout his career, even as his struggles of the past two seasons have coincided with the alternative positionings being utilized against him, as he saw a shift in 52.6% of plate appearances in 2021.
Now will that mean Christian Yelich will revert to his 2018 self, where teams shifted against him in less than 2% of his plate appearances? Not guaranteed.
It wasn’t until Yelich started to see significant shifts that he started to perform better with no shift than with a shift; recording a .470 wOBA against the shift in 2019 with a 32.4% shift percentage, and a .428 without the shift.
In the 2020 and 2021 seasons, Yelich saw a shift% above 50%, and he recorded a wOBA of .315 against the shift in 2020, and a wOBA of .376 without the shift. In 2021, his wOBA against the shift was .304, and against more traditional defenses, his wOBA was .347.
Another added wrinkle that may help Christian Yelich is he sees fewer breaking balls when teams do not implement the shift. Of all the balls he put in play when facing a ‘standard’ defensive alignment last season, 16% were breaking balls. When hitting against the shift, 24% were.
Yelich recorded a wOBA of .340 against fastballs, .480 against breaking balls, and a measly .248 against breaking balls. Teams may revamp their strategy to face Yelich as they adjust to the new rules, but if last season’s data tells us anything Christian Yelich may benefit from not facing the shift.
Another left-handed power hitter on the Brewers is Rowdy Tellez. While first base is still not set in stone, it does appear Tellez will factor into the position on Opening Day. Tellez faced a shift in 69% of all his plate appearances last season, and when he faced the shift he had a wOBA of .291, and in his 31% of plate appearances when he did not face the shift he had a wOBA of .332.
Unlike Yelich however, Tellez does not have a defined trend, as he flipped back and forth performing better with or without the shift.
For Tellez, 25% of the balls he put into play when facing a shift were breaking balls, whereas only about 18% of balls put into play without the shift were breaking balls, albeit with a smaller sample.
In 2021, Tellez had a .308 wOBA against fastballs, .342 against off-speed pitches, and .277 against breaking balls, presumably as is the case with Yelich, Tellez may benefit as well from infielders having to stay on their side of the dirt.
The Brewers catcher performed better when the defenses were aligned in their traditional spots as opposed to in the shift. In a near even split, (51.1% of PA shifted, 48.9% non-shifted), Narvaez recorded a .313 wOBA against the shift, and a .332 without the shift.
When facing a shift, Narvaez saw a breaking ball 35% of the time, and 22% when he wasn’t. As is the case with Tellez and Yelich, Naravez struggled against breaking balls relative to the other pitch groups.
When facing breaking balls, Naravez had a wOBA of .211, compared to .264 against fastballs, and .367 against off-speed pitches. While Narvaez saw a shift less often than Yelich or Tellez, he too appears primed to benefit, now that teams are limited in their defensive positioning, as he may not face as many breaking balls.
The shift was a part of baseball that dramatically increased in the past decade, and without it, teams will have to adapt. Offense may increase, and for the Brewers, they can only hope the lack of shift will increase the offensive production for the Brewers left-handed sluggers.