This past week Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that he would ban infield shifts if he were the commish. When I first heard his comments it didn’t make much sense to me. Girardi just said he wants to get rid of shifts, but the Yankees are one of the teams that uses them the most? Something isn’t adding up there. His defense of that confusion was that he’s going to use them as long as they’re legal but he wishes they weren’t. So maybe he thinks they’re extremely effective, just maybe too effective?
Jared Diamond, the Yankees writer for the Wall Street Journal, dove into this topic with an article on how shifts are killing the Yankees on both sides of the ball. In his article he notes how the Yankees use shifts the fourth most out of any team in baseball but have the third worst batting average against in those situations. On offense it’s just as bad if not worse as the Yankees get shifted against more than any other team and they hit a horrific .193 against them. So shifts aren’t preventing hits for the Yankees, just against them. It’s clear why Girardi hates them when they do nothing but hurt the team.
That being said, I still don’t really get his frustration with shifting. It’s not like shifts are illegal in any way or that they’re impossible to beat. If your defense is getting burned by shifting… then maybe don’t shift as much? If your offense is getting defeated by shifts… then maybe hit the ball the other way or bunt? It’s not rocket science.
The Yankees have a roster full of players who are dead pull hitters. Mark Teixeira is probably the most pull-heavy hitter on the team especially when he’s hitting left-handed. Tex is always looking to hook the ball to right field, which is fine in the right situations. Tex, Brian McCann, Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran and so on are paid to hit home runs. Nobody wants them to bunt every time up and hit a bunch of singles for six months, but something has to give.
For me, it’s all about the situations. If the count is 2-0 and it’s early in the game, by all means look for something to pull over the fence. However if it’s a bad count such as 0-2 or it’s late in the game and the Yankees are down by two with nobody on, why not poke one the other way and take the FREE HIT. Teams are basically saying “here is a FREE BASE” and the Yankees refuse to take it. I don’t buy the excuse that players can’t hit the ball the other way for one second. If the situation is right, go the other way, take the hit and get a rally going instead of relying on home run after home run.
If a player who gets constantly shifted against would take the free single one time a week – one measly at bat – his average would skyrocket. Let’s just say a player gets 600 at bats a season or about 100 per month. If a player were to get 150 hits on the season, he would have a .250 batting average which is nothing special. If that player added a free hit even three times a month – about 18 more hits a season – his average would jump up to .280 which is very respectable. Thirty points added to a batting average by beating the shift just three times a month which is even less than the once a week I advocate for. 18 at bats a season in the right situations help out both your average and the team. There’s no reason players should continue to be stubborn and try to hit through or over the shift in every moment.
So no Girardi I don’t agree with you about banning shifts. They are a great tool when used properly; the Yankees just don’t use them the right ways. It’s not necessary to shift against every single batter and it’s also not necessary to try and pull every pitch thrown to you. Other teams have figured out how to beat the Yankees’ shifts, why can’t the Yankees adjust as well?