Shifting Against Right-Handers

Since even before the Pirates began using a shift against left-handed hitters regularly in 2013, this tactic has slowly become more and more prevalent.  In fact, it has become so prevalent that it is now a fixture in Major League Baseball.  As the shift has gotten more popular, many variations of it have been invented for different instances.  In some extreme shifts, the second baseman is placed in short right field, while the shortstop is positioned slightly to the right of second base.  Another shift places the second baseman, shortstop, and first baseman in between first and second, creating an almost impenetrable wall of three fielders on one side of the infield.  And, in some cases with certain hitters, all four infielders are placed to the right of second base.

All of these shifts have been proven to be immensely effective.  In fact, when the Pirates first began implementing it regularly when nobody else was using it that much, it gave them a jaw-dropping advantage over other teams.  Since then, every defense in the league has used it routinely — but mostly only against left-handed hitters.  There are many pull-happy right-handed hitters who have benefited immensely from not having shifts implemented against them regularly.  There is no reason why shifts should not be placed against right-handed hitters.  Of course, there are some right-handed hitters who go the other way as or more often than they pull the ball.  But there are some right-handed hitters, some of whom are very good, who could be considerably hampered by a shift.  Let’s take a look at some examples:

Robinson Chirinos:

Although Robinson Chirinos is not an impact player for the Rangers, he is a player who could have a significant amount of hits taken away from him because of the shift.  In fact, Chirinos could be one of the players who is most impacted by a shift.  He pulls the ball a shocking 62.1 percent of the time, and goes to center 24.1 percent of the time.  That means that he only goes the other way 13.8 percent of the time.  That percentage is so minimal that there should be a shift against him 100% of the time.  This shift would take away much of his production.  Actually, I invented a calculation that determines exactly how much of his production the hypothetical shift takes away.  I call this calculation “Fixed Average”, and it is very simple:  Fixed Average (FA) equals hits (H) minus by hits that would have been outs with the shift (SHIFT OUTS) divided by at bats (AB).  Or FA = (H – SHIFT OUTS)/ AB.  In this calculation, “hits that would have been outs with the shift” are grounders in between short and third that got through, or grounders up the middle that got through (the second baseman would have been playing up the middle with the shift).  However, some of the SHIFT OUTS  would still get through even with the shift.  So in that case it can be assumed that 1/4 of those hits (in between short and third and up the middle grounders) would have been hits.  And if the number of hits that would have been taken away is not divisible by four, then the calculation assumes that less than 1/4 of the discussed hits would have been stopped.

Robinson Chirinos’ regular average is .205.  Using the aforementioned Fixed Average, his average is .170.  That difference should be more than enough to convince teams to shift against right-handed hitters.

Maikel Franco:

Right now, Maikel Franco is the premier outlet of production for the Phillies.  He has hit 18 home runs so far this year, by far the most by a Phillies player.  Of course, his home runs wouldn’t be impacted by a shift, but he does have a .257 average, which would be impacted by a shift.  That average is respectable, but he pulls the ball 44.9 percent of the time and hits it to center 35.1 percent of the time.  He only hits it the other way 19.9 percent of the time.  So with a shift hampering his production, how would Franco do?

Using Fixed Average, that .257 average drops to .214.  Watch out Franco.  If a shift comes your way, you suddenly become less productive than your teammate Ryan Howard.

Brian Dozier:

Brian Dozier is a hard-hitting Twins’ second-bagger who has been a mainstay in the rapidly changing Twins organization for four years.  He has put together good power numbers while maintaining a less than desirable, but still respectable, batting average.  He has a very good amount of patience at the plate, keeping his OBP steady with his walks, but that would all change if a shift were implemented on him.  Out of all the players on this list, none pull the ball and hit it to center more than Brian Dozier.  And none hit it the other way less than him.  He pulls the ball 52.9 percent of the time and goes up the middle 34.2 percent of the time.  That means he goes the other way less than 13 percent of the time.

Right now, Brian Dozier’s average is .249.  Using Fixed Average, his average with the shift becomes .214.

Albert Pujols:

It is sad to see what a pull hitter Albert Pujols has become.  Although he was never one to go the other way with consistency, Albert always went the other way enough so that a shift would not be implemented on him.  However, since Albert joined the Angels, he has started to pull the ball with alarming regularity in order to prolong his quickly fading career.  Because of his new approach, Albert has been hitting the ball hard and often despite his climbing age.  That could change, though, if he were faced with a continuous shift.  That’s not to say he hasn’t ever encountered a shift.  He has been sporadically shifted on by opponents for the past few years.  But it’s been too little to significantly diminish his hitting.  In the absence of a continuous shift, Albert has kept on pulling.  He pulls the ball almost half the time he’s up, going to left field at a 49.2 percent clip.  He goes to center 32.2 percent of the time and hits it the other way a paltry 18.6 percent of the time.  That may not sound as significant as the other players on this list, but he still owns one of the most lopsided pull percentages in baseball.

Albert’s regular average is .249.  Utilizing Fixed Average, that average drops to a paltry .208.  Suddenly, the number-four man in the Angels’ batting order becomes an expensive waste.

Evan Longoria:

To have Evan Longoria on this list is perplexing.  He is commonly referred to as the “laser show,” because he sprays line drives all over the field.  However, it seems that the “laser show” only hits lasers to one part of the field.  Indeed, he’s been pulling for a while, although not as much as he is now.  This year, he has started to pull much more than he has in the past.  It’s been working.  His batting average, mired at or below .270 for the past few years, has suddenly jumped to .290.  It’s not as if he’s getting younger, either.  He’s almost 31 years old, just a year removed from his prime.  Therefore, it’s a weird time for him to be getting better.  There is only one dramatic change in his statistics that would explain exactly what caused his production to change.  His other-way percentage has dropped eight percentage points from last year, from 26 percent to 18 percent.

As pointed out before, Longo’s average this year is .290.  His Fixed Average is .255.  Therefore, his production would drop to even lower than it was before this year if a shift were implemented against him.

Edwin Encarnacion:

Feared stalwart of the Blue Jays batting order, Edwin Encarnacion has consistently produced 30-40 home runs a year.  Also, unlike teammate Jose Bautista, he has been known to keep a respectable average while blasting baseballs into the stands.  But there is a reason why his wRC+ hasn’t dipped below 135 since 2012.  Since that year, his other-way percentage has never climbed above 20 percent.  This year, it is at an all-time low, as he struggles to maintain production as his age and career progress.  His production would grind to a halt much quicker, and his value would drop much faster, if teams would put a shift on him.

Encarnacion’s season average is at a respectable .264, but his Fixed Average is .239.  That is a difference between a formidable All-Star and a three-true-outcome type of hitter.

Adam Duvall:

Adam Duvall burst onto the scene this year, giving the depressed Reds fans something to cheer about.  His majestic homers earned him an invite to the Home Run Derby, and his wRC+ has remained steadily above 110.  These stats are especially amazing considering his former stats in the major leagues were not good at all.  This has left people wondering, though, what the cause is for Duvall’s sudden jump.  Why has he suddenly vaulted himself into the upper echelons of baseball players?  What has he changed?  The answer is, of course, because he has started to pull the ball with consistency.  In his first few years in the bigs, Duvall went the other way 27 percent of the time with bad results.  Now, he only goes the other way approximately 18 percent of the time, and he’s experienced very good results.

Duvall’s average so far this season is just hanging onto “not horrible” at .246.  With Fixed Average, it is well into the “bad” bracket at .213.

Kris Bryant:

I saved the best (and the most surprising) for last.  Ever since he arrived at the major leagues, Kris Bryant has been pulling more and more.  His pull percentage has risen to 47.5 percent, and his other-way percentage has dropped to 18 percent.  Although he joins a list which includes the likes of Evan Longoria and Albert Pujols, Bryant would by far be the most affected by the shift.  He would be most affected because of how good he’s become.  Presently, he has a WAR above 5 and a wRC+ of approximately 150.  Many people have predicted him to win the MVP, and if he continues producing at this rate, he has a fair shot at this prestigious award.

Bryant’s average is .284, and his power is off the charts.  However, his Fixed Average for the year is .245.  Nobody with an average of .245 or below (except for pitchers) has ever won an MVP award.  Of course, his stats would still be considered respectable with a .245 average, because of his 25 home runs.  He’d also probably begin to go other way if faced with a shift regularly, so that we could assume his average wouldn’t drop to .245.  But overall, his stats would most likely not be as good as they are now.

I may have left out some right-handed hitters known for pulling, but these were the players with the most drastic pull stats.  There are many right-handed hitters who go the other way just as much as they pull, but overall the evidence is pointing towards implementing a shift against select right-handed hitters.  It would drastically change their production and the way the MLB works.  It all depends, though, on if teams are willing to use it.  It would help them immensely, but as with the shift against left-handed hitters, it will take time for teams to adopt the strategy.  But soon, as they begin to see results, it will slowly become more and more prevalent to the point where it is used almost as often as the shift against left-handed hitters.  The Fixed Average calculation is based on some assumptions utilizing each player’s play-by-play data; it is my best attempt at forecasting what would happen to each player’s production if they were to face regular shifts.  All the statistical information in this article was acquired from the games prior to July 24th.

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There’s a couple if guys up there that wouldn’t be affected as much as it seems, I remember a game last year were they intentionally walked somebody to get to Pujols and then shifted on him and he went the other way with ease. if I remember correctly it was a walk off too.


Bryce Harper has effectively been shut down by the shift and IBBs so much so that it has had a secondary impact of messing up his entire approach to hitting. The other aspect is it allows pitchers to get a bigger strike zone due to batters losing patience and discipline at the plate.