Benchmarks for Shifting & Its Effects

For fantasy baseball writers, this time of year means only one thing, player profiles. Dozens and dozens of player profiles to slog through. While writing up some hitters, I can to the realization I didn’t have a quick method to flag hitters who may be shifted. While I could navigate to the splits page, scroll down, and calculate each player’s shift rate, I wanted a quick and dirty method to flag them. While I went over several methods, I settled on one stat and two values.

I did some shift work for an older edition of a The Hardball Times Annual but I have stayed away from the topic over the last few years. My initial conclusions stand which are the shift really affected some hitters and the rate of effectiveness slowly declines more players are shifted. The shift isn’t going away though. It’s still effective against slow pull hitters.

I initially thought a hitter’s pulled groundball rate would be a major factor, but it was not. Just pull rate was enough.

To start with, I look at left-handed hitters since they get shifted more because it’s easier to hold runs on the right side of the infield. I grouped them by 10% increments to find any trends.

Left-Handed Hitter Shift Rates
Shift% Pull% BABIP change OPS change
0% to 10% 37.5% .193 .294
10% to 20% 36.3% .072 .112
20% to 30% 38.0% .019 .037
30% to 40% 39.2% .012 .043
40% to 50% 40.7% -.004 .013
50% to 60% 40.8% .012 .009
60% to 70% 43.2% .008 .025
70% to 80% 42.8% .020 .037
80% to 90% 43.6% -.012 .000
> 90% 45.1% .009 .011

From these values, I decided to use a cutoff of 45% Pull% for those who get shift and those who don’t. Here are how the numbers work out for the two groups.

Left-Handed Hitter Pull Rates
Pull% Shift% BABIP change OPS change
Under 45% 14% .007 .011
Over 45% 47% -.004 -.022

The 45% Pull is a simple marker to see if lefties are being shifted. The righties are up next with only one righty getting a shift rate over 60%.

Right-Handed Hitter Shift Rates
Shift% Pull% BABIP change OPS change
0% to 10% 38.6% .028 .074
10% to 20% 41.2% .027 .068
20% to 30% 42.9% .011 .019
30% to 40% 44.8% .014 .033
40% to 50% 46.4% .020 .023
> 50% 48.0% -.016 -.045

They pull the ball quite a bit, but it takes a high pull rate for opposing teams to implement a shift, especially with runners on base. For the right-handed hitters, I set the marker at 50%.

Right-Handed Hitter Pull Rates
Pull % Shift% BABIP Change OPS Change
Under 50% 4.2% .025 .069
Over 50% 19.7% -.001 .010

Now the players who may get shifted can be known but are these changes baked into projections. Looking at the historic Steamer projections from 2010 to current, I found how much the projected (Steamer) versus actual OPS differed after adjusting for the changing run environment.

Difference in Projected & Actual OPS
High Pull -.013 .002
Low Pull .002 .000

A decent difference (.013) exists with the high-pull, left-handed hitters and is close to .021 OPS change seen earlier. I wonder if the projection system expects more regression from these hitters, but the shift limits the change. Whatever it is, their projection should be adjusted some.

Through all the noise, fantasy owners need to concentrate on adjusting the left-handed hitters who pull the ball over 45% of the time. They don’t live up to their projections. Any other adjustment is just splitting pubic hairs.

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Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first two seasons in Tout Wars, he's won the H2H league and mixed auction league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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The pure LHH (not switch) in 2018 with a Pull% > 45 were Bellinger, Rizzo, Carpenter, Odor, Shaw, Gregory Polanco, Gallo and Bradley Jr.