Albert, Dusty, and the shift

Last season I, along with many other Cardinals’ fans, noticed that Dusty Baker was one of the few managers to employ an infield shift against Albert Pujols. Under the impression that Pujols has been a hit-to-all-fields hitter since he came up in 2001, many Cards’ fans mocked Baker’s defensive tactics. Baker is, after all, widely regarded in the blogosphere as the manager who ruins pitchers’ arms and who allowed Corey Patterson and Willy Taveras to accrue 392 and 437 plate appearances in 2008 and 2009, respectively, mostly out of the leadoff spot in the Reds’ order.

Perhaps nothing about Baker is more eminently mockable than this diagram, however, by poster VictorW at beyond the boxscore. So when the Cards’ fans noticed Dusty shifting second sacker Brandon Phillips up the middle and the shortstop over in the hole against the world’s greatest hitter, they brought up all the reasons why Baker is mocked by those of us who live in our mom’s basement.

**More managers should follow Dusty Baker’s lead and employ an infield shift against Albert** (Icon/SMI)

This week, however, it was revealed that fangraphs, because they seem to be absolutely determined to get me to spend every minute I’m at work digging around on their website rather than doing my job, now has player splits on all their player pages. I said to myself, “self, let’s see how absolutely nutty ol’ Dusty was when employing a shift against Albert.” After all, few other managers employed such a shift and that puzzled me. I was skeptical of the Cards’ fans reactions because, while I noticed that Pujols CAN hit the ball to right field, it didn’t seem to me that he DID hit the ball to right all that often. He hits into a lot of double plays, mostly to shortstop and third base, and it seemed as if most of his homers were to left field as well. Still, if sabermetricians know one thing, it’s that the eyes can fool us and that we should trust the data if it says otherwise.

Here’s what I found:

Albert Pujols — left field vs. right field
Left field Right field
HR 33 3
OPS 1.293 .838
ISO .506 .232
wOBA .532 .353
GB% 48.4 7.2
GB/FB 1.40 0.10
BABIP .306 .278
wRC+ 240 119
GIDP 15 0

The bottom line: Pujols is a much better hitter to left field than right field and he hits many more ground balls to the left side of the infield than he does to the right side of the infield. It seems to me that it makes sense to employ an infield shift with Pujols at the plate. Besides taking away a few more hits, it may tempt him into trying to hit the ball to right field, thus taking away some of his power stroke. If not, at the very least, it will give Cards’ fans one less reason to mock good ol’ Dusty.

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I would have never thought the shift was a good idea. The man is amazing!!!

Mike B
Mike B

As a Cubs fan, I find that this article is having quite a mind-blowing effect on me.  I am now going to block it out of my mind, replacing it with a smiling image of Neifi Perez, and continue living as though I never read it.

Joe R
Joe R

whoa whoa whoa
you mean, Dusty Baker did something that was possibly defensable by data?

/puts up pictures of Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, Aaron Harang, Willy Taveras, Corey Patterson, and Neifi Perez to mitigate the confusion.


If you are a Cardinal fan, then why are you openly recommending that other managers follow in his lead?!? Come on, where’s your loyalty? :/