Lots of shifting
Shifting, for better or worse, has generated plenty of dialogue in baseball about player positioning. Some are all for it, some are against it, and a few are not quite sure what to make of it. Regardless of your position (pun intended), the Astros led the way in shifting this year.
Total shifts by plate appearances in 2018
Astros – 2,195
Rays – 1,781
Twins – 1,734
Only the Rays (24.8%) and Twins (22.1%) shifted more against right-handed hitters than the Astros (21.2%). However, Houston took the cake with shifting a league-high 59.7% against left-handed hitters. Only the Yankees at 52.6% shifted more than 50% against left-handed hitters. For context, the league average shift rate against right-handed hitters was only 8.9% and 29.6% against left-handed hitters. Houston’s front office led by Jeff Luhnow is not afraid to push the boundaries.
The Astros were particularly well known for employing dramatic shifts against hitters like the Rangers’ Joey Gallo in 2018.
I am curious to see how much teams like the Astros shift in the coming years. Russell Carleton of Baseball Prospectus, and author of The Shift, warned that the shift might be “a mirage” here. Warning that there is quite a bit of math in his article, yet definitely well worth the read. Also, Carleton doesn’t advocate for the end of the shift, but he does present data which indicates that the shift isn’t exactly working. Again, check it out if you have time.
For Houston, though, the shift was a point of emphasis this past season. They were on the leading edge of the movement. If you were to classify a job well done by the number of times you did it, then the Astros shifted well in 2018. But Houston held teams to a .294 wOBA in all shift situations, which is the 17th-best mark in baseball. Like I mentioned in the previous paragraph, I am curious to see how the Astros shift in the coming years.