Edwin Encarnacion and Shifts

July 12, 2013

I recently attended a Blue Jays-Red Sox game and really liked the way the Red Sox were putting a defensive shift on the right-handed hitting Edwin Encarnacion. Until the last couple of years, a full shift on a right-handed batter was unheard of in Major League Baseball. Now, the Red Sox were deploying a full Ted Williams shift with lefty Jon Lester on the mound against Encarnacion, with three infielders to the left of second base.

Later in the game, with a righty on the mound, they went away from the full shift. Second baseman Dustin Pedroia was only a few steps left of the normal second base position, clearly to the right of the bag with a right-handed pitcher throwing. With Lester on the mound, the Red Sox were very aggressive, putting Pedroia about half way between the normal shortstop position and the second base bag.

For the four-game series, Encarnacion put a total of 15 balls in play. Of the 5 balls in play versus left-handed pitchers, the Red Sox defensively shifted Encarnacion 4 times. Of the 10 balls in play versus right-handed pitchers, the Red Sox defensively shifted Encarnacion only once.

Baseball Info Solutions tracks how often batters pull their balls in play in software called BIS-D, where we consider a right-handed hitter to be a shift candidate if he pulls 85 percent or more of his grounders and short liners. (For lefties, the threshold is a bit lower at 80 percent). Here is a screen shot from BIS-D software for Edwin Encarnacion against lefties:


Of his last 120 grounders and short liners, Edwin Encarnacion has pulled 88 percent of them versus left-handed pitchers, enough for a shift recommendation (shown in red print on the right). Against righties he pulls 84 percent of the time, just short of the shift recommendation threshold the software uses. BIS-D software concurs with the Red Sox strategy of using a Ted Williams shift on Encarnacion, especially with a lefty on the mound.

Overall, Encarnacion has been ineffective against the shift against both left-handers and right-handers. Since 2010, he has just 2 hits in on 16 grounders and short liners versus lefties and 4 hits in 39 attempts against righties, for an overall .109 batting average on grounders and short liners against the shift. In contrast, Encarnacion has a batting average of .266 on grounders and short liners when he is not shifted.


COMMENTS (3 Comments, most recent shown first)

You COULD do a radical outfield shift, but I doubt anyone pulls the ball on over 85% of their flyballs. Maybe Sheffield back in the day.
4:03 PM Jul 12th
While the shift works and takes away grounders and short liners, the other unstated thing is that of the last 250 in play, 130 were not grounders and short liners, they were the real damagers, 2b and hrs. No shift can take those away.
12:31 PM Jul 12th
Why the different shift threshold b/n righties and lefties?
10:14 AM Jul 12th
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