One of the more interesting subplots to this past weekend's season-opening series was the generous use of the defensive shift by the Rays against the big boppers in the Yankee lineup. The shift is nothing new for them, as they employ it more than any other team in baseball, and nothing new for hitters like Mark Teixeira. But to see it used against hitters like A-Rod and C-Grand was a new wrinkle, at least for me, and raises a question on whether or not the Rays uncovered a new way to defend against the powerful Yankee lineup.
Employing the shift against Teix is almost commonplace nowadays when he's hitting from the left side. With the way he's become a pull-happy, all-or-nothing hitter from the left side over the past few seasons, it's something that any smart team would do. Teix still hasn't shown enough in terms of his ability to consistently hit the other way from the left side to dissuade teams from using the shift and it worked to the Rays' advantage this weekend. The Horse and Curtis don't have reputations as being prime candidates for the shift, at least not to the degree that Teix does, but in looking at their career pull/opposite way splits, it's not all that surprising that the Rays utilized the shift against them as well. For the sake of comparison...
Mark Teixeira (left-handed):
- OPS Pull Side- 1.200 career/ 1.000 in 2011
- OPS Opp. Way- .632 career/ .187 in 2011
- wOBA Pull Side- .502 career/ .492 in 2011
- wOBA Opp. Way- .265 career/ .080 in 2011
- OPS Pull- 1.164 career/ .916 in 2011
- OPS Opp.- .872 career/ .664 in 2011
- wOBA Pull- .490 career/ .393 in 2011
- wOBA Opp.- .358 career/ .280 in 2011
- OPS Pull- 1.219 career/ 1.494 in 2011
- OPS Opp.- .720 career/ .517 in 2011
- wOBA Pull- .512 career/ .625 in 2011
- wOBA Opp.- .303 career/ .218 in 2011
The splits show that both A-Rod and C-Grand, like Teix, have damn good numbers hitting to the pull side and very significant drop-offs in production when hitting the other way. Maybe I just missed the boat on this, but I can't recall seeing the shift used against either A-Rod or Curtis much last season, if at all. Given how significant their splits are, and given the success the Rays had in employing the shift against them, I wouldn't be surprised if more teams took notice and started using the same tactics against these guys. We're talking about 3 of the 4 most important hitters in the Yankee lineup, all hitting in major run-producing spots in the lineup. To be able to neutralize them by taking away their room to hit to their pull side would go a long way in helping teams beat the Yankees.
Obviously there will be instances where these guys beat the shift, like Teix did with his double off the wall in yesterday's game, because they are all good hitters. But that's probably a risk worth taking when faced with the possibility of them destroying you if you don't put the shift on. If more teams start following the Rays' lead from this past weekend, it will put more pressure on Teix, A-Rod, and Curtis to prove that they are capable of going the other way and being effectve hitters when they do so.