Carleton: How to beat the infield shift

From Russell Carleton at Baseball Prospectus on May 22, 2018:

Last week, MLBAM delivered a lovely surprise to those of us in the baseball research community. You (yes, you!) can now get data on infield and outfield positioning, on a pitch-by-pitch basis, from the Baseball Savant website, specifically whether The Shift (infield or outfield) was being played. Up to this point, the only shift data that had been publicly available was provided by Sports Info Solutions (formerly Baseball Info Solutions), and it was only available at the plate appearance level (and only in the aggregate), and then only for balls that had been put into play (i.e., no home runs, no walks, no strikeouts, no hit batters).

I’ve written extensively on that SIS data, and about two years ago I found myself asking the question: “How many home runs were hit in front of The Shift?” It seems like a silly question because if the batter hit the ball over the fence, there aren’t any defenders back there (and certainly no infielders) so The Shift shouldn’t make a difference. But I thought it was an important question. While the infielders aren’t going to catch a fly ball hit over the fence, does the infield shifting lead to the pitcher throwing differently? Maybe The Shift kinda freaks him out?

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Originally published: May 22, 2018. Last Updated: May 22, 2018.