St. Louis Cardinals: The Cardinals refusal to embrace the shift may be hurting them

cmaysuzuki
MILWAUKEE, WI - MAY 28: Matt Carpenter #13 of the St. Louis Cardinals rounds the bases after hitting a home run in the fifth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on May 28, 2018 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. MLB players across the league are wearing special uniforms to commemorate Memorial Day. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WI - MAY 28: Matt Carpenter #13 of the St. Louis Cardinals rounds the bases after hitting a home run in the fifth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on May 28, 2018 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. MLB players across the league are wearing special uniforms to commemorate Memorial Day. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /
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St. Louis Cardinals
CHICAGO, IL – APRIL 19: Matt Carpenter #13 of the St. Louis Cardinals bats against the Chicago Cubsat Wrigley Field on April 19, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. The Cubs defeated the Cardinals 8-5. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

Teams have been employing shifts more and more as a tactic to manipulate and neutralize certain hitters, especially against lefties. The St. Louis Cardinals have not been one of those teams.

The St. Louis Cardinals have remained rooted in the traditional defensive positioning, and it hasn’t worked out as well as in previous seasons. They are towards the bottom of the league with a .983 fielding percentage, and are just barely above league average in defensive efficiency despite having one of the lowest RA/9 in the league behind elite starting pitching.

Shifting certainly isn’t a quick fix for the Cardinals, but it has seemed to help significantly this year. While there have been teams that have been elite defensively without excessive shifting, many of the teams who have emphasized positioning against a player’s tendencies have done so with success. Here are four teams who are elite in both fielding percentage and defensive efficiency:

DefEff Fielding% Overall Shift % LHH Shift % BAA vs LHH
HOU 0.728 0.992 43.7% 62.7% .193
ARI 0.728 0.992 17.2% 41% .218
TBR 0.712 0.989 27.6% 35% .214
WSN 0.709 0.986 11.8% 20.7% .220

While Washington has been successful with relatively small shift usage, the extreme movement by the Astros, Diamondbacks, and Rays have lead to elite success. While the Cardinals allow an average .238 BAA against left handed hitters, this has been more in spite of the defense and less because of it.

One might say that the shifts aren’t the only reason that those teams are elite in preventing lefties from hitting comfortably. Houston, Washington, and Arizona’s successes could all be attributed to elite pitching as well. So we then look at the teams who shift the most against lefties regardless of defensive prowess, and the results tell much of the same story.

Shift % vs LHH BAA vs LHH
HOU 62.70% .193
NYY 56% .219
BOS 50.90% .207
KCR 48% .254
SEA 47.20% .226

As I mentioned earlier, shifting isn’t your main means to an end; it is but another tool that managers have at their disposal, and can be used to put players in the best position to succeed. As a result, there will be outliers like Kansas City and the Nationals in the previous group. However, it’s safe to say that shifting against left handed hitters has been an important and successful tactic for many teams.

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