### Brandon Moss versus The Shift

Posted:

**Tue Mar 11, 2014 8:59 am**Brandon Moss has been bunting into the shift this spring. Quite successfully so far. The shift is a fascinating thing. In an age when you seem to be able to get information about every statistical nook and cranny you can dream up by just going to fangraphs or doing a bit more googling, I've found it virtually impossible to find data on the efficacy of the shift. I assume the Rays have all kinds of proprietary data about it, probably most teams do, but there doesn't seem to be anything publicly available.

Anecdotally, there does seem to be correlation, though as yet no causality, between the decline in offense and the rise of the shift. There is most likely a range of reasons for the change in offense, of which the shift is possibly one. However, it takes surprising little to move the needle in the game of baseball. Last year Brandon Moss was 114/446, a .256 average. Let's give him 5 hits back that the shift might have taken away last year. Now he's a .267 hitter. Material difference from a fantasy perspective.

The shift has always been interesting from a game theory perspective. There must be some degree of assumption that for a power hitter like Moss, it's better from a run expectancy standpoint to swing away as opposed to hit or bunt into the shift. There's probably also a psychological component of a guy not wanting to give in to the shift or be taken out of his game. Psychology aside though, I wonder to whether the impact on run expectancy has been proven out. For instance, looking at Tom Tango's run expectancy data, which is the average number of runs per inning given a certain scenario, we see that with nobody out and nobody on the average is .544 runs per inning. With one on and nobody out the average goes to .941 runs per inning. That strikes me as a significant increase and it's hard to believe that if Moss had a high degree of success hitting or bunting to the left side with nobody on that the A's run expectancy wouldn't go up on average relative to a Moss swing away approach. So if Moss started bunting in situations where the A's had calculated that the run expectancy goes up, how long would it be before teams decided to take the shift off Moss entirely? Or more interestingly how long before a team like the Rays started shifting or not shifting based on situation, including outs, runners and even count? The Rays already do some of this, particularly taking the shift off with 2 strikes I've noticed, but would teams seeking every advantage over the large sample size that is a season, do extreme situational shifting from pitch to pitch? I think it's something to keep an eye on. Maybe Moss will be the litmus test. I thought Melvin's comment about bunting into (or is it more properly bunting away from?) the shift was pretty priceless. To paraphrase, he said, "I don't know why we didn't think of it before."

Bringing it back to Moss for just a second, let's say that he adds 10 opposite field hits, bunts or otherwise, with this strategy. 1.66 more hits per month. Now all of a sudden he's a .278 hitter! Of course then you have to factor in the impact on his power numbers. Do the ABs given away to bunting significantly reduce his HR total? There's always a rub. Interesting stuff though.

Anecdotally, there does seem to be correlation, though as yet no causality, between the decline in offense and the rise of the shift. There is most likely a range of reasons for the change in offense, of which the shift is possibly one. However, it takes surprising little to move the needle in the game of baseball. Last year Brandon Moss was 114/446, a .256 average. Let's give him 5 hits back that the shift might have taken away last year. Now he's a .267 hitter. Material difference from a fantasy perspective.

The shift has always been interesting from a game theory perspective. There must be some degree of assumption that for a power hitter like Moss, it's better from a run expectancy standpoint to swing away as opposed to hit or bunt into the shift. There's probably also a psychological component of a guy not wanting to give in to the shift or be taken out of his game. Psychology aside though, I wonder to whether the impact on run expectancy has been proven out. For instance, looking at Tom Tango's run expectancy data, which is the average number of runs per inning given a certain scenario, we see that with nobody out and nobody on the average is .544 runs per inning. With one on and nobody out the average goes to .941 runs per inning. That strikes me as a significant increase and it's hard to believe that if Moss had a high degree of success hitting or bunting to the left side with nobody on that the A's run expectancy wouldn't go up on average relative to a Moss swing away approach. So if Moss started bunting in situations where the A's had calculated that the run expectancy goes up, how long would it be before teams decided to take the shift off Moss entirely? Or more interestingly how long before a team like the Rays started shifting or not shifting based on situation, including outs, runners and even count? The Rays already do some of this, particularly taking the shift off with 2 strikes I've noticed, but would teams seeking every advantage over the large sample size that is a season, do extreme situational shifting from pitch to pitch? I think it's something to keep an eye on. Maybe Moss will be the litmus test. I thought Melvin's comment about bunting into (or is it more properly bunting away from?) the shift was pretty priceless. To paraphrase, he said, "I don't know why we didn't think of it before."

Bringing it back to Moss for just a second, let's say that he adds 10 opposite field hits, bunts or otherwise, with this strategy. 1.66 more hits per month. Now all of a sudden he's a .278 hitter! Of course then you have to factor in the impact on his power numbers. Do the ABs given away to bunting significantly reduce his HR total? There's always a rub. Interesting stuff though.