There has been some recent controversy among fans about the banning of the shift. No matter what side of the coin one stands, it is certain that if a ban does happen, it would directly impact certain Atlanta Braves hitters
One could argue that just because a shift is deployed against a hitter, it does not mean they won’t get a hit. This is true. However, if it did not work to some degree in today’s world analytics, it would have died all by itself.
Feel free to argue in the comments as to why a ban should or not happen, but this exercise is not in place to argue this point. The point is to simply look at which players could have the biggest change in output due to a ban.
It should also be noted that if you look at how a shift has been being deployed, it really started to ramp up in 2020, which is why we will look at 2020-2021 numbers.
Every player will be impacted to some degree, but in this exercise we will look at the top 5 Atlanta Braves to be impacted
It should be noted that we will only be looking at current Atlanta Braves. For example, Freddie Freeman and Eddie Rosario had the shift deployed against them at an extremely high rate. However, they are currently free agents so we will not include them. In fact, Oddly enough, 6 of the top Atlanta Braves shifted against last year are currently free agents.
There is one area that we can draw our eye to right away to find a conclusion on if a player will be impacted. This area is the percentage of times a players was shifted on in his at bats.
Improvement is not guaranteed with a ban, but an impact is.
Swanson had a slightly below league average offensive output in 2021 with a 97 OPS+ (3% below average). For reference, Swanson has a career 89 OPS+.
Swanson might actually be a rare case that the shift has helped him, because he has been shown to be able to beat it.
In 2021, Swanson had the shift deployed against him for 41.2% of his plate appearances (265 PA), and that resulted in in a weighted on base average (wOBA) of .330. In the 58.8% of plate appearances where the shift was not deployed, he had a worse wOBA at .318.
The same trend took place in the shortened 2020 season as well. Swanson actually performed better against the shift with a wOBA of .376 vs .331.
Will Swanson’s numbers decrease with a banned shift? Time will tell.
Obviously, this is a name that a number of fans will cringe to see. But, as of right now he is on the roster, and unless something crazy happens, he will most likely be in the lineup.
2021 was a small sample size for Ozuna with his injury and suspension, but he did have 317 plate appearances.
Ozuna was another player, like Swanson who actually did better against the shift in 2021. He had a wOBA of .338 when a shift was deployed, vs a terrible .235 when it was not. To be fair, he was having the worst batting average of balls in play (BABIP) of his entire career, so he was due to improve.
Outside of 2021 where he only played 48 games and had the worst luck of his career (BABIP), the shift was deployed on him the most times in his career in 2020 where he had the highest OPS+ of his career, albeit in 60 games.
In 2020, he had an insane wOBA of .476 against the shift to a .432 when it was not deployed. In 2020 a shift was only deployed 29% of the time. If you combine 2020 and 2021, Ozuna saw a shift deployed 28.8% of the time.
Is it possible that Ozuna is another guy who was actually benefiting from the shift being used improperly on him? Like Swanson, time will tell.
3. Adam Duvall
Duvall is yet another hitter who seems to have actually benefitted from the improper usage of the shift against him. In 2020 he had a wOBA of .381 when a shift was deployed, and it was deployed 68.3% of the time. When there was no shift, his wOBA dropped to .284.
In 2021, it was more of the same. A shift was deployed against him 56.9% of the time and he had a wOBA of .337 vs a .308 against no shift.
From an OPS+ standpoint, he did better in 2020 when they shifted more on him. The only plausible explanation as to why teams were continuing to shift on him is that he did struggle against it back in 2019 with a terrible wOBA of .243.
Duvall has obviously adjusted to a shift. The real question is if there officially is a ban on the shift, does his numbers drop down to what they are the past 2 years when he is not facing it.
Atlanta Braves star outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. is such a fantastic talent, that some may think it a moot point to worry about a shift against him and how it will impact his numbers.
In a small sample size of 46 games in 2020, the argument of there not being much of a difference could be made. A shift was deployed 48.5% of the time against him and his wOBA was very similar with a .428 with a shift, and .400 without.
In almost double the sample size in 2021 we get a better picture. In 352 plate appearances, he saw the shift 58% of the time. His wOBA is impressive against a shift at .373, but is a massive drop off from when there is no shift.
When no shift was in place against Acuña Jr. in 2021, he had an insane wOBA of .469. For reference, the highest overall wOBA (against the shift combine with not against the shift), was Bryce Harper with a .431.
If the shift really is banned, look out world. With his current trends, Ronald Acuña Jr. is coming for his first MVP award.
1. Ozzie Albies
With Ozzie Albies being a switch hitter, it changes things up a bit. For example, batting as a lefty in 2021, a shift was deployed against him an insane 82.2% of the time. When he was batting as a righty, they only shifted on him 49.4% of the time.
Batting as a lefty, he actually did better against a shift than when there was not one, batting to a wOBA of .321 vs a .270.
As a righty, there was a drastic difference. When there was a shift in place, he had a wOBA of .333. With no shift deployed, he did better than even Ronald Acuña Jr. with a .481. He got on base almost 50% of his plate appearances. Albies even had the second lowest BABIP of his career, suggesting he was due for progression.
Ozzie Albies crushes lefties. Without a shift to help the opposing pitcher, Ozzie could potentially have one of the best performances against lefty pitchers we have seen in recent memory.
The biggest question mark is if 2021 was a fluke. In 2020, Albies had a terrible wOBA of .218 against no shift as a righty hitter. However, he only had 21 plate appearances due to injuries and a short season.
wOBA is not an end all be all stat, but it is a good one to look at to help predict how often a player will get on base. The more a player gets on base, the more he helps his team have a chance to score.
Based on the shift percentages and wOBA of players in these situations, look for the numbers of these 5 Atlanta Braves to be quite different than we have been accustomed to in the past few years.