How Red Sox could be impacted if MLB bans the shift

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - OCTOBER 05: Xander Bogaerts #2 of the Boston Red Sox throws to force out Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees during the eighth inning of the American League Wild Card game at Fenway Park on October 05, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - OCTOBER 05: Xander Bogaerts #2 of the Boston Red Sox throws to force out Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees during the eighth inning of the American League Wild Card game at Fenway Park on October 05, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /
facebooktwitterreddit
Prev
2 of 3
Next
Red Sox SS Xander Bogaerts
SEATTLE – SEPTEMBER 15: Xander Bogaerts #2 of the Boston Red Sox plays shortstop during the game against the Seattle Mariners at T-Mobile Park on September 15, 2021 in Seattle, Washington. The Red Sox defeated the Mariners 9-4. (Photo by Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty Images) /

How banning the shift alters the Red Sox defense

The Red Sox ranked 13th in the majors last year with a 32.7 shift percentage, per Baseball Savant. While that placed them in the middle of the pack, Boston shifted more than any other AL East team.

Teams shift more frequently against left-handed hitters and the Red Sox were no exception. Boston utilized the shift only 14.1% of the time against right-handed hitters but their 66.7% rate against lefties was the fifth-highest in the majors. The Red Sox were effective in using the shift against lefties, limiting them to a .295 wOBA, which ranked sixth in the majors in those situations.

Fenway’s unique dimensions create an ideal setting for shifting against pull-heavy lefties. The extreme pull hitters will try to wrap a fly ball around the Pesky Pole but the fences move much further back fairly quickly in right field. Elite sluggers can beat the shift by hitting over it but for the average hitter, deep fly balls to right-center field often turn into routine outs. With the shift taking away many grounders and line drives to the right side of the infield, Fenway can be a tough place for lefties who don’t use the opposite field. That advantage would be mitigated if the Red Sox were no longer allowed to shift their defense.

The towering green wall in left field may explain why the Red Sox are less inclined to shift against right-handed hitters and why they have been far less successful when doing so (.400 wOBA). Perhaps it’s a strategy they should have used more on the road where the Green Monster isn’t inviting hitters to alter their approach at the plate.

Boston’s left side of the infield is arguably the weakest in the majors with Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts both ranking near the bottom at their respective positions in most defensive metrics. Having an extra defender on their side to cover their lack of range would seem to be beneficial in certain situations. Boston won’t be able to test that theory for much longer if the owners get their way.