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) /
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Red Sox INF/OF Kyle Schwarber
BOSTON, MA – AUGUST 23: Kyle Schwarber #18 of the Boston Red Sox follows through during the sixth inning against the Texas Rangers at Fenway Park on August 23, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images) /

How banning the shift alters the Red Sox offense

Not many regulars in the Red Sox lineup had to face the shift on a regular basis last season. If Kyle Schwarber re-signs with the team, he would benefit most from the elimination of the shift. Opposing defenses shifted 81.2% of the time against Schwarber last season, the 19th-highest rate in the majors (minimum 250 plate appearances). In the rare event that the defense didn’t shift against him, Schwarber made them pay by producing an elite .435 wOBA.

Schwarber was the only Red Sox hitter who ranked in the top-50 in shift percentage. Next on that list was Hunter Renfroe (68.2%), who is no longer with the team. Granted, he was traded for a player who saw a shift in 58.2% of his plate appearances last season but hopefully Jackie Bradley Jr. won’t be an everyday fixture in the Red Sox lineup.

Among players currently on the Red Sox roster and projected to be a regular in the lineup, Alex Verudgo (48%) saw the highest percentage of shifts last season. However, he actually performed better against the shift (.345 wOBA) than he did against traditional defensive alignments (.318 wOBA).

The Red Sox hitter who benefits most from eliminating the shift is Devers. Opposing defenses shifted against him 46.1% of the time and he produced a .352 wOBA against that alignment compared to a .392 wOBA without the shift.

Enrique Hernandez pulled the ball more than any qualified hitter in the Red Sox lineup last year but since he’s a right-handed hitter, the rate at which he saw the shift was limited to a below-average 31.4% last season. That being said, his .346 wOBA without the shift was notably improved from the .318 wOBA he produced against it, which suggests he would benefit from the rule change.

Bobby Dalbec and Christian Vazquez had extreme splits when seeing the shift compared to a traditional alignment but defenses didn’t shift against them very often. J.D. Martinez and Bogaerts seldom saw a shift and their production shows they didn’t seem to mind facing them.

Since nearly half the schedule is against teams from within their own division and the other AL East teams shift at a below-average level, Boston’s lineup doesn’t benefit as much as many other teams do by banning the shift. Where it might matter most is in the postseason if they face Houston again. The Astros led the AL with a 46.2% shift rate and led the majors by a wide margin with a staggering 81.5% against lefties.

Most hitters are going to benefit from banning the shift but barring a reunion with Schwarber, it won’t be a significant boost for the Red Sox lineup. Boston will feel the change more on the defensive end but considering they ranked below average in shift percentage when they won a World Series in 2018, we know manager Alex Cora can adapt.

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