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Which Yankees are beating the shift?

These Yankees are showing how to use the shift to their advantage.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at New York Yankees Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

While baseball has existed for 148 years, it continues to evolve. The defensive shift shows an area where the sport has grown and developed. Whether one agrees with the legitimacy of the shift or not, it hasn’t lost a beat in usage. Some players, however, are taking advantage of the phenomenon.

For the Yankees, three of the younger members of the team love hitting against the shift and are putting it to shame. Meanwhile, players who have been in the league a little while longer have trouble with it. As a team, the Yankees have been league average or a touch better against the shift.

If the veterans follow the lead from some of their teammates, however, then the squad could be one of the best in the majors.

Yankees against the shift

INF Alignment-Year NYY Average MLB Average # of Results
INF Alignment-Year NYY Average MLB Average # of Results
Stategic-19 0.311 0.235 119
Shift-19 0.255 0.248 235
Standard-19 0.249 0.245 659
Strategic-18 0.250 0.250 428
Shift-18 0.247 0.238 1285
Standard-18 0.250 0.250 3801
As of May 2nd Statcast

The numbers aren’t too inspiring upon first glance, but compared to the rest of the league, the Yankees are in good shape against the shift. For a primer as to the types of shifts there are, Statcast has a great breakdown.

In 2018, the Yankees had a .247 batting average against shifts with three or more players to one side of second base. Since the league average mark sat at .238 on the same shift, the Yankees didn’t look that much better. Because of this marginal difference of just .009 points, however, the Yankees ranked seventh overall.

The .247 batting average against this common shift doesn’t stray too far from the numbers against the rest of the infield alignments the Bombers faced in 2018. The interesting part comes into play when one sees what some of the newer Yankees have done to these shifts.

2018 Yankee rookies liked the shift

Player Strategic Shift Shift (Three on one side of second) Standard Alignment
Player Strategic Shift Shift (Three on one side of second) Standard Alignment
Gleyber Torres 0.382 0.270 0.260
Miguel Andujar 0.368 0.298 0.291
Luke Voit 0.417 0.355 0.315
Didi Gregorius 0.211 0.228 0.285
Aaron Hicks 0.179 0.251 0.256
Aaron Judge 0.267 0.269 0.284
Batting Average against each shift for 2018 Statcast

Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andujar, and Luke Voit make up the top three hitters for the Yankees against the strategic shift, and three of the top four against the shift. Giancarlo Stanton has found a liking to it as well.

On the other hand, Didi Gregorius and Aaron Hicks had difficulty batting around the shifts. I wanted to see what these players were doing this year against the shift, but I couldn’t because apparently everyone is injured. Instead, I settled to see if there have been trends of some players realizing they can beat the shift, just like the rookies did last year.

Brett Gardner only saw the shift 12 times last season. He has seen it 29 times this season, however, and increased his average against it from .167 to .276. Gardner doesn’t exactly profile as a player to shift against, but teams just seem to use it more each season.

Gardner’s sample size isn’t large, but Gary Sanchez knows all about the shift. In the 137 appearances Sanchez had to bat against the shift last year, he averaged .234. With the 37 appearances this season, he’s at .351. The shift even helped Sanchez in 2018 during a disappointing season because he averaged .135 when the infield was in standard alignment.

With teams using the strategic shift more often, the Yankees need to follow the lead of Torres, Andujar, and Voit. The Yankees have an 18-14 record after 32 games, or 19.75% of the season. For the strategic shift, which the Yankees are averaging .303 after seeing it 122 times this season, that’s already 29% of the total 428 strategic alignments they saw in 2018. It seems the Yankees should get used to seeing it with even greater frequency.

Considering the shift with three players to one side of second base, the Yankees are averaging .256, while the league average is .248. Since this shift has seen much of its popularity grow compared to the newer strategic shift, it’s on pace to play out similarly to the 1285 alignments of last season. Nevertheless, not only are the Yankees figuring out this traditional shift, but the entire league is batting .248 compared to .238 last season.

As the league overall continues to change, the Yankees need to adapt with it and continuously find ways to win. In this case, it involves finding ways to hit the ball where infielders are not. The Yankees have a few players leading the way in beating the shift. A weakness that has exploited the Yankees in the past, and still affecting players on the team currently, could be something the team takes advantage of. The example has been set, so now it’s up to the rest to shift their approach as well.