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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Brian McCann: did he beat the shift with two homers or should he bunt against it?

Brian McCann hit two homers in yesterday's 7-4 Yankee win over the Red Sox.

Brian McCann, bunt it into that ocean at third base! Geez, how stupid are you? And how cowardly is your manager, Joe Girardi?  Friday, April 11, 2014

The hockey expression for a player's inability to shoot the puck into an empty or mostly open net: he can't put it the ocean.

Yankee catcher Brian McCann can't buy a hit: OPS .356, rank 199.  But McCann refuses to even try to bunt it into that ocean at third base created by the extreme shift teams are playing against McCann.  In last night's Yankee win over the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium McCann had at least his second hit this season taken away from him by an infielder playing way out in right field.

Little League baseball player squares around to bunt.
2007 by Wildernice/en from Wikimedia Commons

Managers are no longer afraid to deploy the shift on defense but they are afraid to order their batters to bunt against the shift.  What gives?  ...

McCann has five singles in 33 at bats (AB), plus one walk.  OPS .328, OPS+ -7.  Yes, NEGATIVE 7.  With the Yanks needing a base runner, not necessarily a home run (HR), McCann will not bunt for a hit against the shift.  For his career McCann's HR rate (AB/HR): 3,896/176=22.  So his chances of hitting a HR are about one out of 22, about 4.5%.

I'm guessing that any major league batter has about a 90% chance of bunting for a hit into the empty area of the shift, especially a lefty batter who is already closer to first base and the open area near third base the longest infield distance away.

The defense is giving the offense a single, possible double.

Why won't the batter take it?

Even after his two homers and three RBI in four at bats yesterday, McCann has an OPS of only .556, OPS+ 55.  His two homers in 41 AB gets him right about at his career level.

Had McCann bunted as I advocated he would not have hit those two homers.  However, he might have had four singles.  In one game that would not make sense.  However, in a very short long run it would.

Teams continue to deploy the shift.  I'm guessing that they are tracking its effectiveness.  There are two basic reasons that it benefits the defense.

1. Batters are too dumb to adapt either by learning to hit away from fielders or simply bunt.
2. Batters become distracted.

Let's say that McCann can bunt for hits only half the time he tries, not the 90% I suggested.  McCann is a slow runner and not experienced at bunting.  Remember, he'd be squaring around, not doing anything fancy.  There would no fielder anywhere near his ocean-like empty area near third base.  McCann would have a very high batting average but only for a short time.  Why?  The other teams would stop shifting.  Then McCann would return to his usual style against a pretty traditional alignment of fielders and McCann would get his usual results.

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