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xBA vs Shift - Statcast Hitter Studs and Duds (Week 14)


We've looked plenty at expected stats already, so let's switch things up a bit in this iteration of Statcast studs and duds. This time, we will examine the xBA of hitters who repeatedly face shifts or strategic defensive alignments.

Typically, power hitters are subjected to the shift because of their high pull tendencies. Teams also use Statcast data to determine who was most affected by the shift last season, so you'll often see a rise in shift rates against those players. While some players are able to succeed in spite of this, others just can't figure it out.

As always, this is only one part of the bigger picture that composes a player's value, but could prove significant in forming opinions over a player who may have found first-half success or struggle.

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xBA Shift Beaters

All stats current as of June 30, 2019 and display xBA leaders with at least 20 plate appearances against shifts and/or strategic defenses.

 

Avisail Garcia (OF, TB)

.418 xBA vs shift/strategic defense

Garcia isn't going to ever replicate his career season of 2017, where he hit .330 thanks to a silly .392 BABIP. He is putting together a nice season in Tampa Bay, batting .277 with 12 HR, 37 RBI and eight steals. His current xBA of .274 isn't great but he is once again finding good fortune with a .328 BABIP. Part of this is his ability to beat the shift, as shown by his .418 xBA against it. The likelihood of this continuing is high, as Garcia has done this before.

What's interesting is that Garcia was rarely shifted the last couple of years but after he posted a .182 wOBA against the shift last year, teams decided it was worth a shot. He's seen is 27.6% of the time this season but he's posting a .328 wOBA vs the shift, similar to 2017 when he posted a .304 wOBA vs shifts. Garcia will probably continue to put up similar numbers to what he's producing now, which is a fairly solid OF3 for fantasy purposes. He's on track for ~25 HR, 15 SB and a .275 average, all of which are sustainable given his expected stats.

 

Max Muncy (1B/2B, LAD)

.415 xBA vs shift/strategic defense

Muncy has already proven he is no one-year wonder, bopping 20 homers before the All-Star break. He's doing more than that though, batting .279 with a .924 OPS. Needless to say, in order to post an xwOBA in the 92nd percentile, he's got to be doing pretty well against defensive alignments designed to stop him.

As a left-handed power hitter, Muncy has seen the shift 68% of his plate appearances but it's barely bothered him. He's posting a .363 wOBA and .415 xBA in such situations, which is actually less than last year's .396 wOBA vs shifts. While it seems obvious now, Muncy is not going away any time soon and can be trusted as a top-flight slugger who won't let down in the average department.

 

Kole Calhoun (OF, LAA)

.354 xBA vs shift/strategic defense

Calhoun was the subject of Statcast ridicule (often in this column) throughout the first half of 2018. This year, he has flipped the script somewhat, although his .225 average could still use some work. While last year his wOBA was in the bottom 10% of the league, this year his xwOBA is at least above league average (62nd percentile).

Calhoun has always been shifted against because of his pull tendency over 40% of batted balls but it jumped significantly as of late. His shift rate climbed from 44.8% in 2017 to 73.1% in 2018 and is at 77.4% in 2019. It worked last year, as his wOBA vs the shift was down at .274. Opposing managers took notice and it contributed to Calhoun's worst average across a full season. As mentioned above, he still has work to do in order to get the average to an acceptable level but it's not due to defenses outsmarting him. That leaves hope that Calhoun can parlay his career-best Barrel rate into more extra-base knocks.

 

xBA Shift Beaten

All stats current as of June 30, 2019 and display xBA strugglers with at least 20 plate appearances against shifts and/or strategic defenses.

 

Brian Dozier (2B, WAS)

.149 xBA vs shift/strategic defense

Is Dozier becoming a three-true-outcome player? It feels that way, as the only time we hear good news about him is when he's leaving the yard. His 24.6% K-rate is the highest of his career, his 9.2% walk rate is solid, but his .232 average is disconcerting. Oh, and he should be doing even worse.

Expected stats have him at a .220 xBA overall, which is bottom 10% of the league. This follows up last year's .210 xBA. His rate of being shifted against has gone up each year and with it his wOBA has gone down. Among all players qualified for this particular search, Dozier was second-worst after only Alex Avila. Dozier's days as a fantasy factor seem to be over, especially now that the steals have dried up.

 

Ryan McMahon (1B/2B, COL)

.164 xBA vs shift/strategic defense

McMahon has displayed an elite hit tool throughout the minors, regularly hitting well above .300 and finding little need to make adjustments. Contrary to what expected stats may indicate, that still may not be necessary. McMahon is posting a .417 wOBA against the shift, which is 138 points above his non-shifted PAs. It's curious but makes sense when noted that he hits the ball to the opposite field (29.5%) more often than he pulls it (27.5%).

If there's a problem with McMahon's batted-ball profile, it's not the ability to beat defensive alignments. He needs to lower his 50.3% ground ball rate and elevate the ball more to take advantage of his raw power as well as his advantageous home park. He's more of a line-drive hitter but there's power to spare and plenty of exit velocity - his 91.7 MPH exit velo is 90th percentile so far. McMahon may take more time to fully develop but he seems likely to fulfill his promise as a big-time prospect and could be a nice buy in dynasty leagues.

 

Jay Bruce (1B/OF, PHI)

.167 xBA vs shift/strategic defense

No surprise that Bruce sees the shift quite a bit - 87.3% of the time in fact. I'm not sure if that leads the league but if not it's got to be pretty damn close. Bruce is an interesting case though, despite being an obvious case of a lefty masher.

Aside from the fact he switched teams midseason, Bruce has some conflicting Statcast data. He's got some of the worst plate discipline of his career (and that's saying something), he's batting just .231 and his work against the shift looks terrible. Then again, his hard-hit and barrel rates are personal highs of the Statcast era, and his wOBA against the shift is actually better than it's been the past three years. While his xBA on the whole is down this year, his xSLG is up. In fact, his xSLG is in the 90th percentile. If it were possible, Bruce is becoming three-true-outcomier than before, so the tradeoff is one that fantasy owners will have to swallow in order to reap benefits of his power.

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