Adrian Gonzalez’s final hit as a Met — and perhaps the final hit of his 15-year career — was an opposite-field, ground-ball double inside the third-base bag at Citi Field on June 9 against the Yankees.
Gonzalez beat the shift.
The savvy, veteran move leading off the seventh inning of a 3-3 game wasn’t enough for the Mets to score as Gonzalez was stranded at second. The Mets went on to lose, 4-3.
Gonzalez’s 2,050th hit also wasn’t enough to save his roster spot. The Mets released him after the next night’s game.
But hey, he beat the shift!
It’s something every fan wants his or her team’s players to do and something power hitters rarely do.
Even MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said on Thursday that he’s noticed hitters have been more likely to try to hit a home run over the shift than go against it.
“Take shifts,” Manfred said. “When they came, everybody said it was common thought, ‘People are going to learn just to go the other way.’ But the fact of the matter is the human element took over, and what they decided to do was go over the top [rather] than go the other way.”
Mets manager Mickey Callaway isn’t asking his players to change what they do to beat the shift. Considering how the team’s offense has been performing, why would that be the wrong approach?
“There’s a reason that hitters fail most of the time,” the professorial former pitching coach said. “Because they don’t get to make the adjustments first. They have to adjust after the fact. You built your swing a certain way, in a way that you think is going to be more effective for the long haul over the season, and it’s tough to change that midseason.
“Some of these guys have been taking the same approach for 10 years. It’s who they are, and to ask guys to make significant swing changes or significant approach changes during a season is a very lofty order and probably too big of an ask. I think that you’re not going to turn a guy that’s been shifted his whole career into a guy that’s all of sudden is not being shifted unless you’re bunting and doing stuff like that. To actually ask them to manipulate the barrel and try to hit the ball on the ground the other way would be really tough, and if they had that capability, they wouldn’t be getting shifted in the first place.”
Callaway acknowledged that the Mets are shifted against frequently because of their personnel. Gonzalez is gone, but he was replaced by Dominic Smith, who also is a lefthanded hitter who regularly faces the shift.
“We have quite a bit of lefthanded hitters that are looking to pull,” Callaway said. “I think we’re the most shifted team in the major leagues.”
Actually, the Mets have put a ball in play against the shift this season in 627 plate appearances entering Saturday, according to data compiled by Baseball Info Solutions and published on FanGraphs.com.
That’s the sixth-most such plate appearances in the big leagues. (Keep in mind the publicly available data on shifts excludes plate appearances that end with a walk, strikeout or home run or other such outcomes when the defense doesn’t come into play.)
The Mets rank 22nd on batting average on balls put in play against the shift at .273. The Marlins have the best batting average in those situations (.375), but Miami also is the second-least-shifted-against team in baseball — probably because the Marlins also are the second-lowest-scoring team in baseball. Why bother to shift against a team that can’t hit anyway?
Here are some other nuggets on the rankings of balls put on play against the shift:
The Twins have faced the most shifts (748 plate appearances), the Rays the least (241). The Yankees are 16th in facing the shift (479) and have a .291 batting average on balls in play against the shift. That’s 12th overall.
The Brewers have the lowest batting average on balls in play against the shift (.249) in 344 plate appearances (26th overall).
Oh, and in case you missed it, Phillies pitcher Jake Arrieta really hates the shift as much as some of you probably do. Or at least the way the Phillies do it. Arrieta had this to say on June 3 after a couple of routine balls were shifted into hits in a 6-1 loss to the Giants:
“We’re the worst in the league with shifts. So we need to change that. Copy the best. I don’t know.”
At the time, the Phillies were ranked last in the majors when using the shift, with it having cost them 11 runs this season.
Turns out they’re not so great straight-up, either. On Friday, the Phillies made three errors (leading to four unearned runs) with Arrieta on the mound in a 13-2 loss to the Brewers.
The Phillies’ 54 errors are the most in the NL. Maybe they need to shift some players off the field instead of around it.