The defensive shift has become on of the more popular ways to combat power hitters who like to pull the ball. But it’s not just the big hitters like David Ortiz who have had to face the shift as players like Jackie Bradley Jr. have also seen the tactic utilized against them.
The Red Sox have seen it used against them at an especially high rate. According to Baseball Info Solutions, about 22 percent of the time (or 1,364 plate appearances) were faced against the shift. 408 times, it was Ortiz who faced the shift, but even Jackie Bradley Jr. faced it 224 times.
With this in mind, manager John Farrell obviously wants to figure out a way to combat the shift. One way of doing so would be to utilize bunting more.
“One of the things that we’ve really seen is that even with guys coming in the first part of their career, guys are really starting to get shifted against when we’re on offense,” Farrell said. “We’ve got some things that we’ll look to do to hopefully take back some of those lanes that are otherwise shifted away from. That’s just becoming more prevalent around the game. The bat-handlers that can work the ball the other way, or who are the guys that can more readily drop a bunt down to take advantage of that shift, that’s one thing that we’ll look to do more of.”
Now it’s important to note that Farrell isn’t talking about sacrifice bunting. He’s talking about bunting for a hit. The Red Sox have only averaged about 20 sacrifice bunts since Farrell took over as manager and last year they only took advantage of the sacrifice eight times. This move doesn’t suggest that will change.
If the game situation doesn’t require an extra base hit and the defense is giving up the entire left side of the field, however, Farrell believes the Red Sox should take advantage of it.
“The opposition may say, ‘Well, we’re fortunate we got a bunt so it’s working and we’re taking him out of his power swing,’” Farrell said. “But we’re seeing teams shift on guys that aren’t your prototypical power hitters. Jackie Bradley Jr. hit 25 [homers], but that’s kind of a breakthrough year for him. He’s a guy that, to me, we can look to take advantage of and work against the shift to hopefully open things back up for him.
“You’re seeing the shift on the bottom third of the order type hitters as well. So when it makes most sense, leading off an inning, late in a game when we’ve got to get something started, that’s the opportune time.”