Battered batters refuse to adjust swings to combat shifts
CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) Ryan Howard has heard the suggestions from commentators and fans who say he should drop down bunts or poke the ball into left field a few times to defeat the shift.
The long ball made him one of baseball’s top players, a famous and wealthy World Series champion with Philadelphia, and he’s not about to alter his approach at the plate just because three infielders crowd the right side of the infield to snag grounders that used to find holes and short line drives that used to drop in for hits.
”When you’re looking in, it’s easy for the people to have that kind of opinion,” he explained one afternoon during a spring training game. ”But it’s lot tougher.”
Howard, Boston’s David Ortiz and the Baltimore’s Chris Davis faced the most shifts last year, all coming up with a realigned infield in 400 or more plate appearances, according to Baseball Info Solutions.
Their batting averages against the shift could fill an all-scrub team rather than an All-Star roster: With infielders packed to the right side, Ortiz hit .201 last year, Howard .167 and Davis .121.
But most of these battered batters, primarily left-handed hitters, have thus far refused to react to the fallout from baseball’s Big Data Era, seeming to take an attitude of long ball or nothing at all.
”Hit more home runs, hit more doubles, and walk more,” was the solution given by the New York Yankees’ Mark Teixeira.
Howard’s ground-ball singles to right dropped from 15 in 2010 to seven last year, according to STATS.
”You just do what you do. You can’t control it,” he said. ”It’s the same thing as when you hit a baseball and you hit a line drive and a guy makes a diving play.”
Howard hasn’t had a bunt single in his big league career and Ortiz has six – including just two over the last five seasons.
Albert Pujols, the right-handed batter facing the most shifts, has just a pair of bunt singles in the major leagues and none since 2004.
”I’m not going to change my approach just because they try to shift on me,” he said. ”That’s the way it goes.”
Brian McCann, the fifth-most-shifted player last year, had 15 pulled ground-ball singles to right in 2010 and 16 the following season but just three last year.
”I know it takes points off my batting average,” he said of the shift. ”For right now, we’ve got to deal with it. It’s part of the game and as players we have to do a better job of using the whole field.
Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa understands power hitters with power are reluctant to change their mentality and approach. At the same time, he predicts some of them will, and that will force teams to reconsider shifts in some situations.
”Somebody will tell you if you can get them to change their stroke, you’ve accomplished something, and you probably have,” he said. ”But in a one-run game, if they beat you to the opposite field and you lose the game, who loses? In this game, rarely are extremes allowed to exist. People will adjust, and I’m sure they’ll adjust to shifts.”
AP Baseball Writer Janie McCauley and AP freelance writer Mark Didtler contributed to this report.