You have probably noticed that defensive shifts have become a significant part of today's game. For five straight years MLB teams have set the record for most shifts in a season, and they are on pace to do so again in 2017. Several teams now shift over 1,000 times in a season, whereas six years ago only a handful of clubs even reached triple digits.
With the marked increase in shifts, it makes sense that hitters and coaches would do their best to come up with ways to try to beat them. After all, the shift initially gained recognition as a way to counter the extreme pull-hitting tendencies of lefty sluggers. It works well in that regard. On ground balls and short line drives that featured three players on one side of the infield, batters hit just .240 in 2016, compared to .271 against normal defensive alignments.
On some level, baseball is a cat-and-mouse game -- teams and players try to take advantage of what the other side is giving them. When batters consistently hit the ball to one side of the field, the defense repositions to increase the chances that the ball is hit to a fielder. It's up to the hitter to decide whether he wants to use his same pull-heavy approach or change it to something that could afford him more success.
There are several approaches batters use to try to beat the shift, some more successfully than others. For example, because the shift leaves parts of the infield open, some hitters have opted to try hitting the ball to those spots. And while we typically focus on ground balls and short line drives when evaluating the effectiveness of the shift at Baseball Info Solutions, players aren't necessarily going to aim to hit the ball exclusively on the ground to those open spots. So even though shifts are most effective against grounders and short liners, we looked at all balls in play to determine the success hitters are having against them.