Playoff Preview: Treat Michael Young Like Derek Jeter

By R.J. Anderson //

Earlier this season, Joe Maddon dispatched a shift on Derek Jeter. Rare and perhaps unheard of, Maddon shifted his outfield towards right field while keeping his infield mostly in place. Here’s what I wrote about it:

Since 2002, Jeter hits the ball to left field about 35% of the time. Here’s the key factoid about this shift. 78% of the balls Jeter puts in play towards left field are on the ground and 3% of the rest are infield flies. That means, if Jeter is pulling the ball, it’s going to be a line drive or outfield fly roughly 19% of the time. When Jeter hits the ball to right field, it’s a line drive a little under a third of the time. Moving the range-blessed Upton towards right and Gabe Kapler further towards right lessens the gaps that Jeter can drive the ball to, reducing Jeter’s chances of getting a hit, or at the very least, the extra base potential.

By covering the center and right field portions of the outfield better, the Rays are leaving left field open for Jeter to dump a ball down a line and run for days. It’s not quite that simple though. So much of baseball is game theory and this is no different. Jeter can see the outfield shifting and realize that hitting a ball down the third base line means extra bases, but he can also sense that the pitcher is going to work away, away, and away. Surely the Rays won’t work him inside and give him an opportunity to double or triple, right? Well, who knows? Jeter doesn’t.

Jeter shift meet Michael Young. Over the past three years, Young represents about as good of right-handed batting candidate as any to receive the left-handed pull hitter outfield shift. First, look at the breakdown of batted balls to left, center, and right field. Keep in mind, he’s a righty:

Year	% to LF	% to CF	% to RF
2010	26%	40%	34%
2009	29%	39%	32%
2008	25%	33%	42%

Now take a look at the groundball and flyball tendencies to each field:

Year	LF GB%	CF GB%	RF GB%
2010	75.7%	53.9%	23.1%
2009	69.5%	45.8%	22.1%
2008	72.1%	56.2%	22.0%

Year	LF FB%	CF GB%	RF GB%
2010	12.9%	31.1%	53.2%
2009	13.7%	31.1%	51.0%
2008	10.3%	23.6%	48.9%

If the numbers do nothing for you, then this visualization of Young’s batted balls (courtesy of Texas Leaguers) should do the trick:

So, how do you combat that? Shade the right fielder towards the right foul line, move B.J. Upton into right-center, and ask Carl Crawford to cover whatever is left between left and left center field. You run the risk that Young can adjust his swing and make you pay, but then again, he then runs the risk of messing himself up too.

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