With Bryce Harper having a bit of a down year in his free agent season, the question is whether his numbers this year are just a quirk, the kind of one-off bad season that stars sometimes have (see, for example, Ernie Banks in 1963 and Ron Santo in 1962), or are the result of something else, i.e., defensive shifts. Baseball America had an article recently about how defensive shifts are especially hurting left-handed pull hitters. Like Bryce Harper.
When Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred was asked a couple of years ago about the effect shifts might have on the amount of offense in baseball, he said his expectation was that hitters would adjust. Well, they haven’t. You get the occasional single to left field or bunt down the third base line by a left-handed power hitter, but you are not seeing any significant amount of Wee Willie Keeler “hit-‘em-where-they-ain’t” hitting. There are probably a couple of reasons for this. First, the money isn’t in hitting singles to the opposite field.1 Second, and perhaps more important, that’s not how these guys have hit their entire life. They were taught to pull the ball. They were brought up hitting the ball to right field. It’s what they do. You can’t change that overnight.