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Minus David Ortiz, Red Sox plan new approach to beating shift — more bunting

02.15.17 at 2:04 pm ET
By
John Farrell

John Farrell

FORT MYERS, Fla. — With defensive shifts becoming so common they’re even used against pull-happy No. 9 hitters, the Red Sox plan to alter their offensive approach to beat them by going old-school and bunting.

Per Baseball Info Solutions, the Red Sox faced over 1,300 defensive shifts last year, seventh most in baseball. Almost a quarter of them (408) came against retired slugger David Ortiz, but he wasn’t alone. Jackie Bradley (224) was also shifted frequently, for instance, and manager John Farrell would like to see the team’s approach to such situations evolve.

“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.”

Before the stats-minded start howling reflexively about the evils of bunting, let’s make one thing clear — Farrell is talking about bunting for hits, not outs. The Red Sox recorded only eight sacrifices last year, and that approach is unlikely to change.

But it only makes sense that if the defense gives a hitter like Bradley the entire left side of the infield, a bunt in the vicinity of third base could equal a baserunner. That’s a shift in philosophy from Ortiz, who generally chose to swing away into the teeth of the shift for fear of costing himself and the team an extra-base possibility.

“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.”

Read More: David Ortiz, jackie bradley jr., John Farrell, Red Sox bunting
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