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Brandon Belt really loves hitting against the shift

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He is so good at hitting that the things teams do to make him less good at hitting simply does not work out for them.

MLB: San Francisco Giants at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Brandon Belt experienced a four outfield defensive shift when the Tampa Bay Rays came into town a few weekends ago, and overall, given that he’s a left-handed pull hitter (38.8% so far this year), he sees quite a few defensive shifts in the season.

My beloved Statcast now breaks out this data with a handy leaderboard. While Belt is not the best hitter against the shift, of players with at least 70 plate appearances with a defensive shift being utilized against them (as of this afternoon, that’s a 19-player list), Brandon Belt is 4th with a wOBA of .422. He’s one of six players with a wOBA over .400 and 70+ plate appearances against the shift. That full list (with percentage of plate appearances against the shift):

  1. Cody Bellinger — .569 wOBA (78.6% of PA against the shift)
  2. Charlie Blackmon — .429 (52.6%)
  3. Rhys Hoskins — .426 (75%)
  4. Brandon Belt — .422 (67.9%)
  5. Joey Gallo — .412 (98.1%)
  6. Freddie Freeman — .403 (72.7%)

The first thing that jumps out at you about the entire list is, to me, “Wow, these are a bunch of good hitters.” They’re not all necessarily “well-rounded” or pure hitters, but they all hit for power and have decent to above average plate discipline, if not in walks, then knowing how to do damage on “their pitch”.

There’s no fluke here. Billy Hamilton or Kevin Pillar don’t appear as if to say “Ahh! Got ya! Analytics are bunk!”

The leaderboard also features performance against a straight forward / non-shift defense, and that’s when the results become amusing. Let’s just take that list again, without the ranking:

Cody Bellinger — .552 wOBA (21.4% of PA against normal defense)
Charlie Blackmon — .238 (47.4%)
Rhys Hoskins — .423 (25%)
Brandon Belt — .226 (32.1%)
Joey Gallo — 1.016 (1.9%)
Freddie Freeman — .433 (27.3%)

Blackmon and Belt have huge dropoffs, suggesting that the shifts against them are smart and work. Then again, these are the two players on this list who play in the most extreme ballparks in either direction. We’re also dealing with a sample size for all involved around 100 plate appearances — hardly enough to make anything too clear in any direction.

Still, just based on this small sample size and based on the contingent of people who never want to “buy” Brandon Belt, here’s yet another measure of his tremendous value. Left-handed batters have been shifted against 40.5% of the time this season. That’s the league average. Belt sees an above league average shift, and against that, he hits much higher than the league average.

Maybe Belt doesn’t actually love hitting against the shift, but he’s certainly done very well when forced to confront the method. We’ve seen him bunt against shifts and try to go the other way, but like Cody Bellinger, he’s really just hitting pitches hard (89.4 mph average exit veloicty — okay, okay, Bellinger’s is over 93 mph, but still!), getting the ball where they ain’t much faster than the average hitter.