Phillies’ Bryce Harper to see most extreme shift yet this year

CLEARWATER, FLORIDA - MARCH 09: Bryce Harper #3 of the Philadelphia Phillies hits in the first inning during a game against the Toronto Blue Jays on March 09, 2019 in Clearwater, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
CLEARWATER, FLORIDA - MARCH 09: Bryce Harper #3 of the Philadelphia Phillies hits in the first inning during a game against the Toronto Blue Jays on March 09, 2019 in Clearwater, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /
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Teams are using an even more extreme shift than usual this year against Bryce Harper, playing four outfielders against him.

The defensive shift has become arguably the most controversial part of baseball, with some claiming that it is just strategy while others argue it leads to an all-or-nothing approach at the plate. The Phillies are no strangers to it, deploying the 10th-most shifts last year according to Baseball Savant.

New signing Bryce Harper saw his fair share of shifts with opponents using one in just over half of his plate appearances. He generally saw the typical left-handed pull hitter shift with the second baseman backing up into shallow right field and the shortstop and third baseman moving over.

Now Harper is seeing an even more extreme shift than he has in years prior. In both of the spring training games he has played in so far, the opposing teams have deployed a four-man outfield against him. The shortstop played somewhere around second base, but there was essentially no one on the left side of the infield.

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This is a rare but not unheard of shift. Sports Info Solutions tweeted that four players faced a four-man outfield in five or more at-bats in 2018, all of whom were AL hitters. Only two NL teams (the Rockies and Cubs) deployed such a shift.

We didn’t get the chance to see how the shift worked against Harper as he either walked or struck out in his first four plate appearances this spring. He will play again Wednesday and Friday, so we may get the chance to see how things play out then.

Harper told reporters he hopes not to see this kind of shift during the regular season, and for good reason. His weighted on-base (wOBA) average dropped from .404 (excellent) to .350 (above-average). The fewer times Harper has to face the shift, the better.

The hitters in front of Harper getting on base should help prevent teams from deploying a heavy shift against him. The top of the lineup should feature guys like Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura, and Cesar Hernandez, all of whom get on base at a high rate. They will be key in helping Harper face a standard defensive alignment, which should help his overall numbers.

Next. Harper's debut most watched spring game since 2012. dark

Or Harper can just hit every ball out of the stadium. ¯_(ツ)_/¯