Mike Petriello

Pull-happy Young benefits from lack of opposing shifts

Outfielder's pull percentage of 55.5 percent is highest since 2011

Pull-happy Young benefits from lack of opposing shifts

Chris Young -- the Boston hitter, not the Kansas City pitcher, though presumably this could apply to both -- just about never hits the ball the other way. Of the 503 players with at least 500 plate appearances between 2011-15, Young's pull percentage of 55.5 percent is the highest. Going at it a different way, only 10.4 percent of Young's batted balls last year were hit with a batted ball direction between 25 degrees (roughly right-center) and 45 (the foul line), a number that was essentially tied with Maikel Franco for the lowest among righty hitters.

Not only that, when Young does go to right field, it doesn't go well. Research by Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs last winter discovered that while Young was among the more effective hitters in baseball to his pull field, he was easily least effective -- seriously, 684th of 684 qualified hitters since 2002, per wRC+ -- to his opposite field.

We know that Young rarely hits the ball to right, and we know that he rarely causes damage when he does. (He hasn't had an opposite-field home run since 2010.) So if that's the case… why don't teams shift against Young more often, at least in the outfield?

Over the past three seasons, Young has had 1,098 plate appearances. Of those, 197 (or 17.9 percent) have come with the shift against him. While we know that lefties tend to get shifted against far more often, compare that number to prominent righties Albert Pujols (550 shifts, 30.9 percent), Edwin Encarnacion (471 shifts, 26.4 percent) or Jose Bautista (365, 19.6). Young is not the most-shifted righty in baseball, or close to it.

While that's interesting data, we can make it more visual with Statcast™. Take a look at Young's 2015 spray chart (black dots) compared to the starting position of the three outfielders (colored dots). 

Chris Young almost never hit the ball to right field in 2015, leaving the right fielder defending little.

The first thing you'll probably notice is, "Oh, that's why the Red Sox signed Young over the offseason," because a move that initially seemed confounding -- the Sox are hardly thin in outfield talent -- makes a whole lot more sense when you realize how tempting it is to have him take aim at the Green Monster.

But if you look more closely, you'll also notice that the pink dots, showing the right fielder, are just about completely independent of where Young's batted balls land. Meanwhile, the left fielder -- and to a lesser extent the center fielder -- is covered in black dots, showing the landing position of batted balls.

What about that pair of batted balls that actually did go towards the right-field foul line? One was a double, the other a fly-ball out, neither one hit more than 90.9 mph. After all, you can't be the least-effective opposite-field hitter in more than a decade if you're actually hitting a great deal of dangerous balls that way.

If you look at only Young's spray chart of hits (red) and outs (in blue) from last year, you'll see that overwhelmingly, the ones that didn't leave the park fell in front of the left fielder (this is a generic ballpark outline, so the ones that look like home runs do not exactly correspond to the real-life outcomes):

Most of Young's non-homer hits were softly struck to left field.

It's at least worth wondering if teams ought to do something extreme, at least on a hitter as extreme as Young. There's nothing in the rule book that says the "right fielder" has to play in right field, after all, and there's a whole lot of red (meaning hits) on the shallow left-field area and center-field area of that spray chart.

It sounds crazy to think that a team may want to look into the softball-esque "rover" positioning, but then again, it also seemed crazy to put the shortstop to the right-field side of second base against lefties like Ortiz, and that's now accepted practice. Some team is going to do something about that. Some team is going to benefit.

Mike Petriello is an analyst for and the host of the Statcast podcast. He has previously written for ESPN Insider and FanGraphs. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.