Yesterday was a big day for publicly-available data. FanGraphs released shift data. This is a crucial piece of information for evaluating changes in production for both hitters and pitchers as well as offering more data to explain defensive differences between teams. One limitation that remains is the inability to split out shifts by batted ball type, which is especially useful for evaluating ground ball production. What follows is a high-level description of shift data league-wide and specific to the Royals. Note that shift data is only on balls in play. Shift data come from Baseball Info Solutions.
Against all shifts (read the linked article above to get a definition for what each type of shift means in the context of these data), MLB hit .307 / .300 / .389 in 2015. The OBP is less than the AVG due to sacrifice flies and the like - things that do not count as at bats but do count as plate appearances. Interestingly, with no shift on, MLB hit .301 / .299 / .383. That's hardly different than the production with the shift on; I would expect hitters to produce less with the shift on.
With a traditional shift on, batters hit .292 / .291 / .374. That is less production than with no shift, as expected. A traditional shift is when three fielders are on one side of the bag, two fielders are significantly moved from their spots, or one fielder is significantly deeper than normal.
On the other hand, with a non-traditional shift on, batters hit .356 / .329 / .437. Don't put on a non-traditional shift I guess. A non-traditional shift appears to be whatever is a shift but is not covered by the above three situations. A shift of any kind was employed 24,486 times last year with 17,737 of them being traditional (72.4%). There were 101,075 balls in play without a shift, so the rate of any shift being employed on a ball in play was about 19.5 percent.
The use of the shift has increased dramatically since 2010, the first year of data on FanGraphs. In 2010, there were 3,323 balls in play with any kind of shift on; in 2015, there were 24,486, as mentioned above. The rate of any shift being employed on a ball in play was only about 2.6 percent in 2010. Most of that increase is in the last two years. There were only 8,545 shifts in 2013, which means the number of balls in play against a shift almost tripled from 2013 to 2015.
The players who hit balls in play with any kind of shift on the most are the usual suspects. David Ortiz led the league in 2015 with 392 balls in play; Anthony Rizzo followed with 316. Prince Fielder was next with 305.
This brings us to Mike Moustakas. Moose was 8th on that leaderboard in 2015 with 278 balls in play against the shift. We all know Moustakas made a deliberate effort to beat the shift last year. I wrote about its early returns, which were pretty good. In that article, I asked if the positive early returns would lead to opposing teams shifting against him less. No, it didn't. It cost other teams.
In 2014, Moustakas had 255 balls in play against the shift, which increased to 278 in 2015. In 2014, Moustakas hit .234 / .231 / .298 on those 255 plate appearances. That was bad, indeed. The MLB average cited above was for 2015, but 2014 is not much different.
In 2015, on Moustakas' 278 balls in play against the shift, he hit .324 / .319 / .412, above league average and way better than 2014.
While his batted ball type distribution (GB / LD / FB) on those balls in play against all shifts didn't change much between 2014 and 2015, his rate of pulling the ball sure did. He went from a 48.2 percent pull rate against all shifts in 2014 to a 34.9 percent pull rate. It's easy to get more hits when you hit the ball where fielders are not standing. Note that almost all of the shifts employed against Moustakas were of the traditional variety, defined above and within the first linked article.
The only other Royals hitters to have a shift employed against them last year for more than 100 balls in play were Kendrys Morales (230), Eric Hosmer (166), and Alex Gordon (126). Morales hit .305 / .300 / .412. Hosmer hit .345 / .343 / .424. Gordon hit .298 / .294 / .347.
The Royals ranked third overall with 1,142 balls in play against the shift. Only the Rangers and Yankees had more balls in play against the shift. The Royals ranked 13th in AVG with a .318 value; the Giants were first in AVG at .361. The Royals ranked 13th in OBP and 12th in SLG but were 10th overall in wRC+ at 90. MLB average wRC+ against all shifts was 82, so the Royals hitters dealt with the shift admirably. Especially Moose and Hosmer.