The Cleveland Indians did five times to Matt Carpenter last Tuesday what other MLB teams had done to him 146 times prior.
They shifted the third baseman to the right side of the infield while the second baseman backed up deep into that no-man's land between center field, right field and his normal position.
So how did Carpenter alter his approach? He didn't.
Carpenter doesn't try to hit around the shift. He blasts away straight into it.
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With the Cleveland defense stacked against him, the 32-year-old third baseman went on to become the only Cardinals player in 126 years to go 5-for-5 with five runs scored and a pair of home runs.
"If you try to do something that's not what you do and not to your strength as a hitter, that's exactly what they want. It's a lose-lose," Carpenter said. "So you don't change your approach. As a hitter, you go with your strength."
Such a notion conflicts with traditional baseball sensibilities which tell us, as Wee Willie Keeler put it, to "hit it where they ain't." If an opponent wants to leave the left side open, why not instead shorten up and slap an easy single the opposite way?
That was a convenient argument back in May, when Carpenter was batting .155. And now that he's flirtying with .260 after a six-week tear? He still confounds the purists every time he grounds out on the right side.
But technology has brought baseball detailed statistical analysis that sometimes conflicts with its more dearly-held axioms. For Carpenter, the numbers support blasting away.
When he pulls the ball, he's deadly, even when the shift is on.
As of Wednesday's loss to Cleveland, Carpenter was batting .417 with 13 of his team-leading 15 home runs and 20 of his 23 doubles on balls he put in play to right field. Shifting against him is still a good idea, though it's little more than a speed bump. Even when Carpenter pulls directly into the shift, he's batting .320 — 60 points higher that his season average.
It's not that he has resisted going opposite field. Of the 170 balls he had put in play as of the close of the Cleveland series, 37 percent went into left field (not coincidentally, 38 percent of the pitches he faced were on the outside half of the plate), but he hits just .200 when he goes that way.
This all follows a career pattern. Carpenter has faced the shift 710 times over the years and is batting .316 against it. Again, that's better than his career average by 40 points.
"If you get a pitch to drive, you take it where it's pitched," Carpenter says. "If you swing just to beat the shift, you're not going to have a productive at bat."
Carpenter isn't the only left hander combating the shift by utilizing his strength as a pull hitter.
Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman is batting .360 against the shift (.318 total); Texas outfielder Nomar Mazara hits at a .333 clip against it (.282 in all); San Francisco outfielder Brandon Belt hits .346 when he pounds the right side (.296 to all fields).
Not everyone can blast away, though.
For some like Mike Moustakas — the most shifted-against hitter in baseball — a concerted effort to use all fields hasn't necessarily helped. He's batting .258 this season and .253 against the shift.
Anthony Rizzo has been particularly vulnerable to the shift. The Cubs' first baseman has 39 hits to right field, including 10 of his 12 home runs, but has grounded out to the right side 56 times in 263 at bats. Rizzo is batting .250 this season, and just .228 hitting into the shift.
For the record, Marcell Ozuna is the Cardinals right-handed batter to see a shift and, over 40 at bats against it through Wednesday, he's hitting .375. Struggling Dexter Fowler (.259 in 85 at bats) and Kolten Wong (.189 in just 11 at bats) are the only other Cardinals to be shown the shift.
There remains, of course, the argument that the best way to beat the shift is to bunt. The opportunity is tempting and there's a time and place for everything. The broader question, though, is whether a manager really wants a productive hitter like Carpenter, who has a .513 slugging percentage, to settle for a less productive dribbler on the infield.
Bunting does not, contrary to popular belief, force the opposition to abandon the shift because it's very purpose is to take away a hitter's strength. Laying down a bunt is a surrender.
So for Carpenter, the best strategy is that which he has employed all along with surprising success.
"If the pitcher brings it inside," he says with defiance, "I'm going to pull it."