You think of Matt Olson as a “dead pull hitter” and teams shift accordingly. Yet Olson is very much alive, and several recent at bats have shown an encouraging ability to hit the ball with authority to the opposite field.
Specifically, Olson beat the shift with an RBI single (off of Lucas Giolito) in his first at bat of game 2. Later, he was terribly unlucky hitting a frozen rope to the left side against the LHP Xavier Cedeño that would have tied the game had Tim Anderson not happened to be right there. Today, Olson took a fastball away from Chris Volstad and launched it into the LF bleachers.
There is multiple significance to Olson’s ability to hit the ball hard to the left side. As shown in his RBI hit off of Giolito, you are hitting the ball where little defense is positioned, giving you a great chance to get a ball through even if it isn’t scalded. It also gives Olson a way to beat pitchers who pound the outside part of the plate counting on him to roll over. And it is a factor in Olson’s growing promise against LHPs — something that has been an issue so far in his professional career. With his recent success that includes several outside pitches stroked to LF, Olson is now up to a very respectable .250/.314/.391 against LHPs for the season.
I’m not a big proponent of bunting against the shift because I don’t think it’s necessary in order to beat the shift. Hitting away from the shift is more powerful, with its potential for hits that advance runners 1B to 3B, and even HRs from guys with Olson’s all-field power.
One guy who should not let teams shift against him is Dustin Fowler, yet early in his career Fowler has in fact seen 3 infielders to the right of 2B. Lately, though, the A’s CFer is doing a terrific job of hitting the ball to the left side, lining a solid base hit to LF yesterday and then completing an epic 13 pitch battle today by muscling a pitch over shortstop for another off field hit.
Fowler has the kind of bat control to intentionally guide the ball the other way, and so long as he sees a shifted alignment he should focus on hitting through the vacated spot. Once teams are forced to give up on shifting against him, he can go back to pulling balls through the right side. For now I would recommend he punish the shift as often as he can, with the large margin for error provided by housing just one infielder to cover about 100 feet of acreage.
If you’re wondering how wise it is to “stay the course” and pull everything because you are naturally a pull hitter, consider Matt Joyce and a batting average that has now fallen to .193 as he plays pepper with a variety of fielders congregating on the right side of the field.
Hopefully, the next batter faced with a shifted defense won’t be Franklin Barreto, all 5 of whose hits this season have been pulled — 3 HRs into the LF seats and 2 base hits to LF. Barreto’s first base hit to RF or right-center will be more encouraging to me than his HRs, because his best swing is an “all fields” swing and he should ultimately thrive as a batter who sprays hits line to line and is difficult to defend.
What Olson, a power hitter, and Fowler, a contact hitter, have both shown is that the shift can be a boon to the batter and that there are not just hits, but even key hits and even extra base hits to be found where you’re pitched but not defended. Keep up the good work and spread the word!