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Was shifting behind the awful Cincinnati Reds hitting in 2020?

Or was, y’know, pretty much everything?

MLB: OCT 01 NL Wild Card Series - Reds at Braves Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Cincinnati Reds hit .212 as a team during the 2020 campaign, which was positively awful. It was the lowest mark among all 30 MLB clubs, the lowest in recent memory, the lowest since the Norman Invasion of 1066, the lowest since this godawful year started seventeen thousand years ago.

Given the preponderance of change in the way baseball is played these days - pitches routinely topping 100 mph, strikeouts galore, dingers a-plenty, et cetera - I thought it would be interesting to check in on one particular aspect to see if it was an outsized culprit in their hitting foibles.

I’m speaking of defensive shifting, the bane of a certain (former) Reds broadcaster’s existence.

Thanks to the fine data at FanGraphs, we’ve got the ability to see how the Reds stacked up to their peers against traditional shifting, non-traditional shifting, all shifting combined, and against nary a shift. For the record, ‘traditional’ shifting is effectively the use of three infielders on the same side of 2B, the kind that first was busted out in an attempt to retire the unretireable Ted Williams back in the day. (FanGraphs has a primer on that, too.)

Shifting data, it should be pointed out, removes both walks and strikeouts from the equation, since no ball was put in play for the shift to influence those outcomes. Unlike BABIP, though, dingers are included, perhaps as an attempt to include the efforts of those sluggers who chose to damn the torpedoes and pull the ball anyway, in hopes of - a la vintage Jay Bruce - to simply swat a majestic homer right over the heads of the entire defense.

With that in mind, here’s the grand reveal of how the Reds stacked up against the other 29 clubs in batting average all types of team defense:

All Scenarios (strikeouts included): .212 (dead last)

All Shifts: .248 (dead last)

Shifts - Traditional: .249 (second to dead last, thanks to the Mariners at .246)

Shifts - Non Traditional: .238 (dead last)

Those are some pretty horrendous results.

However, the thing that stands out to me just as much as the Reds ranking awfully against all manner of shifts is the following:

No Shifts: .240 (dead last)

When teams shifted against the Reds, the Reds were awful. When teams did not shift against the Reds, the Reds were awful. The Reds BABIP of .247 against the shift was awful, the single lowest mark in the game in such scenarios. The Reds BABIP of .239 against no shift was awful, too, also the single lowest mark in the game in such scenarios.

It is very well a possibility that the shift did the Reds no favors, and perhaps even fewer favors than any other team in baseball. Still, the Reds were just as putrid at the plate in completely different scenarios, producing just enough noise to make claiming the shift as the root of their issues a tough claim.

Thank you for coming to my Red talk.