Zack Wheeler isn’t a fan of defensive shifts

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Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said at the MIT Sloan Analytics Conference over the weekend that one of his team’s pitchers was so strongly opposed to defensive shifts that they cut back on using them when he was on the mound. The identity of that pitcher was a mystery until right-hander Zack Wheeler came clean to Mike Vorkunov of the Newark Star-Ledger today:

“I don’t want to piss anybody off but, honestly, I don’t like it,” he said. “Teams are starting to be more analytical these days. So I hate to say that numbers don’t lie because I don’t like analytics all that much but I’m not the boss here. I really can’t control it. They know where I stand on that.”

We hear about hitters who are frustrated with shifts all the time, so it’s interesting to see a pitcher also raise concerns. Wheeler’s feelings about analytics aside, his criticism toward defensive shifts is that it sometimes doesn’t reflect his arsenal of pitches and changes his mentality on the mound. For instance, he might be hesitant of throwing a slider in the dirt if a runner is on third and the third baseman is shifted over toward shortstop. If the ball gets away, the run would score easily. He also said he gets frustrated if a left-handed batter hits an outside pitch to left field if the infielders are shifted over to the right side.

These are hypothetical situations — if applied correctly, shifts can at least put the odds in the favor of the defense — but Mets manager Terry Collins told Vorkunov that they ultimately listened to Wheeler’s concerns because they didn’t want it affecting his confidence. A young pitcher has enough to worry about and Wheeler is way too important to their future. It’s nice to see that the Mets were sensitive to his concerns, but as Alderson said in the conference, sometimes these situations arise when the benefits aren’t properly communicated or illustrated to the players. That’s on the Mets. Wheeler’s reluctance shows that there’s still work to be done here.