Saturday, May 01, 2010

Indians Travis Hafner: Get Thee to a Nunnally

After weeks of practicing with Indians batting coach Jon Nunnally, designated hitter Travis Hafner finally outfoxed the right field defensive shift routinely used against him as he knocked two sharply lined hits to left field, one a double and one for an RBI, in Friday's 9-3 loss to Seattle.

Hafner, 33, rumored to be in danger of losing his spot in the middle of the Indians batting order as his batting average plunged below .200, has been trying to hit to left since the opening of the season.

A natural left-hander, Hafner had some success, but not enough to discourage opponents from continuing to put on the so-called classic "Williams Shift," originally introduced in the 1940s against former Red Sox Hall of Famer Ted Williams. Generally, the shift leaves third base empty, with the third baseman moving to shortstop, the left fielder shading toward center and the shortstop moving to shallow right field behind second base for a total of six fielders on the right side of the playing field.

Up until now, Hafner had hit a handful of pitches to left, but most or all could be characterized as weak grounders or shallow flies easily caught by the lone shortstop or left fielder. If Hafner can continue to go the other way, opponents may have to remove the shift, which should be a dramatic boost for Hafner's batting average.