Will Clark was a prolific hitter during his MLB career, hitting .303 over a 15-year career that included 7,173 plate appearances.
Baseball has changed over time, as teams now use analytics to inform their strategy throughout games. One by-product of that has been the increased use of shifts against hitters who frequently hit the ball one way.
The Giants legend told 95.7 The Game on Wednesday he remains confused by players like Brandon Belt, who haven't been able to figure out how to consistently beat shifts against him.
"I've had this talk to Brandon Belt until I'm blue in the face. I'm like, 'why don't you back off the plate, get the ball out over the plate for you instead of being in on you all the time, why don't you back off the plate, get the ball out over the plate and go the other way?' But he always stands in the same spot in the batter's box and pulls everything and hits it right into the shift," Clark said on the "Morning Roast."
"And everybody talks to me about it, and I go 'well the big thing is, I would be able to hit a ground ball to shortstop, you guys can't hit a ground ball to shortstop.' And Belt goes 'well yes I can' I said no you can't, because there's eight guys on one side of the field. I said you can hit .700 hitting the ball for a groundball to shortstop.
"As far as the shifts go, it's great for the defense because they're playing the odds and these idiots that are in the batter's box don't make any adjustments. And taking that a step further, that's like these guys that hit 15, 20 homers, you bring up a Joey Gallo, that's a perfect example, 15 or 20 homers, maybe 25 at the max, and he's gonna strike out 200 times. That is not a hitter, you have no pride in your craft, you don't work on anything, all you do is go out and try to hit the ball out of the ballpark, that's all you do."
Opposing teams have shifted on 81.6 percent of Belt's at-bats in 2021, according to Baseball-Savant's tracking data. Since 2018, teams have shifted on at least 75 percent of the first baseman's at-bats each and every season. This year, in particular, he has hit dramatically better against a standard defensive alignment than he has against a shift. Belt's weighted on-base average (wOBA) against no shift is .504, while the number drops to .329 when a shift is enacted.
Gallo, who prompted the question for Clark, has an even more dramatic percentage of shifts. The Texas Rangers slugger, who just completed a quick two-game series with the Giants, sees defenses shift 93 percent of the time. Gallo has 756 plate appearances since the 2019 season began, just 37 of those have come without a shift from the defense.
Clark was a phenomenal hitter during his time, but the game has changed significantly in recent years. With such an emphasis on hitting home runs, the finer aspects of hitting are much less of a concern for players.
An adjustment in the batter's box could help Belt, but it's hard to imagine the 33-year-old hasn't tried something in hoping to consistently beat the shift.
Those are strong words from Clark, but with the Giants in first place in the division, Belt clearly is doing something right.