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Sunday, March 09, 2014

BtBS: Estimating number of runs saved by infield shifts

Last week, Jeff Zimmerman at the Hardball Times released infield shift data for 2013. These data considered a shift to be on when the defense had three players on the same side of the infield (as in the Jays-Red Sox example above). The data that were made available included how often teams had a shift on when hitters put the ball in play, and the players that hit into the most shifts. Here, I am focusing on the former. Keep in mind that these data exclude home runs, strikeouts, walks (because those plate appearances do not end with a ball in play). Using these data, we can estimate the number of runs a team saved (or gave up) as a result of using the extreme infield shift.

bobm Posted: March 09, 2014 at 09:16 PM | 15 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: defense, shift

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   1. Yeaarrgghhhh Posted: March 10, 2014 at 10:37 AM (#4668952)
I hate to agree with MGL (in the comments), but comparing defensive efficiency with and without the shift seems far too blunt to be useful.
   2. bobm Posted: March 10, 2014 at 11:03 AM (#4668962)
[1] See http://www.hardballtimes.com/tht-live/expanded-2013-infield-shift-data/

Batters who hit into the most major infield shifts:
Which players hit into the most shifts and the effect on their BABIP


Top 5, from the linked update:
         Name Bats Times Hit into Major Shift BABIP w/ Shift On BABIP w/o Shift On BABIP
  David Ortiz    L                        269             0.312              0.330 0.320
    Adam Dunn    L                        203             0.256              0.288 0.269
  Chris Davis    L                        199             0.302              0.431 0.349
 Adam LaRoche    L                        161             0.286              0.272 0.279
Josh Hamilton    L                        151             0.278              0.330 0.312
   3. PreservedFish Posted: March 10, 2014 at 11:38 AM (#4668982)
I would want to control for the handedness of the pitcher.
   4. Jim Wisinski Posted: March 10, 2014 at 12:32 PM (#4669021)
basically, of the non-HR hits a team gave up, how often were they singles, doubles, or triples? Home runs are not considered because we are working with balls in play. These rates are then used to determine how many of the hits saved (or given up) were likely to have been a single, double, or triple. For example, the Rays' opponents non-HR hits were singles 75.56% of the time, doubles 21.86% of the time, and triples 2.58% of the time. So of the roughly 19 hits they saved by shifting, we would expect 14 to be singles, 4 to be doubles and 1 to be a triple


This is, to be blunt, a terrible way to analyze the data. Infield shifts rarely affect balls that would be extra base-hits, almost everything caught is a ground ball or short line drive that the outfielder would have no trouble cutting off if it got through. Let's say MLB as a whole saved 50 hits with infield shifts I would expect at least 45 of them to be singles.
   5. dlf Posted: March 10, 2014 at 12:38 PM (#4669028)
Infield shifts rarely affect balls that would be extra base-hits, almost everything caught is a ground ball or short line drive that the outfielder would have no trouble cutting off if it got through.


My instinct is to disagree. By moving the SS behind the bag and the 2B into the hole allows the 1B to play closer to the line. Anything that gets between a firstbaseman and the line is just about an automatic double and occasionally a triple. The shift, in part, is just like the 'no doubles' defense late in a game protecting the lines.
   6. valuearbitrageur Posted: March 10, 2014 at 12:40 PM (#4669029)
MGL is absolutely correct. But also BABIP is the wrong stat to use for this analysis. If Ortiz's BABIP drops with the shift on, but his lower BABIP also includes gift extra bases from balls he slices the other way, it's possible the difference in his value with the shift isn't as great
   7. valuearbitrageur Posted: March 10, 2014 at 12:42 PM (#4669032)
This is, to be blunt, a terrible way to analyze the data. Infield shifts rarely affect balls that would be extra base-hits, almost everything caught is a ground ball or short line drive that the outfielder would have no trouble cutting off if it got through. Let's say MLB as a whole saved 50 hits with infield shifts I would expect at least 45 of them to be singles.


Isn't the Ortiz shift turning weak grounders to third base into doubles?
   8. Yeaarrgghhhh Posted: March 10, 2014 at 12:47 PM (#4669037)
2 -- Yes, I saw the underlying article. Can you explain why the simple BABIP comparison is the best approach, especially for the team as a whole?
   9. Ron J2 Posted: March 10, 2014 at 01:06 PM (#4669044)
#8 It's certainly not the best way to analyze the data. Results of plays not made matter. I'd also suggest that you'd also want to take a look at the numbers with flyballs and popups excluded.

You'd also want to look to see if hitters are reacting to the shift. Is there a meaningful change in the frequency that they pull the ball, hit flyballs, line drives or even pop the ball up (plausible that one effect of the shift is that players alter their swing and not everybody is effective with a different approach at the plate). Heck it might even affect K rates (either up -- trying to hit through the shift with more power -- or down -- trying to put the ball in play into the open part of the field)
   10. Greg Pope thinks the Cubs are reeking havoc Posted: March 10, 2014 at 02:03 PM (#4669075)
This is, to be blunt, a terrible way to analyze the data. Infield shifts rarely affect balls that would be extra base-hits, almost everything caught is a ground ball or short line drive that the outfielder would have no trouble cutting off if it got through. Let's say MLB as a whole saved 50 hits with infield shifts I would expect at least 45 of them to be singles.

My instinct is to disagree. By moving the SS behind the bag and the 2B into the hole allows the 1B to play closer to the line. Anything that gets between a firstbaseman and the line is just about an automatic double and occasionally a triple. The shift, in part, is just like the 'no doubles' defense late in a game protecting the lines.

Isn't it even more important to note that teams only shift against actual good hitters? If the Rays opponents hit doubles 21.86% of the time, I would think that the players that they shift against would be the guys who hit more doubles than that.
   11. Walt Davis Posted: March 10, 2014 at 04:14 PM (#4669153)
I don't have a problem with BABIP as a place to start but it rather obviously has to be BABIP on ground balls as the place to start. Who knows, maybe the shift for some odd reason affects other stuff but you start with the thing that it is designed to reduce.

To the extent that the shift may affect FB rates, K rates, going the other way rates, etc. due to changing the swing/approach (potentially the case), I would expect this effect to diminish over time. Ortiz might freak for a while but once he realizes (maybe thanks to a Sox stats dude) that his under-performance against the shift is due to crappier performance on flyballs more than anything else, he's gonna start ignoring the shift and go back to whaling on the pitch.

Rather obviously placing IF in areas where GBs are more likely will reduce the number of hits you give up on groundballs. To the extent that current data allows you to better identify those spots, you will gain more from positioning. Fine, Ortiz hits into a shift 270 times a year, not including HR. But, based on recent GB/FB rates, maybe 40% of those will be GB so that's 108. If you can shave 20 points off his BAgBIP that's -- heavens to Murgatroid -- 2 hits.

And if these guys are such double/triple machines, why hasn't the 1B always been guarding the line?

To the extent the new data seems to be having an impact it's in revealing that a lot more guys are pull hitters (at least on GB) than previously realized. But what I think would be interesting -- and the new system may start allowing us to do this -- is just looking at positioning. Who cares if the shift is on? Is the SS in the optimal spot for Starlin Castro is as important a question as whether he's in the optimal spot for Ortiz.
   12. bobm Posted: March 10, 2014 at 06:43 PM (#4669228)
Can you explain why the simple BABIP comparison is the best approach, especially for the team as a whole?

I don't have a problem with BABIP as a place to start but it rather obviously has to be BABIP on ground balls as the place to start.

I would say BAbip and some measure of overall offensive value would be the metrics I would choose, in order to align with the managerial choice. What is the point of knowing Ortiz's BAbip on "ground balls only" split versus the shift, unless the opposing manager has an extreme ground ball pitcher available? The manager must choose to employ the shift before Ortiz hits the ball.
   13. Walt Davis Posted: March 11, 2014 at 07:54 PM (#4669864)
I would say BAbip and some measure of overall offensive value would be the metrics I would choose, in order to align with the managerial choice. What is the point of knowing Ortiz's BAbip on "ground balls only" split versus the shift, unless the opposing manager has an extreme ground ball pitcher available? The manager must choose to employ the shift before Ortiz hits the ball.

Because it is the infielders being shifted and they are being shifted to reduce BABIP on groundballs. Why would the SS standing to the right of 2B affect Ortiz's BABIP on fly balls? If it does, why are HRs excluded? If it affects FBs maybe it also affects BB and K rates so why are these excluded?

Strategy X was employed to affect Y. Question #1 is "did it affect Y?" Then you can start looking at ancillary and unintended effects.

And before anybody raises the perfectly legit question of OF positioning, note this bit from the excerpt: "These data considered a shift to be on when the defense had three players on the same side of the infield." OF positioning is not being considered as part of the shift.
   14. cardsfanboy Posted: March 11, 2014 at 08:11 PM (#4669877)
Because it is the infielders being shifted and they are being shifted to reduce BABIP on groundballs. Why would the SS standing to the right of 2B affect Ortiz's BABIP on fly balls? If it does, why are HRs excluded? If it affects FBs maybe it also affects BB and K rates so why are these excluded?


I think you should start with and have the information for babip on ground balls, but at the same time, it wouldn't hurt to know whether or not it affects how the batter approaches the at bat and how it might change his style of swing. I think you would also definitely want to include their homerun percentage in there also. (heck you might want to look at if they have a change in flyball/ground ball ratio also.)
   15. bobm Posted: March 12, 2014 at 12:19 AM (#4669973)
Some interesting old data on Ortiz and shifts, from http://www.billjamesonline.com/to_shift_or_not_to_shift/ by John Dewan in response to http://www.billjamesonline.com/john_ben_david_and_the_ted_williams_shift/ by Bill James

Baseball Info Solutions categorizes shifts into two types. The Ted Williams Shift, with three infielders on one side of the bag, and Other Shifts, where players are clearly shifted well out of the normal infield alignment but short of three fielders on one side of the bag.



Hitter All Shifts 2010-11
David Ortiz 486


Finally, there is one statement that Bill makes that I want to point out that I disagree with. Bill wrote, "John wants to focus on groundballs and short line drives, which, again, is a legitimate and constructive step toward understanding the problem, even though I think it is being used to create an exaggerated estimate of the shift’s effects."

I totally disagree with the part starting with "even though". We are not trying to create an exaggerated estimate. We are presenting the facts that we have. Right now Baseball Info Solutions is undergoing an extensive video review effort to record every plate appearance and every batted ball where a Ted Williams Shift occurred in the last two years. It’s a massive effort.

Our data currently splits our Shift info between Ted Williams Shifts and Other Shifts for grounders and short liners only. We did these first because it would lead to the quickest initial significant results. Now we are going back to review all plate appearances, not just the grounders and short liners, to split our shift data between these two types of shifts. This has nothing to do with trying to exaggerate the data and everything to do with trying to develop useful research.

I think most people would agree that a Ted Williams Shift is more likely to affect grounders, short liners and bunts than it would affect a player’s flyballs to the outfield, how often he strikes out or walks, or even how often he hits a pop-up that gets out of reach of a fielder playing out of position.


The Ted Williams Shift Against David Ortiz
Grounders, Short Liners and Bunts - 2010 and 2011


Ted Williams Shift On
              AB   H   Avg
    Overall  237  58  .245
Bases Empty  139  30  .216
 Runners On   98  28  .286

No Ted Williams Shift
              AB   H   Avg
    Overall  125  29  .232
Bases Empty   34   8  .235
 Runners On   91  21  .231

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