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Friday, March 28, 2014

WSJ: Deee-fense: Baseball’s Big Shift Playing the field suddenly is becoming a sophisticated science

Baseball’s approach to defense, long unchanged except for the gloves getting bigger, is undergoing the most radical change in strategy since the Reconstruction Era. Defensive shifting, which started as a trend several years ago, is becoming epidemic. Major League teams “shifted” 8,134 times last season, compared with just 2,357 in 2011. [...]

Last season, the Pirates “shifted,” meaning they had three infielders on one side of second base or in significantly nontraditional positions, 494 times, compared with 105 in 2012. [...]

The Pirates defense “saved” 77 runs in all, or 77 runs better than an average defense, third-most in Major League Baseball.The Pirates also finished above .500 and made the playoffs for the first time since 1992. The Boston Red Sox shifted 478 times in 2013, compared with 199 in 2012. Those shifts saved the Red Sox 15 runs during the course of the season, second-most in baseball. They won the World Series. (The Rays were first in runs saved by shifts.) [...]

Still, not everyone is on board. The St. Louis Cardinals, the game’s model franchise of late, shifted infielders just 107 times last season, about 50% more than 2012, but nothing on the scale of the Orioles (595 shifts), Rays (556 shifts) or Brewers (538 shifts).

 

bobm Posted: March 28, 2014 at 09:20 AM | 14 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: brewers, cardinals, orioles, pirates, rays, red sox, shift

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   1. Davo Dozier Posted: March 28, 2014 at 02:10 PM (#4678313)
This is the first I've read that teams are using defensive shifts depending on the count. Interesting article.
   2. Tricky Dick Posted: March 28, 2014 at 03:20 PM (#4678366)
Since Reconstruction Era?
   3. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: March 28, 2014 at 04:03 PM (#4678398)
I find the rise of defensive shifts to be one of the most interesting facets of the modern data revolution. It uses an old school concept of the shift, but with actual numbers to back up the efficacy of it.
   4. John DiFool2 Posted: March 28, 2014 at 04:14 PM (#4678403)
I wonder (worry, rather) that all this shifting stuff, combined with the historically-high rates for strikeouts, might result in a sudden (additional) downward shift in offensive levels which have already undergone a significant decline. One of those chaos-theory type inflection points or such...
   5. Foghorn Leghorn Posted: March 28, 2014 at 05:52 PM (#4678436)
This is the first I've read that teams are using defensive shifts depending on the count.
Teams have always done that - even before these shifts.
   6. dr. scott Posted: March 28, 2014 at 07:02 PM (#4678448)
I wonder (worry, rather) that all this shifting stuff, combined with the historically-high rates for strikeouts, might result in a sudden (additional) downward shift in offensive levels which have already undergone a significant decline. One of those chaos-theory type inflection points or such...


Ive thought the same. With all new data available, it seems that there is a big advantage to defense, but not so much for offense as aiming the ball is so much harder than just starting a fielder in a certain part of the field. It also easier for a pitcher to hit certain spots with certain pitches that certain hitters have issues with, than it is for the hitters to correct those issues. Is there new data that can potentially help offense? I imagine there might be some better data to help with stolen bases, which would be nice, but I cant really think of much else.
   7. Pingu Posted: March 28, 2014 at 08:38 PM (#4678462)
This is the first I've read that teams are using defensive shifts depending on the count.
Teams have always done that - even before these shifts.


Yeah, high school teams do this.
   8. Walt Davis Posted: March 28, 2014 at 08:40 PM (#4678463)
But the Pirates excellent defensive performance last year was primarily the result of their OFs and their C. The shift from Barajas to Martin was nearly 3 wins per Rfield. There's no reason to think any of that had to do with IF shifts. Walker and Alvarez were much improved (by about 2 wins) but SS was the same.

Obviously if you can add a win or two through IF shifts then you do it -- it costs nothing. Of course if it works then everybody will do it and it won't be an advantage anymore.
   9. cardsfanboy Posted: March 28, 2014 at 08:57 PM (#4678464)
I wonder (worry, rather) that all this shifting stuff, combined with the historically-high rates for strikeouts, might result in a sudden (additional) downward shift in offensive levels which have already undergone a significant decline. One of those chaos-theory type inflection points or such...


If you are an optimist, you might think that these will lead to more interesting baseball. As it stands, players who strike out a lot, but end up still being valuable, usually have a high babip, if these techniques end up hurting babip for these players, then the game might naturally evolve back to high contact hitters, just to play the odds of having more balls in play means more hits.

Obviously there is also the possibility that the high contact hitters will be hurt equally as hard on their babip, which would negate this thought process.
   10. ptodd Posted: March 28, 2014 at 09:41 PM (#4678471)
BABIP in 2013 was 297 , in 2012 it was 297. No evidence there that the shifts are working much, at least not for everyone
   11. Knock on any Iorg Posted: March 28, 2014 at 10:31 PM (#4678488)
The Pirates defense “saved” 77 runs in all, or 77 runs better than an average defense, third-most in Major League Baseball....Those shifts saved the Red Sox 15 runs during the course of the season, second-most in baseball....(The Rays were first in runs saved by shifts.)

Maybe it's the lingering effects of that bottle of pinot grigio I finished last night, but if the Rays saved the most runs by using the shift and the Pirates are in 3rd place with 77 runs saved, how are the Red Sox in 2nd place with a mere 15 runs saved?

Needless to say, I was not compelled to read more than TFE.
   12. Ulysses S. Fairsmith Posted: March 29, 2014 at 01:52 AM (#4678525)
The Pirates saved 77 runs in all. This would include, but not be limited to, runs saved by using the shift.
   13. The Polish Sausage Racer Posted: April 04, 2014 at 12:23 PM (#4679275)
The Brewers were wasting their time with a shift while they had no one on the field who could field a ball successfully.
   14. Hal Chase School of Professionalism Posted: April 04, 2014 at 01:02 PM (#4679311)
Obviously there is also the possibility that the high contact hitters will be hurt equally as hard on their babip, which would negate this thought process.


It could lead to a change in approach at the plate, though, increasing the value of contact and using the whole field at the expense of the extra few homers that might be gained with the current low-contact/ reasonable babip approach that has been in favor for awhile now.

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