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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Analyzing the early returns from the Blue Jays’ unorthodox defensive experiment

Not only are the Blue Jays moving fielders around in a general sense, they are making a particular commitment to four-outfielder alignments. In Montoyo’s first year as manager they threw an extra man into the outfield on just 38 pitches, and that number has shot up recently.

While it’s far from the team’s most common defensive alignment, it’s become an important card up the Blue Jays’ sleeve — and they’re by far the league’s biggest proponents of the unorthodox defence. Only six teams haven’t tried it in 2022, and the other five have combined to throw fewer pitches with a four-man outfield (289) than the Blue Jays.

If Toronto is going to be an extreme outlier on the 3-4 defence, it’s worth asking how effective that’s been. The sample is small, but the overall numbers aren’t particularly encouraging. Of the 80 balls in play with a four-man outfielder, 29 have fallen in for hits — good for a .363 BABIP.

That sounds grim, but it’s not a fair way to judge the alignment because it doesn’t take into account what would’ve happened if the Blue Jays were playing a more conventional defence instead. Digging through footage of all of these hits, it’s clear that there are only three that straight-up positioning was significantly more likely to convert into outs.

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: May 25, 2022 at 03:12 PM | 18 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: blue jays, dylan carlson

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   1. John DiFool2 Posted: May 25, 2022 at 05:05 PM (#6078437)
Fangraphs had something on the 4-man outfield awhile back, but I found their analysis shallow and unconvincing. This article laid it out in much more detail.
   2. Walt Davis Posted: May 25, 2022 at 05:57 PM (#6078441)
This all strikes me as rather odd. I mean the numbers will work out to be whatever they are and maybe show this works well enough. But BA on FB in-play is oonly 100 with only about half of those going for extra bases. How much lower can you get that? How much does dropping an IF cost on BAgb (233 on average this year with a lower probability of extras)? (Yes, you'd also get some extra outs on LDs, I don't know how many.) But if your nerds are saying "we're getting killed on FBs in play" then either get new nerds or get new OFs.

If you could put an OF in the first 3 rows, then you'd be getting somewhere.
   3. John Northey Posted: May 25, 2022 at 07:20 PM (#6078450)
Good article on it. As the year moves along it'll be interesting to see how the Jays do on BABIP and how they do at cutting down doubles vs the past. xBA gives a solid way to measure what happened vs what normally would happen. What is the real BA on balls hit when the 4 man OF is in play vs what the xBA is for those plays? (IE: if a xBA of .500 is there for 2 plays then you count it as a 1-2 for xBA vs whatever happened in real life).

A shame we can't go back and apply it to the Ozzie Smith / Cal Ripken days when we had 2 extreme and effective examples of ways to play - Ozzie iirc was always dead centre of his zone and counted on his amazing skill to get to more balls than anyone thought possible, while Cal used positioning to maximize the plays he made. Or for guys like Devon White who seemed to get to everything in CF while making it look like he was just out for a jog.
   4. Walt Davis Posted: May 25, 2022 at 08:34 PM (#6078454)
So I learned something. Per White's b-r page, apparently the originally spelling of his name was Whyte and he has been using that since 2003.

On the point ... did White get to "everything" or did he mostly get to the same stuff as every other CF but occasionally was called upon to get to stuff others couldn't. There are a lot of things that go into the number of plays a CF might theoretically make but White's career RF9 in CF was 2.78 while the league average CF RF9 was 2.71. That's like one extra play every 14-15 games. Not to be sneezed at, that's like 1-1.5 wins a year but it's not redefining the game or anything.

As per the Jays in 2022 ... as mentioned, BABIP-FB is 100 this year. The Jays have given up 5 fewer hits than you'd expect ... oddly enough, seemingly all singles. Whether any of that is related to the times they utilized a 4th OF or not I can't say. They don't seem to have had any advantage on LDs. In typical "baseball is a funny game fashion", they have given up 7 fewer hits on GBs than league average -- again no idea if this relates to the OF alignment.

FBs are good for one thing and one thing only -- HRs. GBs are good for one thing and one thing only -- singles. Defending against BABIP on FBs makes about as much sense as devising some defense to eliminated GB XBH (1 per 43 GB).
   5. Buck Coats Posted: May 25, 2022 at 08:43 PM (#6078457)
While it’s far from the team’s most common defensive alignment, it’s become an important card up the Blue Jays’ sleeve — and they’re by far the league’s biggest proponents of the unorthodox defence. Only six teams haven’t tried it in 2022, and the other five have combined to throw fewer pitches with a four-man outfield (289) than the Blue Jays.


Is it me or is this part really confusing? Okay, only six teams haven't tried the 4-man outfield. But then what are "the other five"?
   6. Walt Davis Posted: May 25, 2022 at 08:51 PM (#6078458)
I looked at the article ... reasonable enough. I'm not at all convinced by the exhibits C and D. The RF is always going to be pretty near that spot for Gallo in C and the one in D is hit to pretty much straight-away CF ... if anything it was made a harder play by the LCF/RCF alignment. And ... there have been no plays where a conventionally-placed OF would have had a shot at it? That is I agree that the first two examples likely gap the LF and CF ... but there have been no similar balls that gap the LCF-RCF but would have been caught by a CF playing more straight-away?

Anyway, based on the evidence provided, I'd put it as saved two doubles (and maybe half a double across the other two?) while giving up 3 singles (did the runner really not make it to 2B on that bunt?). In fairness, I'm pretty sure those GBs are all hits against a standard shifted IF. Assuming the 4th OF is used mostly against your slugger types who pull GBs but spread FB around fairly evenly, you'd be in a IF shift anyway. But then the effect of the 4th OF would be the SS has to stay on the normal side of 2B -- if anything the extra GB hits you give up are probably on the pull side, not the weak side.

I can well imagine that against most hitters this is what a "no doubles" defense should look like. If they have the bat control to abuse the 3B line, good on 'em.

Anyway, if it saves the Jays 10 doubles a year while costing them next to nothing then by all means do it.
   7. Walt Davis Posted: May 25, 2022 at 11:59 PM (#6078488)
#5 ... I assume it's just a typo and that only 6 teams have tried it.
   8. Jose is Absurdly Correct but not Helpful Posted: May 26, 2022 at 09:38 AM (#6078500)
If Toronto is going to be an extreme outlier on the 3-4 defence, it’s worth asking how effective that’s been. The sample is small, but the overall numbers aren’t particularly encouraging. Of the 80 balls in play with a four-man outfielder, 29 have fallen in for hits — good for a .363 BABIP.

That sounds grim, but it’s not a fair way to judge the alignment because it doesn’t take into account what would’ve happened if the Blue Jays were playing a more conventional defence instead. Digging through footage of all of these hits, it’s clear that there are only three that straight-up positioning was significantly more likely to convert into outs.


This is a bit of handwaving I think. In the more conventional defense(defence) teams would be 26 for 80 rather than 29 for 80. The difference there is .363 to .325. Sample sizes etc...but that's a pretty huge difference. Presumably SLG (or more precisely ISO) goes down so that's some benefit but a nearly 40 point difference in OBP due to the shift doesn't make me think it's working all that well.
   9. Tom Nawrocki Posted: May 26, 2022 at 10:06 AM (#6078505)
Since the primary purpose of the shift is to prevent extra-base hits, you'd need to look at the opponent's slugging percentage to make a fair comparison, right? The article weirdly doesn't think of that, although they give us plenty of xBA comparisons.

The fourth outfielder would not just turn more doubles into outs, but may also help turn some doubles into singles by covering the gaps better. If you're losing 40 points of OBP but gaining 50 points of SLG, it might be worth it.
   10. Jose is Absurdly Correct but not Helpful Posted: May 26, 2022 at 10:20 AM (#6078507)
Yeah there's a lack of information that would be useful. 40 points of OBP is a hell of a lot though.
   11. The Duke Posted: May 26, 2022 at 12:14 PM (#6078522)
The new shift rules will take of this (hopefully).

Baseball has started to become analogous to downhill skiing where skill is far less important than what wax you use on your ski or like swimming where the suit you wear is the most critical factor.

It's all very innovative but not really helpful in getting a sense for who's best on the field or watching an exciting game. A lot of people think this stuff is great but it is strangling the sport. When the guys banging the trash cans are more important than the guy trying to put bat to ball, something's gone wrong. I exaggerate of course but my broader point stands.
   12. BDC Posted: May 26, 2022 at 01:20 PM (#6078529)
I must say that with pitchers taking forever to throw and batters taking so many pitches, watching shifting defensive alignments is getting relatively more interesting. Defenses seem constantly in motion these days, even within PAs. BITD, defensive positioning was much more subtle, positioning much more automatic. A step or two in or out or over; third baseman routinely plays in for a likely bunt; whole infield routinely comes in with a crucial runner on third base. Nowadays it's comparatively a kaleidoscope, and to me more fun to watch. (This is of course from my perspective, as I never see TV games anymore, only live in the ballpark, quite a difference I imagine.)

If they start tethering fielders to uniform starting points, that whole angle of interest goes away.
   13. Zach Posted: May 26, 2022 at 02:57 PM (#6078541)
I wonder if at some point bat-control swings to slap the ball to a particular part of the field will come back in fashion.
   14. John DiFool2 Posted: May 26, 2022 at 03:48 PM (#6078549)
If they start tethering fielders to uniform starting points, that whole angle of interest goes away.


Cricket has been doing this since God invented the game. I wonder why it took so long for baseball to catch up?
   15. Random Transaction Generator Posted: May 26, 2022 at 04:08 PM (#6078553)
I'm not sure "why doesn't baseball do what cricket does" is very compelling argument.
   16. Harmon "Thread Killer" Microbrew Posted: May 26, 2022 at 04:38 PM (#6078557)
I wonder if at some point bat-control swings to slap the ball to a particular part of the field will come back in fashion.


Watching all the shifts, I had the same thought recently. Imagined a team dedicated to recruiting specific skill sets and teaching all the small ball tactics - push bunts, drag bunts, slap hits off the fake bunt, etc. Only works if they all have excellent strike zone judgment too.

Of course, the other team quickly adjust the D to combat your advantage, so likely not feasible. But would be fun to watch for a while.
   17. manchestermets Posted: May 26, 2022 at 04:56 PM (#6078561)
I'm not sure "why doesn't baseball do what cricket does" is very compelling argument.


Especially when it's about something that cricket absolutely doesn't do. Different formats of the game have various rules about how many fielders may/must be in certain areas of the field at various times, but there's absolutely no rules tying them to certain points of the field.
   18. Paul D(uda) Posted: May 26, 2022 at 09:54 PM (#6078596)
Today's effectively wild podcast was an interview with the ceo of the data company. They grilled her a bit. I recommend it.

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