More so than ever in 2014, we have seen Major League Baseball teams deploy defensive shifts. Their hope is to secure more outs by taking advantage of statistical trends of hitters’ batted ball placement via more advantageous fielder positioning, primarily infielders.
For example, in the early part of this season, opposing clubs often stacked the right side of the infield when St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Matt Adams came to the plate. It took awhile before the slugger reacted – by shortening his swing and taking singles to left. Adams learned taking the ball the other way was a more preferable outcome than to try to shoot a ball through three infielders stacked between second base and first.
While we inherently suspect that shifts do help clubs overall, the benefits are now being quantified. Friend, fellow industry participant and fantasy opponent Steve Moyer has access to reams of Major League Baseball data in his role at Inside Edge. On the subject of shifts, Moyer penned an article that ran in the Wall Street Journal earlier this week.
If you have not seen it, please go there now and take it in. I will be here when you return.
Moyer’s data indicates that 26 of the 30 MLB clubs have experienced a net positive in terms of hits saved by deploying shifts this season. Of course, there are some limitations and interpretation is required.
The extremely wide variation in the use of shifts across the game is an item that really caught my attention but was not fully analyzed in Steve’s WSJ article.
Sure, Houston saved the most hits, 44, but they also deployed shifts roughly 50 percent more than any other club. The second-most prolific user, Tampa Bay, was far less successful, tied for 24th in most hits saved. At the other end of the spectrum, the Rockies shift least often - less than one-sixth as frequently as the Astros.
That led me to take Moyer’s data one step further and measure the efficiency of shifting by team. It is the simple division of net hits saved by number of shifts deployed.
|Team||Times shifted||Rank||Net hits saved||Rank||Efficiency||Rank|
Data source: Inside Edge; Note: Data through September 8, 2014.
In terms of shifting efficiency, Houston drops to 12th with San Francisco, Detroit and Washington jumping up to the top three spots in MLB.
Note that none of the three are in the top half of shifts attempted. Further, the Tigers and Nationals are only in the middle of the pack in terms of net hits saved.
In other words, these teams seem to pick their spots particularly well.
Another interesting item is that if the regular season ended today, all three would be playoff clubs, as is the fourth-most efficient club, the Dodgers.
One should not assume these results are linear, however. Specifically, these teams’ efficiency may drop if they deployed shifts more frequently. After all, one would think their comfort level in shifting is reflected by their current level using them.
Anyway, I found it interesting that there seems to be no correlation between frequency and results. Well, in reality, one could argue a negative relationship. In fact, five of the top 10 shifters are among the bottom 10 in efficiency, with two others right on the edge of joining the bottom third in effectiveness.
It seems the moral of the shift story for 2014, like so many things in life, is that moderation may be the best policy.
Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 16-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.