Shift Update

September 3, 2016

Back in April, we took a look at the state of shifting in Major League Baseball, but many things have changed in the four months since then. While MLB as a whole was on pace for over 30,000 shifts on balls in play in the middle of April, that number has gone down a bit. However, the league has still already smashed its own single-season shift record, and we still have a month to go in the season.

MLB Shifts by Season
2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
2,350 4,577 6,882 13,299 17,744 28,102**
**Prorated from 23,060 shifts as of September 1, 2016


While some clubs were quicker to embrace the use of shifts than others, it appears that every one of the 30 MLB teams has adopted the shift as a concrete part of its strategy. Every team is projected to reach the 400-shift marker in 2016, a level that 11 clubs didn't reach in 2015.

MLB Teams with At Least 400 Shifts
2013 2014 2015 2016 (Prorated)
7 15 19 30


While this rise in shift usage has been a popular story throughout the league, ESPN Chicago radio host Mike Murphy mentioned that he thought Cubs manager Joe Maddon was shifting much less than normal. Maddon was a vocal proponent of the shift during his time with the Rays, but surprisingly, the Cubs are dead last in shifts so far in 2016! Chicago has finished in the bottom third in shifts for the last two years, a far cry from Maddon's old Rays teams.

Number of Shifts by Joe Maddon's Teams
Season Shifts MLB Rank
2011 Rays 240 1st
2012 Rays 463 1st
2013 Rays 495 2nd
2014 Rays 824 2nd
2015 Cubs 384 T-21st
2016 Cubs (Prorated) 414 30th


The Cubs are still shifting on over two and a half batted balls per game, so it's not as if they're completely abandoning the strategy. Quite simply, the shift has become an ingrained part of baseball. Maddon's 240 shifts in 2011 were seen as part of a quirky strategy five years ago; now, almost every team in baseball has double that number.


COMMENTS (4 Comments, most recent shown first)

Wot Maris said.
4:21 PM Sep 5th
Why should Maddon's shift usage grow as quickly as those who've been behind him? If you're already in the 'happy area' of proper shift usage, you should remain consistent.
10:22 AM Sep 4th
That last paragraph makes it seems like you're counting only shifts "on batted balls," as opposed to shifts altogether.
Is that so?
If so, why?
11:28 PM Sep 3rd
I guess we're seeing a shift in thinking.
3:21 PM Sep 3rd
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