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Shifts Happen

April 18, 2017

Two weeks of baseball are now in the books. Early-season standings continue to be unpredictable, but one thing that's not is the league's increasing use of shifts. Teams are currently on pace to shift a record number of times for the sixth consecutive season. Note that all shift totals referenced in this article are shifts on balls in play.

MLB Shifts by Season
2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
2,350 4,577 6,882 13,299 17,825 28,132 31,677*
*Prorated from 2,542 shifts thus far


With a combined 2,542 shifts this season, teams have already surpassed the total from 2011, demonstrating the drastic overhaul the league has undertaken in just six short years. Over a 162-game season, teams are on pace to total 31,677 shifts, which would represent a 13 percent increase over last season's number. This pales in comparison to the increase between 2015 and 2016—58 percent—and is actually the smallest percent increase since league-wide shifts began their record-breaking trend between 2011 and 2012. Even though shifts are still increasing, the rate at which they're doing so is slowing down as teams approach optimal shift usage.

That being said, there is still a marked increase among the majority of the teams.

MLB Team Shift Prorated Leaders, 2017
Team 2016 2017 2017 (Prorated)
Rays 1,588 179 2,071
Brewers 1,489 152 1,759
White Sox 783 127 1,715
Angels 1,479 145 1,678
Astros 1,869 131 1,632
Marlins 452 129 1,608
Pirates 1,489 116 1,446
Rangers 834 109 1,358
Mariners 1,482 105 1,215
Padres 826 105 1,215


After just nine teams shifted over 1,000 times last season, 15 are on pace to do so in 2017, while the Rays may become the first team to shift over 2,000 times in a season. Meanwhile, the Marlins have suddenly entered the fray as a top-shifting team after being among the bottom five each of the past three seasons. Like the Marlins, the White Sox have upped the ante on shifting and have saved the most runs in baseball thus far (5) due to the shift. The Rockies are at the other end of the spectrum, on pace to finish with the fifth-fewest shifts this season after the eighth-most in 2016 and the third-most in 2015.

Of course, it's still too soon in the season to draw definitive conclusions about this year's shift trends. However, it’s pretty clear the shift isn't going away anytime soon.


COMMENTS (1 Comment)

Reminds me of the old Beach Boys song "Little Honda":

First gear, it's all right (Honda, Honda, go faster, faster)
Second gear, I'll lean right (Honda, Honda, go faster, faster)
Third gear, hang on tight (Honda, Honda, go faster, faster)
Faster, it's all right.

Alright...enough goofing around (...round, round, I get around!). Does increased shifting improve defensive stats enough to warrant doing it? And who was the genesis of this philosophy? I know there have to be numbers to back all this up.

Readers want to know.
11:08 AM Apr 19th
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