Shifts Still on the Rise

April 21, 2014

Last year at this time, we showed how the early defensive shift leaders were well ahead of the pace they set the year before (Shifting Into High Gear, April 18, 2013). The same thing is happening again this year.

Baseball Info Solutions began tracking shifts comprehensively in 2010, and the last two seasons, shifts on balls in play have nearly doubled each season from 2,357 in 2011 to 4,577 in 2012, then nearly doubling again to 8,134 in 2013. Two and a half weeks into this season, teams have already shifted on 1,188 balls in play, putting them on pace for an incredible 12,443 shifts on balls in play.

Here are the teams that have deployed the most defensive shifts thus far this year:

Teams Shifts by Season
Team 2013 2014 2014 Pace
Astros 496 176 1782
Yankees 475 98 992
Brewers 538 75 759
White Sox 73 61 618
Orioles 595 51 590

The five teams listed above are all on pace to match or exceed the record-setting shift usage of 595 shifts on balls in play set by the Orioles in 2013. Four of these teams are among the usual suspects. The Astros, Yankees, Brewers, and Orioles were all among the top eight in shifts on balls in play last season. In particular, this year's prorated totals for the Astros, Yankees, and Brewers look to blow away the 2013 Orioles, with the Astros on pace to just about triple that total!

The other team that is ahead of the 2013 Orioles’ shift pace may be the most interesting. Last season, only the Nationals, Phillies, and Dodgers shifted fewer times than the White Sox. That trend has clearly reversed, as they have already shifted on 61 balls in play, 84 percent of their yearly total from 2013.

It is still too early in the season to draw any conclusions about the effect that this further increase in shifting will have on saving runs defensively. In 2012 the 4,577 shifts deployed by MLB teams resulted in 75 runs saved. Last year, the Shift Runs Saved total was 137 runs resulting from 8,134 shifts.


COMMENTS (3 Comments, most recent shown first)

The answer to Hank's question is obvious, assuming that you're talking about NET runs saved. You are taking into account the cases where a hitter bunts or hits to the opposite field to beat the shift and subtracting them from gross runs saved, aren't you? And to make the matter even more complicated, neither figure would include balls that would have produced the same result against normal positioning, right?
8:08 PM Apr 22nd
Why wouldn’t you do anything (legal) that saves runs?
7:56 PM Apr 21st
Bottom line: Is shifting worth it? Does it pay to do it? 137 runs saved doesn't seem like a whole heck of a lot. All the teams are doing it, though.... Doesn't mean it's the best thing to do.
4:23 PM Apr 21st
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