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The Outfield Shift Has Arrived

March 22, 2018
 Over the weekend there was a bit of hubbub about the Phillies’ use of seeminglyconflicting shifts in the infield and outfield in a Grapefruit League game against Twins first baseman Joe Mauer. Their infielders were playing Mauer in what BIS calls a Full Ted Williams Shift (three men on the pull side of the infield), while their outfielders were heavily shaded to the opposite field. This alignment could look perplexing if you assume that players hit balls the same direction whether in the air or on the ground. But the thing is, this makes some sense given Mauer’s tendencies, and he’s not unique in this respect.

The diagrams below (which we like to call "smart charts") show the number of balls hit to different areas of the field where the fielder can make a difference (i.e. no pop-ups for infielders or short line drives for outfielders). The color coding includes a weighting system that increases the importance placed on high-impact locations (down the line, deep, and in the gaps). Here we have Mauer’s batted ball breakdown on grounders and short line drives (GSLs) and outfield airballs from last season.

As it turns out, most players who are candidates for infield shifts (lefties that pull 75 percent of their GSLs and righties that pull 80 percent of their GSLs) have a much more balanced and at times opposite-field-heavy approach on balls to the outfield.

Of the 135 shift candidates with at least 300 at-bats in 2017, 78 of them pulled less than half of their outfield airballs (58 percent). To make the point a different way, 82 percent of hitters with at least 300 at-bats in 2017 (244 out of 296) pulled at least 70 percent of their GSLs, but none of them pulled at least 70 percent of their outfield airballs.

Mauer happens to be on the extreme end of this dichotomy, one of only a handful of players with such a starkly opposite batted-ball profile on the ground versus in the air. That said, he doesn’t represent such a unique profile that we should be surprised to see defenses like the one the Phillies employed (and others have employed in the past). We might see outfield shifts occur more often than ever this year, and the most effective ones will play the hitter to the opposite field. 


COMMENTS (16 Comments, most recent shown first)

Fireball....yeah, that is what I meant. So it might also be interesting to factor in whether Chapman is on the mound.
5:00 AM Mar 24th
Don: I'd say there's a big "if" -- "AND MORE" -- on what you're saying, and that even if so, there's still a problem because of how it's presented.

The "if" is: If it's really the case that "we are now beginning to see more, and more aggressive, outfield shifts" than before;
....and, the "AND MORE" is that it's not just "more and more aggressive" outfield shifts, but, that it's more 'against the grain' outfield shifts.

I don't see at all that the article is about "more, and more aggressive" outfield shifts; it's about outfield shifts that are in the opposite direction from the infield shift.

To this extent, we are simply reading the article differently.

Especially assuming I'm right (but even if it's how you're seeing it!), in order for the article to be (as you say) "something new," there has to be, well something new along such lines.

Per what I've said, I know that the "opposite infield-and-outfield shifts" thing he's talking about has been going on already. The article talks about it as though this is something new -- and it isn't.

Nevertheless, IF in fact there's a significant uptick in such 'opposite infield and outfield shifts,' or even, per your broader view of it, in outfield shifts of any kind, then indeed the article is observing something new, and it's 'something.'

The trouble is, the article's seeming unawareness that (1) the basic phenomenon has been known for a very long time, and (2) such 'opposite infield-and-outfield' shifts were already going on, doesn't seem to give any confidence to think there's anything new but his awareness of it.

So -- if it's really so that there's some uptick there, I have to apologize, and to take back the basic criticism. But the manner of presentation isn't highly conducive for the reader to have confidence in what is being suggested, because it looks like the writer just didn't know about what was already well known for a long time and what was already being done in the way of shifts.
2:29 AM Mar 24th
Alex, always good to see some new writing on the site. Perhaps you know- who are some other hitters that may be candidates for the Phillies to shift their outfield for, especially in their own division?​
10:55 PM Mar 23rd
And here I thought the point of the original article--perhaps implied rather than made completely explicit--is that, unlike the dramatic infield shifts we're begun to see in the past few years, we are now beginning to see more, and more aggressive, outfield shifts as well. If what I thought I was reading is correct, then it is something new, and potentially something interesting.
7:05 PM Mar 23rd
Fireball Wenz
I remember hearing as a kid, "Ground balls early, fly balls late," which makes sense with the arc of the swing.

5:10 PM Mar 23rd
My instinct would be that uppercuts involve longer swings and tend to be hit a little later, and therefore to the opposite field, rather than short choppy quick swings which would be hit out in front and a little more likely to be pulled.

It's all detailed in my article: ww. .org

Aside to MF: seeing as the proprietor here once wrote here (all in caps) "THAT IS GOOD ENOUGH FOR OLD BACKSTOP, GOD BLESS HIS VICIOUS LITTLE SOUL" we probably all need a very thick skin to hang around.

However, and especially since you had my back after the above, I would point out to BBF that we would have to shutter the store if we kept the respondents to authors who have stuff on the internet (an extremely low bar)

All that said, I hope the Phillies are horribly wrong but persist in that strategy all year, except when they play the Nats.

3:41 PM Mar 23rd
BBF: You're coming awful close to provoking further criticism of the article in the name of 'defending' what I've written. That's not particularly helpful to the guy that you're trying to help.
I'm going to reserve further comments for Reader Posts. Feel free to come on there -- I'll be addressing your comments.
1:52 PM Mar 23rd
If you can't figure it out at your age, there is nothing that I could say that will help you. Let me know when you write an article. Perhaps you can build on this one.

A little about the author:
12:18 PM Mar 23rd
BBF: I would welcome your suggestion on how I should rather have expressed it. It looks fine to me.


Correction of my Bouton reference: On second thought, it was probably in his next book, the one about managers.
10:54 AM Mar 23rd
Marisfan, it's one thing to raise questions. There is nothing with that. It's another thing to condescend. That is what you do. You have done the same in the past with several other articles. I'm not sure why you believe you are in any position at all to condescend.

I believe Bill once said, in one of his recent articles, something to the affect that the only reason somebody can criticize is because I (meaning Bill) actually produced something whereas the person criticizing did not.

Feel free to submit an article of your own.

10:28 AM Mar 23rd
BBF: Two questions for you, which you will address, if you're half a gentleman, which, to tell the truth, I don't think you are.

-- Was what I said incorrect or unfair?

-- Do you mean that people who don't write articles aren't fit to comment on and even to criticize articles?
10:00 AM Mar 23rd
I personally can't wait for the "distinguished gentlemen" Marisfan and/or Steve161 posting an article of their own.
7:55 AM Mar 23rd
Jim Bouton talked about this in Ball Four, or more likely I think, the next book, I'm Glad You Didn't Take It Personally.

That's 48 years ago.
8:21 PM Mar 22nd
Yeah. My first reaction when this came in the email was, "You've only just noticed this?"
5:14 PM Mar 22nd
.....and, I should have added, it seems very common to see the outfield shaded much less toward the pull field than is the infield, and not uncommonly shaded oppositely, at least a bit. Mauer is far from a unique case.
1:34 PM Mar 22nd
I think it's been quite well known for a long time that IN GENERAL ground balls tend more to be pulled than are balls in the air, and balls in the air tend more to be to the opposite field than are ground balls.

Actually I think it's axiomatic and intuitive just from the standpoint of picturing an average swing. As the bat comes through the hitting zone area, it's on an upward path. Balls to the opposite field are struck earlier in the path, balls to the pull field later in the path. Earlier in the path, the bat is lower, and therefore more likely to hit the underside of the ball; later in the path..... Well you get the idea. :-)
1:32 PM Mar 22nd
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