The Rise of Outfield Shifts

February 22, 2019
 This offseason there was a lot of talk about the possibility of banning infield shifts, though that has yet to happen. It should be noted that teams aren’t just getting creative with their infield positioning these days, they’re also doing unusual things with their outfield positioning.

BIS defines an outfield shift as when the three outfielders are positioned at least 110 total feet from their average position, taking into consideration bat side, ballpark, team, fielder and situational effects. The outfielder locations and average positions were obtained using Statcast data.

There were 2,814 outfield shifts last season. That’s up 28 percent from 2017 and 89 percent from 2016.

Here are the leaders in outfield shift usage in 2018:

Team Outfield Shifts
Astros 643
Phillies 471
Dodgers 283
Rays 273
Padres 203
White Sox 136

The Astros increased their shift usage by 69 percent from 2017, a season in which they ranked second in outfield shifts to the Padres. San Diego just about halved its total from 2017, but remained in the top five in usage in 2018.

Among teams that used an outfield shift more than 30 times, the Phillies had the biggest jump in usage, a nearly eightfold increase from 2017. New manager Gabe Kapler set the tone for that last spring training with how he maneuvered his outfield against hitters like Joe Mauer.

Besides the Padres, other teams to notably decrease their usage of outfield shifts from 2017 to 2018 included the White Sox (216 to 136), the Pirates (126 to 66), and the Cubs (111 to 27).

The strategy has not caught on entirely. Five teams barely used outfield shifts in 2018—the Reds (7 usages), Athletics (7), Royals (5), Mariners (5), and Orioles (4). But given that 17 teams increased their usage (by any amount) it seems possible that this strategy could be utilized even more in the future.


COMMENTS (4 Comments, most recent shown first)

There's been further discussion in the Reader Posts thread, including importantly with a diagram posted by our member Jimmyp.

It is appearing that indeed this article is extremely misleading in what it is presenting -- and that a big part of how it was able to 'get away with it' (for example, not to have been lambasted out of existence before being posted here) was the absence of some visual aid to enable one to know exactly what the article was looking at.
1:06 PM Feb 27th
I always remember when I see a shift Jim Palmer moving his fielders around according to how he pitched someone, not necessarily how that person actually hit.
2:17 PM Feb 25th
.....being discussed (perhaps more gently) :-) on Reader Posts:

(If that doesn't work as a direct link, which these things often don't, it ought to at least work via copy/paste onto the address bar.)
12:39 PM Feb 23rd
How many of us have a feel for what "when the three outfielders are positioned at least 110 total feet from their average position" means?

I sure don't. First of all, before getting to what I really mean by "have a feel" for it, it's unclear in what that means just basically. I would've assumed it meant that each outfielder needs to be at least 110 feet from the average position, and I'm guessing that is what it means -- but the word "TOTAL" is what causes a problem, making it seem like it's about the combined differentials of all the outfielders. In fact, I'd be sure that's what it means, because what else could "total" be about?? Except, 37 feet differential for an outfielder doesn't seem like enough of a differential to start calling it a shift. I mean, that's the length of a long living room.

If the latter is really what it is, it seems that the definition being used for these stats is way, way too loose, seems like it already regards fairly conservative positioning as a "shift."

But besides all that, what I meant with that first sentence was, even if we knew what Mark was talking about, would we really have a feel for what those distances mean, in terms of picturing what an outfield alignment looks like? I don't think so.

Something like a diagram wouldn't have been a bad idea. I suspect most others would have trouble automatically having a feel for it too.
And it's not like I'm innumerate about baseball distances. The way I routinely judge what it means when my car's nav screen tells me I'm "x" feet from a turn is..... like, 300 feet is the distance to a short outfield porch, 400 feet the distance to CF, 600 feet the length of a Mark McGwire home run :-) .....that all works fine. But, outfielders about 37 feet or 110 feet from their average positions -- I don't picture it.
Do you?

The folks doing some of these articles could use some of us folks as a focus group before hitting "send." :-)

BTW, I don't do these kinds of posts to be a gadfly. I do them to help the articles be better.
2:15 AM Feb 23rd
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