Earlier today, I was sent a link from Twitter follower Jonathan Holbert, talking about how baseball’s defensive shifts continue to grow. I thought the article was an interesting read for multiple reasons. First, as you know, we’ve been tracking the Pirates’ usage of defensive shifts a lot on this site. So that’s always a topic I’m watching for.
It seems that other teams took notice to the success the Pirates had with shifts last year. The article talks about how the Houston Astros tried to implement shifts during the 2013 season, but the pitchers objected. This year they showed their pitchers the data of how the increase in shifts helped turn the Pirates infield from a middle of the pack group to one of the best defenses in the majors in one year. The Pirates had the same infield defense from 2012 to 2013, so you could argue that the key difference came with the added shifts.
I don’t know if the Pirates are the poster child for the defensive shifts. The Rays have been shifting a lot longer than the Pirates, and the article focuses on the Rays as the leaders in this regard. But the success of the Rays can be contributed to many things, beyond just the shifts. Meanwhile, the shifts became the poster child for the success of the Pirates last year, even though it wasn’t the sole reason for their success.
It makes sense why shifting is catching on. Last year, 22 teams had a better BABIP with the shift on than they did with the shift off. The Pirates were one of those teams that had more success with the shift on.
So far during the 2014 season, the Pirates haven’t been one of the most aggressive teams with the shift. That link only shows the top five teams, so it is possible that the Pirates are still being aggressive, without being one of the most aggressive teams. Based on what we’ve seen in the games, they’re still shifting a lot. I’d imagine the numbers would show that they’re being aggressive, since they had no problem being aggressive when shifting wasn’t so wide-spread.
Links and Notes