This morning I’m inspired by a fascinating article by Mathew Futterman in the Wall St. Journal entitled Deee-fense: Baseball’s Big Shift.
Futterman investigates the evolving world of defensive shifts in major league baseball:
Baseball’s approach to defense, long unchanged except for the gloves getting bigger, is undergoing the most radical change in strategy since the Reconstruction Era. Defensive shifting, which started as a trend several years ago, is becoming epidemic. Major League teams “shifted” 8,134 times last season, compared with just 2,357 in 2011.
Futterman talks with Dan Fox, the Pittsburgh Pirates director of systems development (who Futterman refers to as “wonk-in-chief”), “It’s not about shifts as much as it is about optimal positioning,” said Fox.
I expect to hear “optimal positioning” now as frequently we heard about that damn “polar vortex” this long winter.
I can make fun, but according to defensive stats visionary, John Dewan’s Baseball Info Solutions, it works. According to its “defensive runs saved” calculation which measures how many runs were prevented from scoring (or led to scoring) by individual fielders and team defense. The average MLB team has a runs-saved figure of zero. The Pirates defense “saved” 77 runs in all, or 77 runs better than an average defense, third-most in Major League Baseball as reported by Futterman.
The article is well-researched, well written, and well worth a read.
Nine to Know: 2013 Opposite field hit leaders
Obviously one way to defeat or eliminate optimal positioning is by hitting the ball to all fields. One measure of that is by tracking the batters who are most successful going the “other way.”
2013 Opposite field hit leaders
|1. Daniel Murphy (NYM)||58||12||0||0|
|2. Norichika Aoki (MIL)||57||5||0||0|
|3. Eric Hosmer (KC)||52||15||1||3|
|4. Gerardo Parra (ARI)||49||10||0||0|
|5. Joey Votto (CIN)||46||17||0||3|
|6. Alcides Escobar (KC)||45||8||2||0|
|7. Jacoby Ellsbury (BOS)||44||8||1||0|
|8. Starlin Castro (CHC)||43||11||0||0|
|9. Paul Goldschmidt (ARI)||43||8||2||6|
Chris Davis, who led everyone in homers last season with 53, led the majors with eight opposite field homers.
Nine to Know: 2013 Pulled hit leaders
Going successfully to the opposite field is much rarer than pulling the ball, which is one of the reasons why shifts are so effective. Take a look at the 2013 leaders in pulled hits and you can see how many more hits recorded by the top nine.
2013 Pulled hit leaders
|1. Adrian Beltre (TEX)||92||17||0||17|
|2. Carlos Beltran (STL)||90||14||3||19|
|3. Dustin Pedroia (BOS)||88||22||0||8|
|4. Kyle Seager (SEA)||87||17||2||17|
|5. Jimmy Rollins (PHI)||86||25||1||6|
|6. Manny Machado (BAL)||85||26||0||13|
|7. Andrew McCutchen (PIT)||85||22||1||7|
|8. Alexei Ramirez (CWS)||83||22||2||5|
|9. Carlos Santana (CLE)||82||31||0||14|