Bad news for Brett Lawrie’s agent came fast and furious this week. First he hears his boss come out against buying up the arbitration years of young players. He then sees his client’s Baseball Reference Wins Above Replacement number take a tumble when Baseball Info Solutions announced a new way to handle shifts in their Defensive Runs Saved metric.
The new calculations drop Lawrie’s season dWAR (defensive Wins Above Replacement) from 3.5 to 1.9, a stinging blow to whatever contract conversations revolved around WAR. (aka not a stinging blow at all.)
BIS has tweaked how Def Runs Saved handles shift plays.Brett Lawrie (still great) is no longer #1 in WAR. Replaced by Mike Trout.
— Baseball Reference (@baseball_ref) July 14, 2012
Brett Lawrie might have fallen off his historical defensive pace but the Jays defense is still winning games. Taking advantage of a fortunate vantage point for Friday night’s game, I took note of the Jays shifts in action.
Hafner Gets the Papi Treatment
This is the most extreme shift we see the Blue Jays employ. Pull-hitting power bat Travis Hafner gets the full Papi shift, with Brett Lawrie scampering halfway to the visiting bullpen to plug a hole and/or get into the head of Pronk.
Except it didn’t work, Travis Harner hit a moonshot home run that Brett Lawrie had a shot at fielding were he suspended from one of the dome’s catwalks via Batman’s grappling hook.
More Pronk: Batting With a Runner on First
With a runner on first base in the eighth inning, the Jays modify the shift for Hafner. Brett Lawrie remains deployed on the right side but he is playing at double play depth. Which works out quite swimmingly as Hafner obliges the Jays by bouncing a ball directly to the shifted defender.
Lawrie does a decent job getting this ball quickly to Yunel Escobar, who makes the turn to record two huge outs. This well-timed DP kept the Jays within shouting distance of Justin Masterson and the Tribe. This play increased the Blue Jays probability of winning by 7.9%, not bad for a medium leverage situation.
Shin-Soo Choo Can Spray It
Shin Soo Choo is once again a model offensive contributor, posting his standard issue .300/.400/.500 season with good doubles power. He is a player capable of using all fields and the Jays defend him as such, sending Escobar to patrol the center of the diamond while keeping Brett Lawrie deep enough to patrol the gap.
Like Hafner’s grounder discussed above, the Jays positioning helped them create an out and directly save a run on Friday night. Choo faced Jason Frasor with Johnny Damon on second base. Wary of Damon’s heads-up base running, SS Escobar held Damon on a second base, retreating to a position similar to that featured above as Frasor delivered the pitch. Again, the Jays homework was rewarded.
Damon advances to third base but the crucial second out, coming in the dangerous form of Choo, allows Frasor to attack Asdrubal Cabrera. The Choo groundout only increased the Blue Jays WPA by 3.4% but it certainly saved a run from scoring on would have been a not-particularly-hard-hit single to center field.
Guarding Against the Bunt
Michael Brantley is a speedy outfielder who pretty much killed the Jays all weekend long, reaching base 10 times in 13 plate appearances this past weekend. In other words, none of the triangle defenses the Brian Butterfield and his team threw at Brantley worked in the slightest. The right-side infielders line up just as they did against Choo (and other LHH like Jack Hannahan and Lou Marson) but the Jays moved Brett Lawrie even with the third base bag. Brantley has two bunt singles this year and the Jays seem intent on deterring an attempt at his third.
The Jays shifting tendencies spilled a lot of ink early in the season. What once was an oddity is now standard operating procedure for numerous teams around the league. While the novelty may have worn off, the impact of a more sophisticated approach to defense continues to pay off, saving the Blue Jays runs and keeping miles off their young pitchers’ odometers. How long until hitters make their adjustments to this type of defensive trickery?