We’ve seen, heard and read a lot about the extreme defensive shifts being used across the league this season, and witnessed its effectiveness first hand as batting average for balls in play has continued to decline from what were the previous standards.┬áMoving fielders into positions where the ball is most likely to travel with certain hitters at the plate seems like such an obvious thing to do, and yet it simply wasn’t being practiced to the extent that is now.

Over the weekend, Getting Blanked’s Travis Reitsma wrote about how defensive shifts have specifically helped the Toronto Blue Jays in the early going and today, John Lott of the National Post goes into even further detail on how a more active defense has increased the team’s win total and made defensive stars out of its infield.

The most often quoted defensive metric when accounting for defensive shifts is Defensive Runs Saved, which has a complicated formula, but in a quick and dirty sense, can be understood by calculating that if a player makes a play that 25% of players at his position make, he scores 0.75, and if he doesn’t make a play that 25% of the players at his position makes, he loses 0.25 from his cumulative score.

Under these guidelines, the Blue Jays are currently employing three leaders at their position in the team’s infield. This, is due in large part to Kelly Johnson, Yunel Escobar and Brett Lawrie being positioned in places on the diamond that aren’t typically covered by players of their positional designation.

While more and more attention is being given to active defenses from around the league, what isn’t being talked about as much are the improved analytics going beyond mere spray charts that are informing coaches and players of the tendencies of certain batters. In this sense, I think fielding is the first step to a more wide spread acceptance toward how data can assist in actual decisions being made in the dugout.

It seems to me that while front offices have entrenched themselves strongly in analytics for the purpose of player acquisition, there’s been a disconnect between that thinking and the traditional decisions being made in the dugout. I wonder if the effectiveness of fielding shifts might open up coaches and managers to a more percentage based mode of thinking when it comes to bullpen management, pinch hitting and defensive substitutions.

It’s really only a matter of time until we see that first manager sitting on the bench with an arm firmly clenched around his iPad.

And The Rest

The Philadelphia Phillies fans who taunted Jayson Werth after the Washington Nationals outfielder broke his wrist are only serving to motivate him to get back on the field faster. [Washington Post]

The Arizona Diamondbacks are looking at Toronto Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia as a possible trade target. [DJF]

New York Mets rookie middle infielder Jordany Valdespin’s first Major League hit was one of a timely nature: a game winning home run off of Jonathan Paplebon. [Baseball Musings]

Mets catcher Josh Thole is heading to the Disabled List after getting run over in a home plate collision by Ty Wigginton. [Mets Merized]

Bryan LaHair is looking like a superstar in Chicago. How long can it last? Is the Cubs first baseman for real? [Chicago Tribune]

How the phrase “that’s an interesting suggestion” may have saved the Tampa Bay Rays from a potential relocation. [Rays Index]

Kenley Jansen will replace Javy Guera as the closer on the Los Angeles Dodgers. [Los Angeles Times]

Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland thinks that the Cole Hamels punishment is an absolute joke. How’s that for old time baseball? [Detroit News]

The New York Yankees closer situation is far from open and shut. [New York Times]

Not bad. [YouTube]

The Seattle Mariners pull a friendly prank (of sorts) to welcome Doug Fister back. [Lookout Landing]

The San Francisco Giants’ defence last night has manager Bruce Bochy questioning whether or not the team skipped Spring Training this year. [Comcast Sportsnet]

An interview with The Rickey Henderson. [Athletics Nation]

Our friend The Common Man presents to us the crimes of CBS Sports reporter Jon Heyman. [The Platoon Advantage]

Milwaukee Brewers shortstop Alex Gonzalez is the latest injury for the very wounded team. [FanGraphs]

I understand that Humberto Quintero home run balls might be rare, but jumping in a fountain to get one might be a bit much. [Big League Stew]

Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Henderson Alvarez is due a healthy dose of regression. [Runs Batted Out]

What’s to become of Boston Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz? [Over The Monster]

It’s the latest edition of the DJF Podcast, wherein we try really hard not to be downers about the Toronto Blue Jays. [DJF]

And finally, we talk all about the Cole Hamels/Bryce Harper plunking and give some more love to the Baltimore Orioles. Yes, that part felt very, very wrong. [Getting Blanked]

Comments (18)

  1. Apparently, Kevin Cash is really good at drawing up spray charts. He must be alot of fun at birthday parties.

  2. Parkes, IPads would be great for big league managers, but apparently, MLB rules prevents the computer savvy managers to introduce them into the dugout. You can call it the Jim Leyland needs a smoke in the video room rule.

    • I didn’t know that. What’s the rule?

      • Saw something somewhere on twitter about it. The rule is probably tied into all of the rules relating to video replays in the dugouts, which are banned, and so forth. MLB rules allow for binders and spray charts but no reliance on electronic equipment for in-game managers and coaches. That is why video rooms are still in use I guess.

        • Could also be related to the fact that the dugout is considered as part of the field of play, as managers and players can be ejected from the dugout by an umpire.

          Its somewhat silly as they can go into the tunnel or the clubhouse and relay decisions, but whatever, an old archaic rule from MLB.

  3. ” I think fielding is the first step to a more wide spread acceptance toward how data can assist in actual decisions being made in the dugout.”

    I know a certain West Coast reporter who’s going to have an aneurysm (sp?) when he sees this sentence…. Not that he’d ever read a blog.

  4. I don’t know if it will lead to managers making decisions with advanced metrics – but I certainly hope that at the very least – a defensive shift will also effect which pitches get called in which location.

    The defensive shift is so much more effective when you pitch to the location that is most likely to generate a ground ball to the side you’ve stacked.

    Ortiz burned the Jays early in the year on a Alvarez sinker on the outside part of the plate (3B side to the lefty Ortiz). Naturally, Medium-Sized Papi spanked the pitch right at where Lawrie would have been standing.

    There have been a few other pitches lately in which the Jays got lucky that a player missed. If you’re pitching to a pull hitter you need to keep the ball down and in or else you do the work for them to get that outside pitch and put it the other way through a huge gap.

    I love the shift, its been so effective for the Jays this year. Now its time for Farrel to start listening to those who have shown him how smart he can be if he’d ignore baseball dogma and look at the numbers. ahem – Adam Lind hitting 4th?

    • You can pitch low in the zone, and it’s likely to induce ground balls, but I’d love to see the research that shows that horizontal location of pitches has anything to do with where the ball is batted.

      • Why? Do you really think you can pull a fastball down the line if it’s pitched away?

      • Mark’s right, it’s much easier to pull a ball inside and go the other way with a pitch outside. It takes a great hitter to intentionally inside-out a ball the other way with any power.

        • Again, please show me where this has been proven.

          • Are you looking for a pitchFX to spray chart analysis, Dustin, or would you settle for old school baseball, like a Ted Williams ‘here’s how you hit what pitch’ instructions that have been more-or-less universally accepted?

      • Hitting technique is driven by pitch location. While it’s not impossible to pull an outside pitch, nor to hit an inside pitch hard the other way, it is more difficult to do. This is why baseball people often praise hitters at being able to inside-out a ball.

        Now when you factor in the velocity of a pitch it does mix things up a little; obviously a hitter looking for a fastball and getting a change up on the outer third is likely to roll over on it and hit it on the ground to his pull-side, but if you’re just talking fastballs, it’s reasonable to expect that hitters will tend to hit a ball to the side that it’s been thrown.

        Accordingly, I’m willing to bet that more advanced spray charts that are being used aren’t just showing where hitters hit the ball, but where they hit on inside/middle/outside pitches, and by pitch velocity or pitch type to help inform not just the shift of the fielders, but also the pitch sequencing.

  5. Maddon has already been spotted with an iPad.

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