phpKbmnplMost would agree the Rays’ success in 2008 was due in large part to their improved play with the gloves. Not content to with sticking with what works, the Rays have become even more agressive defensively in 2009.

“We talked about being aggressively offensively, being aggressive on the bases, and I think that we’re being aggressive on defense,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Look at the NFL, and even the NBA, and some aggressive defenses, and how that speaks to winning championships, too.”

The aggressiveness can be seen in how they push their outfielders to play as shallow as they can to take away line drive and bloop hits, and encourage all fielders to take chances in making catches and throws…But it’s also in their scheming, as they have started to use significant defensive shifts against more hitters. It used to be that only a few left-handed sluggers, such as Boston’s David Ortiz and Chicago’s Jim Thome, got the special treatment, with 2B Akinori Iwamura going into short rightfield and SS Jason Bartlett crossing over to the first-base side of second…But now the Rays are shifting against more left-handers (Baltimore’s Aubrey Huff, for example) and also against some right-handers, such as Boston’s Jason Bay and Kevin Youkilis, though not as dramatically, with Iwamura up the middle and 1B Carlos Peña in the hole.

We have become very familiar with Joe Maddon’s use of the infield shift. We have seen it work, like earlier this year when Mike Lowell was robbed of an RBI by lining out to Aki Iwamura who was standing behind second base.

But we have also seen the Rays beat with the shift a few times this season. For example, yesterday, Jim Thome grounded to Ben Zobrist playing to the right of second base with the bases loaded. Rather than turning an inning-ending double play, Zobrist was forced to go to first for one out because there was nobody to cover second. As a result, a run scored.

And we have also seen BJ Upton and Carl Crawford get beat by balls over their head late in close games. Rather than play not to give up the extra-base hits, the Rays were trying to take away bloop singles.

What we don’t know is how many more hits the Rays would have allowed had Upton and Crawford not been playing shallow.

On the other hand, we know from Maddon that the Rays are being more aggressive and we know from our own observations that on several occasions this year, that new found aggressiveness has cost the Rays runs at crucial times.

Only time will tell, but let’s hope that at this point, it is just bad luck.

Aggressive Tampa Bay Rays increase use of defensive shift [St. Pete Times]

 
 

10 Comments

  1. You know I’m all over this. I don’t mind the more aggressive defensive shifts, I just think that Maddon should temper that with solid baseball smarts. Unwritten rules are part of baseball and they’ve come about because they work. We’re not reinventing the wheel here… we’re playing baseball. Keep it simple, Joe!

  2. cougar says:

    While the bad things that happen from this are glaring….I think prof makes a good point in that we don’t know how many hits or runs have been prevented because of the shifts. That would be a very interesting study to do over a season. I think what we are seeing so far is the variance. If a player like Gardener hits the ball to the shallow outfield or in 85% of the time, that means approximately 1 out of every 6 at bats he will hit the ball over the outfielders head. Thats a risk Maddon seems willing to take, and he will live and die by the sword. I have ZERO problems with that. Right now we are seeing that 15% happen, and because of the timing that it does, it seems so much worse, but over the long run, playing the numbers improves the team….and as I said, I would be curious to see how it affects the entire season.

  3. Dave says:

    What I’ve never understood about the shift is it’s so simple to beat: lay down a bunt. I know that’s not “sexy,” but it is effective as heck. I know sluggers don’t like to pracice bunting, but if more and more teams effectively use the shift on them, eventually one of them will figure it out.

    • My memory is a bit fuzzy but I believe Pena has done that a couple of times.

    • Joe D. says:

      To start off an inning I’d agree, or even one away, tied game or down by one, some of those thing, I’d agree. However, two out, none on, I don’t think that the Red Sox want Papi bunting for a single. I think a lot of it has to do with situation.

      I don’t blame Papa Joe for trying some of these Ideas out, especially in the early going of the season, like we are now. I know — “a game in April counts the same as a game in September.” But, I’d still rather lose an April game then a September game especially playing around with “aggressive defenses.” I mean look at last year, the 5 man infield worked pretty well a couple of times.

  4. Brixology says:

    I am on board with the aggressive defense in all cases but those where we are protecting leads and a ball over the head spells defeat while a ball in front keeps us alive. Even moreso when you have one of the strikeout guys pitching. This, is, of course, assuming we can figure out a way to get a lead.

  5. Thrill says:

    Why is everyone so quick to criticize and no one has stated the obvious regarding the shift, “If Zorilla isn’t playing directly behind second base, there’s a 99 percent chance that NO ONE gets to the ball and NO OUTS are recorded.” Forget the double play. With Thome at bat, shift or no shift, Iwamura is going to play for at least a slight pull tendency and likely has NO CHANCE to get a well hit ball up the middle albeit on the 2nd base side. If anything the shift probably saved another run. Regardless, the shift had nothing to do with yesterday’s outcome and probably helped.

    • bobrittner says:

      Exactly.

    • Can you explain the shallow outfield late in games? I’m specifically talking about Bossman and Upton playing Brett Gardner like he’s a girl in a Little League game and then letting the balls go over their head. In those late inning situations, you have to play to stop the double.

      As for the Zobrist missed double play, when I watched it… I thought that Aki in normal position would’ve got the ball. I don’t think it was hit that hard even if they were playing normal alignment with the 2nd baseman playing the pull. I could be wrong, however.

      I’ll say it again. I think Maddon’s getting too cute with these alignments. I’m actually fine with playing Thome, Papi, etc like that. But, once I start seeing other guys getting special treatment, I become suspect. Also, these “hit charts” don’t take into account any change or adjustments the batter may have made since last season.

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