The Rays style of baseball is more than just “looking for an edge” or “thinking outside the box.” The Rays Way is about challenging things that many people think they know about the sport of baseball.

As a result, the Rays are a threat to baseball insiders that have spent a lifetime accumulating “baseball knowledge.”

That was on display last night with Yankees broadcaster, Michael Kay.

Full disclosure: I have met Kay on a few occasions. We have had drinks. And I was even his guest for a taping of one of his shows.

It is no secret that the Rays use the defensive shift a lot. And against the Yankees they use it even more. And so far this season, we have seen several plays in which a Yankee has hit a ball right into the shift.

This led to a discussion last night between Kay and Al Leiter, in which Leiter explained that not only do these shifts predict where a ball will go, but it also causes the hitter to lose his comfort level at the plate.

Here’s the play that led to the discussion…

Leiter, who sounded impressed with the defense, pointed out that these aren’t traditional shifts (“they’re major!”). Well, Kay who largely sounded like he didn’t want to participate in the discussion (unusual for him), explained (with a dismissive tone) why he thought the shift was a waste in this case…

“But if there wasn’t a shift there, the shortstop would have been right there…”

And herein lies the flaw in Kay’s and many other “old schooler’s” thinking: That is, Kay is correct. But it is also irrelevant.

The point is not where Curtis Granderson hit the ball. The point is where Granderson didn’t hit the ball. He didn’t hit the ball to third base. And he almost never does. So why keep the third baseman in a place where he is not needed?

There’s an age-old saying in baseball, “hit ‘em where they ain’t,” which is of course, easier said than done (hence the best hitters fail 65% of the time). But wouldn’t the defensive equivalent be, “put ‘em where they hit ‘em”?

And oh by the way, get into the hitter’s head while you’re at it.

Here’s Mark Teixeira appearing visibly frustrated after his inning-ending double-play in the eighth inning last night…

Baseball has always embraced “geniuses.” But the “experts” hate being told what they think they know is incorrect. And that’s gotta eat at guys like Kay.

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4 Comments

  1. Beth says:

    This makes me think of the scene in Moneyball where the scouts want to draft someone because he has a good "baseball face."

    I hope the Yankees keep thinking this way.

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  2. Rayalan says:

    A major portion of the effectiveness is getting into the head of the hitter when he is normally a pull hitter on a particular spot and he sees a wide open field somewhere else and his temptation to try and hit something where he does not on a rgular basis. Even the slightest hesitation takes the edge off of his attempt to put the ball in play.

    A significant part of this in order to work that the pitcher has to put the ball where it needs to be to make it difficult for the hitter to put the ball in play in that open area. Outside as opposed to inside pitches and vice versa.

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  3. Dave L says:

    On the ESPN broadcast the announcer (it wasnt Nomar.) I think it was the other guy particularly made an "AH HA!" case for the shift failing when a hit went through the spot where the 2nd baseman would normally be noting that the shift often fails.

    If you have to look all game for the one spot late in the game where it fails then its obviously succeeding grandly for the most part.

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  4. Andy says:

    Not only did the shirt on Tex work, but Rhymes made an excellent stop to get it started!! That's another aspect that the so-called experts miss - the Rays can & do use the shift so well b/c they have superb & flexible fielders throughout their infield!! Rather than act dismissively toward the Rays' guys w/his childish wave, Tex should have tipped his hat to them!!

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