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The Rays have been leading the way when it comes to defensive shifts, starting a trend a few years ago that has exploded this season. But according to one report, the Rays do use the shift a lot, but they are not very good at it.

Actually, they kinda suck at defensive shifts.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Rays have used the defensive shift a whopping 1,028 times this season, or about 7.1 times per game. That is second only to the Houston Astros (1,562).

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That is a massive jump in shifts this season. In 2011, the Rays led Major League Baseball with 216 shifts and only four teams shifted at least 100 times. Last year, the Orioles were on top with just 470.

But the bigger question is figuring out how successful the shift is. Sometimes the shift will rob teams of hits and other times they will hit the ball where a defender would have been normally without the shift.

According to the Wall Street Journal, overall, the shift works more than it does not, with shifts saving teams a net of 390 hits. Unfortunately for the Rays, they are near the bottom of the list.

Despite having the second-most defensive shifts, the Rays are tied for 25th with just four net hits saved. That is, the Rays have only taken away four more hits than the shifts have given up by being out of position.

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It could be worse. Four teams have given up more hits than they would have if they never shifted.

But actually it does get a little worse if we look at how often the Rays convert a shift into an extra out. It is just 0.4% of the time, better than only the four teams that give up more hits than they take away.

For comparison, the San Francisco Giants lead all of MLB by taking away a hit 5.1% of the time or about 1 out of every 20 defensive shifts. The Rays only take away an extra hit about once every 257 shifts.

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Of course, there is more to defensive shifts than just taking away hits during those at bats. Earlier this year, Joe Maddon told the New York Times that it is also a psychological ploy.

“You are trying to split someone’s desires, his concentration, his thoughts…It’s a psychological ploy as well. They grew up looking out from the batter’s box and the infield had a certain look to it. Now when you look out there, people are in different places. How’s that going to affect you in that at-bat?”

Here is one groundball back in 2012 when Mark Teixeira was visibly upset about being robbed by a Rays shift.

But at some point, you have to believe that the shift becomes so common (especially against specific players) that they are no longer hindered psychologically. At that point, you just become a team that is not very good at shifting at the right time or to the right places.

The other side of the argument is that the Rays have a pitching staff that leads Major League Baseball with 39.2% flyballs. This is something that we discussed a while back and is likely intentional and likely explains the lack of defensive double-plays.

But that probably still doesn’t explain just 4 net hits taken away in over 1,000 defensive shifts while a team like the Giants has 25 net hits taken away in less than 500 defensive shifts.

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1 Comment

  1. Dave L says:

    Thanks Cork!

    I was making this very point the other day on the discussion of Longos fielding and the ESPN NY writer cherry picking some suspect metrics, but I didn't have the data to back it up.

    The most interesting part is the conclusion in the article:

    "After watching hundreds of plays in which the shift failed to prevent a hit, we found that most times the ball just went to a place where it normally wouldn't—the result of a check swing, a broken bat or dumb luck. "

    This year has been a perfect storm of injuries, subpar play at too many times by nearly every player combined with plain old bad bad luck.

    Gives one hope for next year!

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