DETROIT: Consider this: The Indians’ team earned-run average of 4.84 ranks last in the American League. But it probably would be worse if not for the defensive shifting that manager Manny Acta employs.
The Tribe’s deep thinkers have the appropriate statistics locked in their computers at Progressive Field, so Acta will say simply that putting three infielders on one side of second base or radically aligning two outfielders to stop extreme pull hitters pays dividends.
“For us it has worked,’’ he said Monday. “I think we’re still ranked in the top five in defensive efficiency. And shifting makes sense. If a guy pulls the ball 80 percent of the time, why not play him the way you’re supposed to play him.’’
Tampa Bay ranks first in number of times it shifts its defense, and Baltimore ranks second. Both have been in the hunt for playoff spots all season, despite obvious flaws, though nobody is claiming that the biggest reason for their success is shifting the defense.
Sabermetricians claim that 10 runs saved by a defense is the equivalent of one win, and according to Baseball Info Solutions, Tampa Bay has saved 28 runs this season by shifting its defense.
There are times when teams wish they could shift their defenses but can’t, primarily when there are runners who would have free reign if no infielder was stationed within 40 feet of their base.
If defensive shifts are beginning to affect team’s attacks, why don’t hitters learn to beat the shift by altering their swings?
“Very few guys can beat a shift,’’ Acta said. “The ones that do to some extent are guys that bunt.
‘‘But when we put on a shift, that’s what we want them to do. We’d rather have a guy get a single than hit the ball in the 30th row of the seats. We’ll give you the bunt.’’
Part of the strategy of shifting is to induce power hitters to change their swing and become singles hitters. But hitters who try to adjust their swings find that it’s not easy.
“It’s tough to do,’’ Acta said. “You like to see them change their swing; when they do, they’re not happy with themselves. And most of the time, they can’t to it. They have to live with the shift.’’
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.