CLEVELAND: The Indians are a part of a growing trend across Major League Baseball that’s putting more and more stock in the philosophy behind defensive shifts.
This is when facing a hitter known to hit a high percentage of balls to one side of the infield. The infielders then “shift” to that side, leaving three infielders on one side of second base and only one on the opposite side.
On Sunday, it saved the Indians’ lead in their 6-4 win over Toronto. With the bases loaded and two out, Edwin Encarnacion ripped a ball up the middle, exactly where Jason Kipnis had shifted, resulting in an easy play. Under a normal defensive alignment, it likely would have been a two-RBI single into center field to tie the game.
Last year, there were 8,134 defensive shifts across baseball, according to Baseball Info Solutions. That’s nearly double the 2012 total of 4,577 shifts, which was nearly double the 2011 total of 2,358.
Indians manager Terry Francona is a believer in the idea of utilizing defensive shifts to a greater extent. With the help of third base coach Mike Sarbaugh, who also works with the infielders, they make determinations of shifting the infield in certain situations.
“It would have been very easy to say, ‘Boy, if he [Encarnacion] hits a broken-bat [ball] right at the second baseman we’re going to lose and we’re going to look stupid,” Francona said. “We felt like that’s where he [Kipnis] should play. We try to stay with that.”
One reason for the league-wide philosophy movement: new information being available on where certain batters are hitting balls, and how often. Francona has bought into the idea, along with most Major League managers. And he’s relying on the numbers and percentages as much as anything.
“We are probably a little more aggressive shifting than we have in the past,” Francona said. “I think that’s probably because there’s more information out there now. Anytime you do something as a manager, you don’t want to guess. I laugh at where somebody says “their guy.” To me the gut is making a decision knowing the information. That’s a heck of a lot better way to make a decision in my opinion.”
It’s defensive baseball in the 21st century.
“There’s so much good information now that if we don’t take advantage of it then I think you’re looking at an older manager that’s stuck in their ways, and that’s not good.”
Ryan Lewis can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Indians blog at www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/abj.sports.