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Chicks Dig the Infield Shift

As more baseball managers employ the defensive shift, it could have a profound effect on some of your favorite fantasy baseball players.

The Increased Use of the Shift in Baseball and its Effects on Fantasy Baseball

Joe Maddon never has been a traditional manager.  Remember, this is the guy who once intentionally walked a man with the bases loaded!

Mark Texeira infield shift

SHIFTY: Mark Teixeira has seen a drop in batting average for the past three seasons, perhaps due in part to the increased use of defensive shifts against him.

But, this year, it’s getting a little nutty in over-achieving Tampa Bay.  The New York Times ran a story last week that detailed the shifting prowess of Maddon — a manager that has shifted his defense more than 150 times already this season, including 29 times in the opening series against the Yankees.  Maddon shifts his defense whether the other team is hitting righties or lefties.  He shifts his defense whether his team is playing the best teams in the American League, the Rangers or the Orioles, or the worst team, the Angels Twins.  Heck, he even shifts his defense when the opposing hitter is Ryan Raburn — a righty hitting .128 on the year.  The Rays have even figured they had enough data to warrant a shift against second year players like Kyle Seager of the Mariners and Eric Thames of the Blue Jays.  This is a team that just doesn’t shift against Big Papi.

And, its working.  The Rays are hitting .245 as team, yet battling for first place, as they always seem to do.  That’s despite the fact that the Red Sox and Yankees, at the bottom of the upside-down AL East, are hitting .275 and .277 respectively this year.  It may be a little more than a coincidence that the only team the Rays trail in the AL East are the Orioles — the team that has shifted the second most times thus far in 2012.  Those two teams are playing this weekend in the tectonic battle of the shifting American League East.

Come on, I hear you.  Its the Rays and Orioles pitching staffs that have got them to the top of the division often described as baseball’s most difficult.  Sure, that may be true, but you have to think that the shift and the pitching staff of a team whose #1 starter is Jake Arrietta (5.05 ERA last year) may be benefiting somewhat from their managers’ use of the now popular defensive shift.  Those two things must be intertwined at some point.

It must be working.  According to John Dewan of Baseball Info Solutions, the Rays shift, and other things its wacky manager does (not including dressing like pimps on road trips), has already saved the Rays 28 runs this season.  Its especially impressive when you consider saving 10 runs equals one more win, according to those Sabermetrics dudes.

Shifting Effects on Fantasy Stats of Players Like Mark Teixeira and Corey Hart

One player who has clearly had his fantasy baseball numbers hurt by the increasing use of the shift is Mark Teixeira.  Even Yankees’ hitting coach Kevin Long admits it:

“He’s just not real good at it,” Long said of Teixeira’s ability to hit the other way. “He doesn’t have a good feel for it.”  In fact, every time Texeira tried to go the other way against the Rays last year, he hit weak grounders to Evan Longoria whose job it was to cover the entire left side.

And, its not for lack of trying in having Long work with Teixeira, but “we’ve kind of hit a dead end with it,” said Long in referring to Texeira’s attempts to learn to go the other way with some power.

Corey Hart is another player who has felt the pain of the infield shift.  Houston put three infielders on the left side of the diamond against Hart this season, as reported by an article in Sports Illustrated.  Thats was dose of their own medicine, as the Brewers are the Rays of the National League — employing the shift more than any other team in the Senior Circuit.

“There’s still a lot more to be learned,” says Dewan, who estimates that there are 100 current major leaguers who should be shifted against but are ignored. “We still need more data. But there is evidence pointing to this as working.”

Tell that to the Rockies, Cardinals, and White Sox who have not shifted their defenses at all this year.  Some people just won’t learn.

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