CSS Button No Image Css3Menu.com

Baseball Prospectus home
  
  
Click here to log in Click here for forgotten password Click here to subscribe

Premium and Super Premium Subscribers Get a 20% Discount at MLB.tv!

<< Previous Article
Premium Article Transaction Analysis: ... (11/26)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Pebble Hunting: The Ha... (11/19)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Pebble Hunting: The We... (01/03)
Next Article >>
Fantasy Article Fantasy Freestyle: Loo... (11/27)

November 26, 2013

Pebble Hunting

Extrapolating the Breakdown of Traditional Defense

by Sam Miller


One of the most interesting things about extreme infield shifts is how unextreme they are. They are like some lame grownup’s idea of extreme, a little bit of flash and inconvenience but ultimately very safe. The shift was invented by sane people. Real extreme comes from insanity, and it makes us deeply uncomfortable.

Everybody’s talking about the football coach who never punts​—4th and 15 at his own five-yard line, he’s going for it. That’s fearless. It’s hard to think of a baseball equivalent, one that would work or even one that might work. Russell Carleton this week explored the listener-suggested idea of having the left and right fielders swap, depending on batter handedness, to make sure the better defender gets more attempts to field the ball. The gory math supports the use of the relatively conservative proposal, but Carleton concludes what we can't help but conclude:

In United States culture, it’s not nice to look like you’re trying too hard, especially for such a small reward and when you look weird doing it. As the infield shift has become more and more popular, I find it interesting to hear some of the reactions from teams that don’t shift. Usually, they have moralistic underpinnings. We’re gentlemen here. We don’t shift. We could, but that’s for the riff-raff to do. Brian McCann would totally shoot this down. Still, they’re leaving runs on the table. I have to wonder at what price come pride and tradition.

Meanwhile, Grantland/Crashburn Alley writer Michael Baumann recently came out against defensive shifts. Baumann’s rationale is a bit complex: He thinks it’s actually too easy to beat, and considers hitters’ refusal to beat it a self-destructive act of stubbornness that requires paternalistic intervention. More simply, though, we might say he considers the whole business annoying.

So Baumann is against shifts. Let’s say I’m for them. This is not an inconsequential divide. We’re each likely to live about 50 years more, and in those 50 years the shifts quite possibly will get more extreme. When they do, there will be people who want them outlawed, particularly if they work. It’s time to choose a side, people.

I’m on the side of disruption. The key to disruption: small steps.

Step 1. Corner outfielders swap positions in sacrifice fly situations. There might not be a lot of teams with substantial mismatches between their left and right fielders’ overall defense, but it’s not hard to find three-grade differences in throwing arms—Yasiel Puig and Carl Crawford in Los Angeles might be a five-grade difference. Batters go the other way two-thirds of the time on fly balls, Russell found, and one might hypothesize that batters trying to hit a fly ball in a sacrifice situation would go the other way even more often, since pulling the ball is a good way to roll over it. The unambiguousness of throwing ability, and the ease of implementing this tweak—one switch per game isn’t nearly the time burden of eight—makes this a very low-stakes strategy. It’s also unlikely that a manager would have to worry about being second-guessed.

The rest of this article is restricted to Baseball Prospectus Subscribers.

Not a subscriber?

Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get access to the best baseball content on the web.


Cancel anytime.


That's a 33% savings over the monthly price!


That's a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Already a subscriber? Click here and use the blue login bar to log in.

Related Content:  Defense,  Shifts,  Fielding

37 comments have been left for this article.

<< Previous Article
Premium Article Transaction Analysis: ... (11/26)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Pebble Hunting: The Ha... (11/19)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Pebble Hunting: The We... (01/03)
Next Article >>
Fantasy Article Fantasy Freestyle: Loo... (11/27)

RECENTLY AT BASEBALL PROSPECTUS
Premium Article Transaction Analysis: Cardinals Vouch for Ma...
Premium Article Notes from the Field: July 31, 2014
Skewed Left: The Nomar Garciaparra Trade Tur...
Premium Article Transaction Analysis: Brewers Get Parra's Gl...
Premium Article Transaction Analysis: Cardinals Trade from t...
Premium Article Transaction Analysis: Andrew Miller Goes to ...
Premium Article Transaction Analysis: A's hire A's

MORE FROM NOVEMBER 26, 2013
Premium Article Transaction Analysis: Jones (a Pirate) Walks...
Baseball ProGUESTus: The Strongest (and Weak...
Premium Article Rumor Roundup: Beltran to the Bronx?
Premium Article Minor League Update: International Winter Le...
The BP Wayback Machine: The Guessing Game

MORE BY SAM MILLER
2013-12-02 - BP Daily Podcast: Effectively Wild Episode 3...
2013-12-02 - BP Unfiltered: Rereading Nate Silver: 13. Pi...
2013-11-27 - BP Daily Podcast: Effectively Wild Episode 3...
2013-11-26 - Premium Article Pebble Hunting: Extrapolating the Breakdown ...
2013-11-26 - BP Daily Podcast: Effectively Wild Episode 3...
2013-11-26 - BP Unfiltered: Rereading Nate Silver: 12. Th...
2013-11-25 - BP Daily Podcast: Effectively Wild Episode 3...
More...

MORE PEBBLE HUNTING
2014-01-17 - Premium Article Pebble Hunting: What it Means to Have the Be...
2014-01-09 - Premium Article Pebble Hunting: The Year's 10 Best Slides: A...
2014-01-03 - Premium Article Pebble Hunting: The Weirdness of Walking Bar...
2013-11-26 - Premium Article Pebble Hunting: Extrapolating the Breakdown ...
2013-11-19 - Premium Article Pebble Hunting: The Hall of Fame 50 Percent ...
2013-11-12 - Premium Article Pebble Hunting: Rereading Nate Silver: 5. Th...
2013-11-06 - Pebble Hunting: The Stupidest Part of Baseba...
More...

INCOMING ARTICLE LINKS
2014-01-22 - Premium Article Pebble Hunting: Do the Astros Deserve to Be ...