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June 6, 2012 5:00 am

Manufactured Runs: What We Really Know About the Shift


Colin Wyers

The defensive shift revolution makes for a nice narrative, but how much has it truly changed the game?

Last week, we examined the effects of fielding shifts on fielding metrics. For those who missed out, I’d advise you to go read it, but the short version is that location-based fielding metrics can overstate the importance of fielding shifts to a team’s defense and thus overrate players who are shifted in such an arrangement.

But if the fielding shifts are throwing defensive metrics off, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t contributing to team defense, right? And we are in what some people might term a shifting renaissance. John Dewan of Baseball Info Solutions says:

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Is the shifty Brett Lawrie truly the amazing fielder that some defensive metrics claim he is?

Let’s play a game called “Which one of these is not like the others?”

Culled from Fangraphs, Baseball-Reference, and yours truly, defensive ratings for Brett Lawrie:

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A closer look at what the various pitch types mean and how to approach pitch classification.

Several of the leading pitchers in this year’s postseason make their living with a cut fastball, most notably Roy Halladay and Mariano Rivera. The list of playoff pitchers who have the cutter as an important pitch in their arsenal, though, is long. It includes Cliff Lee, C.J. Wilson, and Tommy Hunter on the Rangers; Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes on the Yankees; and Cole Hamels on the Phillies.

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Data collection biases taint batted-ball metrics.

As regular readers may have gathered by now, I spend a lot of time thinking about the validity of the data that’s collected about baseball. The bee in my bonnet these days is really batted-ball data.

We can refer to one of two things when we talk about batted-ball data—trajectory data and location data. Trajectory data describes how the ball travels—typically subdivided into grounders, fly balls, line drives, and popups (also called infield fly balls). Location data typically describes where the ball went—distance and vector, basically.

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