Monday, October 13, 2014

Tigers Benefit From Shifts, But Could Use Them More

Shortly after the Tigers hired manager Brad Ausmus last off-season, they also added defensive coordinator Matt Martin.  Martin's job was to make the Tigers defense more efficient through advanced metrics and scouting.  One of his tasks was to inform the Tigers on how to make the best use of the infield shifts which have become so common in the game.  As you have probably observed, the shifts are used almost exclusively against left-handed batters and typically the third baseman moves to the shortstop position while the shortstop moves to the right of second base.

Mark Simon of ESPN recently provided some data on shifts for 2014 (Table 1 below).  If you use twitter and have even a passing interest in advanced metrics, you should be following him (@msimonespn).  The data originated from Ben Jedlovec (@benjedlovec) and Scott Spratt (@pff_scottspratt) of Baseball Info  Solutions (BIS).

Table 1: Defensive Shifts in 2014
Team
Shifts on BIP
Run Saved
RS per 100 shifts
Houston
1341
27
2.01
Toronto
686
16
2.33
Boston
498
13
2.61
San Francisco
361
12
3.32
St. Louis
367
12
3.27
Texas
490
12
2.45
Chi Sox
534
11
2.06
Philadelphia
291
10
3.44
Oakland
488
10
2.05
Seattle
411
9
2.19
Detroit
205
8
3.90
Minnesota
478
7
1.46
Cleveland
516
7
1.36
Baltimore
705
7
0.99
San Diego
241
6
2.49
NY Mets
221
5
2.26
Pittsburgh
659
5
0.76
Cincinnati
212
4
1.89
Arizona
252
4
1.59
Milwaukee
576
4
0.69
Atlanta
213
3
1.41
Chi Cubs
316
3
0.95
LA Dodgers
208
2
0.96
LA Angels
357
2
0.56
Tampa Bay
824
2
0.24
Colorado
114
1
0.88
Washington
201
1
0.50
NY Yankees
780
0
0.00
Kansas City
543
0
0.00
Florida
208
-7
-3.37
Data sources: ESPN and Baseball Information Solutions

The table shows that the Tigers had the shift on for 204 balls in play (strikeouts and walks excluded) in 2014 and saved an estimated eight runs on these plays.  That translates to a major league leading 3.90 runs saved per 100 shifts on balls in play.  Thus, it seems as if the Tigers used this maneuver pretty efficiently.

As usual with new data, these results should be interpreted carefully.  The 204 shifts by the Tigers is a relatively small sample size that could have been influenced by random variation. Also, since most teams shifted more than the Tigers (the Tigers finished 28th out of 30 MLB teams), it is likely that Ausmus and company elected to shift only when there was a high probability of success.

The average team had shifts on 443 balls in play led by the Astros with 1,341. Other teams such as the Nationals and Marlins shifted about as infrequently as the Tigers with much less success. Thus, the Tigers efficiency should probably be regarded as somewhat of a positive outcome.

Almost every team saved runs via shifts with the exception of the Yankees (0 runs), Royals (0) and Marlins (cost themselves 7 runs).  Thus, frequent shifts seemed to be justified.  The leaders were the Astros (27 runs saved) and Blue Jays (16).  Of course, too much of a good thing is usually not such a good thing, so I think we might see the Astros make less use of the shift in the future.

Should the Tigers have shifted more?  All we can do is speculate, but since shifts have proven to be beneficial, it might have been better if the Tigers had been closer to league average of 443 shifts on ball in play.  This would have required them to more than double their number of shifts.  I don't know if they'll change that radically next year, but I suspect we'll see an increase.

2 comments:

  1. Well the fact that they have the best rate of runs saved per 100 shifts doesn't mean that's the best way to do things. If they can save more overall runs from doing yet more shifts, then that's better than having the best rate. The absolute value of total runs saved is more important than the rate as long as they are performing better with the extra shifts versus not doing a shift at all. It seems natural to think that the optimal shift-count would be some number higher than the actual count they went with.

    Great sell on the Twitter accounts, I am now following all of them as they seem rich with information, fantastic suggestions!

    Here's some interesting date from one of Ben's Tweets...

    # of teams to shift at least 100 times by season:

    2011 - 4
    2012 - 12
    2013 - 23
    2014 - 30

    ReplyDelete
  2. Like all relatively new tactics, one would assume its effectiveness will be mitigated in time as countermeasures evolve. Surely, a hitter as skilled as Victor Martinez could develop an inside-out swing and hit singles to the opposite field all day long.

    ReplyDelete

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