I haven't noticed any commentary here on the PG's article today on the Pirates' defensive shifts. Basically, the article has a generally positive tone, and points out that there's an MLB-wide trend toward more, and more radical, shifts. I thought it was interesting for several reasons.
First and foremost, I'm sure we all remember the blistering ridicule NH got from a certain corner of the local media over the shifts the team employed while John Russell was the manager. This, of course, fueled tinfoil hat type conspiracies about NH being a closet manager who insisted on employing a sock puppet underling. (Funny how those theories have disappeared after 1+ seasons of Clint Hurdle.) Today's article doesn't have any data to show that the shifts are working, but then, the earlier criticism wasn't supported by any data, either. The fact that the strategy seems more successful now is almost certainly attributable to the Pirates' run prevention abilities going from horrendous under Russell to decent last year and excellent this year.
The article definitely reflects what I've been seeing in games involving practically all teams. I'm seeing shifts on hitters you wouldn't expect to get shifted on. I'm seeing lots of shifts against RH hitters, which used to be very rare. And I'm seeing crazy stuff like teams essentially using four outfielders. It's interesting that the article mentioned Joe Maddon. (If the Rays do it, it must be good, right?) I saw him interviewed about it a couple weeks ago and he said pretty much the same stuff the article says with respect to the Pirates. It has to be closely coordinated with the pitchers, and the players have to have some leeway in specific situations.
One last thing I can't help wondering is whether defensive shifts are playing a role in the weaker hitting the last couple years. Maybe somebody good at statistical analysis (i.e., not me) could attempt to figure that out.
So maybe NH was ahead of the curve, but just didn't have the personnel to make it work.
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