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Pirates, Cardinals diverge on defensive shifts

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Neil Walker on the Pirates' defensive shifts:

“It’s going to be universally implanted in baseball if you ask me,” Walker said. “But it’s going to take some time.”

Walker is, undoubtedly, correct about this. Shifts have been one of the biggest reasons for the Pirates' success this year, and when other teams start implementing them to the degree that the Pirates do, the Pirates' advantage is going to evaporate.

So why aren't other teams doing it as much? Cardinals manager Mike Matheny:

“No matter what I believe. . . and we can show them the statistics and the spray charts, if they don’t feel comfortable with the way our defense is aligned behind them, we’re wasting our time,” said Matheny.

Players' conservatism on this issue may be the biggest reason why the Pirates have an advantage that other teams don't. Even some members of the Pirates organization aren't completely behind the shifts, of course.

When KDKA’s Bob Pompeani approached A.J. Burnett to discuss the words he exchanged with Clint Barmes during yesterday’s game, the Pirates’ pitcher abruptly walked away from Pompeani and turned to the rest of the assembled press in the room and shouted: "Listen, I did not have a problem with Clint! I do not have a problem with Clint! I had a problem with the f****** shift! We play people in the wrong spot!" A.J. continued to shout as he stormed off to the weight room.

The difference between the Pirates and Cardinals here, then, is that when a player doesn't like shifts, the Pirates shrug and keep doing them. And they're reaping the benefits on occasions like these. It's not uncommon for some (although certainly not all) players to reject new ideas simply because they're new. That doesn't make them wrong.