Once a bastion of their return to competitiveness, the Pittsburgh Pirates now carry a feeling of “meh” towards the shift.
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The Pittsburgh Pirates used to be a shifty bunch. They were certainly not the first team to employ shifts regularly, of course. Yet they played an integral role in the early Clint Hurdle-era years.
As was (and still is) the case with many analytically-inspired innovations the Pirates have implemented, the rest of MLB seems to have passed the club by. In 2013, the Pirates ranked fifth in total shifts employed. Fast forward to the just-completed 2018 season, and the Pirates find themselves in the bottom half of MLB in terms of total shifts.
The Pittsburgh Pirates came in 24th in MLB in defensive runs saved with a -37 rating.
Why did the club shift so little, then? Comparatively speaking.
Perhaps an easy answer is this: The team simply had bad defenders, and putting them into different spots would not mask that. Among regulars with at least 700 innings in the field, Only Corey Dickerson (+16) and Starling Marte (+1) carried positive figures in defensive runs saved.
Josh Harrison (-2), Colin Moran (-8), Jordy Mercer and Josh Bell (both -9) comprised a porous infield that might have conceivably benefited from a few more shifts.
Will the Pittsburgh Pirates get back to their shifty ways in 2019?
It certainly would not hurt, but neither would having better defenders.