You may have seen this back at the Worldwide Leader: Rob Manfred interviewed with Karl Ravech of ESPN in a video that aired yesterday, and promoting offense appears to be one of Manfred’s priorities. Among the options Manfred said the league would consider: rules changes to cut down or eliminate defensive shifting in baseball. I don’t know how likely this is; speaking as a lawyer, those rules would be difficult to draw up. Would we draw circles on the field, and make fielders stand in them? What about third basemen playing in for bunt situations? Would it be just that two infielders would have to stay on both sides of the second base bag, and if so, will that really matter?

There’s also this: shifting doesn’t do much to overall offense in the sport. John Dewan of Baseball Info Solutions, a company that’s been tracking shifts since the start of the 2010 season, examined the question of why, which such an increase in shifting, we haven’t seen a drop in batting average on balls in play (BABIP). His answer: the number of plays in which teams employ shifts is not high — and shifts, while often an advantage, aren’t foolproof. Some of the best teams save just 20-30 runs per year through shifting, which adds up, but not by a lot (especially since it’s not like there was zero shifting ten or more years ago). It’s kind of like a standing offer to change 103 pennies into dollar bills: it’s a sure thing to be a good deal, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to have a huge effect on your net worth.

And it might be more like one penny per dollar. At the end of the season, Dewan returned to the shifting question, sharing some totals. The total number of shifts — which was under 2,500 per season in 2010 and 2011 — ballooned to 13,296 in 2014. But while teams saved runs by doing this, Baseball Info Solutions calculates that just 195 runs were saved by defenses last season, less than 1% of the 19,761 runs that were actually scored. This is a real advantage, but not an enormous one.

In this Wall Street Journal piece, you can see a table with team totals for number of shifts and number of runs saved by shifting from Inside Edge. Other than the minimal impact (the Astros had saved 44 runs through shifts, but the next-highest total was the Giants’ 25), the main takeaway here is that the D-backs were in the class of teams that did a minimal amount of shifting. More than they did 4-5 years ago, most likely — but still behind most of the league. The D-backs’ Inside Edge shifts total through September 8 last year was 352 plays (average was 575 plays).

If other teams are shifting and the D-backs are not, the team stands to benefit from rules limiting shifting. That’s a little awkward to say, since the D-backs could eliminate the disadvantage in another way — actually doing more shifting on their own — but there it is.

Considering how few total plays result in shifting, however, it looks more like the D-backs could be hurt by the elimination of defensive shifts. Whether a player can be hurt by defensive shifting has a lot to do with how frequently he pulls the ball; sometimes we see an infield and an outfield shaded in different directions, but shifting players to go the opposite way just doesn’t really happen. And if this is largely a question of pulling the ball, well, despite a few players like David Peralta and Aaron Hill, that’s just not who the D-backs are.

From ESPN Stats & Info (which we’re glad to be able to access), I can tell you that on a team-by-team basis, the average pull percentage is 39.9% of batted balls. Eighteen teams had a pull percentage of 40% or higher last season. The D-backs ranked 29th in pull percentage, at 36.1% (only the Marlins pulled fewer balls on a rate basis). Roster turnover helps make that number less revealing about the future, especially since rules changes for shifting probably wouldn’t be implemented before the 2016 season. A couple of players who pulled the ball a lot like Peralta (46.3%), Jake Lamb (44.4%), and A.J. Pollock (40.5%) may see more at bats. And a couple of the players that left had low pull percentages, like Miguel Montero (38.7%) and Didi Gregorius (34.8%), are gone. Heck, Martin Prado may have single-handedly made the team a low pull percentage team, due to his insanely low 26.3%.

Chances are, shifting or not shifting won’t affect the D-backs much on either side of the ball. A humidor, on the other hand…

  • The full complement of players on the 40-man roster are expected in big-league camp next month, but the team now has its list of 23 non-roster invitees. Nick Piecoro has the full list, which doesn’t have a ton of surprises. The big news, as Piecoro points out, is that we’ll get to see some of Archie Bradley, Aaron Blair and Braden Shipley in camp. For Shipley and Blair, this is just for the team to get a close look. Bradley’s situation is a little different; it’s extremely unlikely that he’ll break camp with the team due to service time considerations, but with the help of a single spot starter, it’s still realistic to think that he could be the de facto fifth starter once the team moves over from Salt River Fields at Talking Stick back to Chase Field. There is a small chance that one or two of the other non-roster invitees will make the team (especially Nick Punto, Blake Beavan, Jordan Pacheco and Nick Evans), but it’s mostly a matter of injury — the 40-man may not be one of the best in baseball, but it is stacked with major league starters (including relievers). If you could permanently cross your fingers, that would be great.
  • We hope Oscar Hernandez is ok with the commute between Salt River Fields at Talking Stick and Chase Field, because we hope that if he makes the 25-man in April as a backup, he still gets to get some extended spring work in during the year. Jeff has offered to chauffeur Hernandez back and forth, and even provide some free ham sandwiches. Just saying. But as Nick Piecoro wrote last week, the catcher situation is far from resolved. Last season is gone, and luckily the team gets to start with a blank slate, at least as team record is concerned. But the combination of Chase Field, dry baseballs, fly ball pitchers, a handful of pitchers who have scuffled with other teams, and a freshman catcher with a bad defensive reputation… yikes. Making Peter O’Brien the primary catcher might be like adding another foot of snow to a sagging roof.
  • Go to Snake Pit for the opening frame of a D-backs employee awkwardly trying to fit between a posing Yasmany Tomas and a pile of cardboard, boxes, stay for the rest of the frames, showing Tomas starting to work out with the D-backs. The fact that he was signed at all is still a shock. If you weren’t already crossing your fingers, start now. Also, nice to see Cody Ross is already at the complex…
  • At Just a bit Outside, Mauricio Rubio has a graphic showing just how rounded each team’s offense was last season (not that a team gets any extra runs for doing that). The D-backs were among the most “rounded” teams, with 4 of 5 metrics all on the same part of the scale, and the other just one level off… but that… didn’t make them look too good.
  • Here’s the full promotional schedule for the season, at Fox Sports Arizona. The Randy Johnson number retirement on August 8 is probably the big one, but how can you miss D-backs Fun Socks night? D-backs Fedora night?
  • On March 29, the D-backs and Rockies will play a (split-squad) exhibition game in Hermosillo, Mexico. Why not? Plus, since they’ll be leaving from the same place, the D-backs and Rockies players can split a bus!
  • Jeff Summers is waiting on a golden ticket.
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One Response to Roundup: Rules Against Shifts Could Hurt the D-backs

  1. Anonymous says:

    geez, take away a ball/make walks on ball 3 and a k on strike 4. Or make the the new strike zone the Laz Diaz strike zone, which no one knows what it is from game to game anyway. that’s it bucknor hernandez and diaz could be in charge of the bottom 3 series every week.

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