A fan of bygone days may have thought the Houston Astros had gone crazy during their three-game series last week against the Royals.
Houston’s infielders moved around a lot as the Astros employed various shifts depending on which Royals batter was at the plate.
Heading into Friday’s games, Houston had already used 176 shifts and was on pace for 1,782, according to Acta Sports. The top four teams in defensive shifts this year are the Astros, Yankees (98), Brewers (75) and White Sox (61), and all are on pace to beat last year’s record by the Orioles (595).
“Tradition can be wonderful, but it can also be a vision-killer,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said at the winter meetings.
“I played in an era where a hard groundball up the middle was a base hit nine out of ten times. Now it might be a base hit two out of 10 times. So if the information is there, it’s real, it plays out, you’re really not doing the best job you can to help your team win if you’re not paying attention to it.”
Baseball Info Solutions tracks defensive shifts and said last year the Royals employed 386 shifts on balls in play, which ranked ninth in baseball.
This year, they have shifted on 33 balls in play going into the weekend, which would put them on pace for 382 shifts, said Doug Wachter of Baseball Info Solutions. Thanks to the increased rate of shifting throughout the league, that pace would rank them 13th among all major-league at the end of 2014.
Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas, who hit .233 last year, saw the Tigers employ a shift on opening day, and other teams have followed suit, including the Astros earlier this week.
“I’m a firm believer that you defend the portion of the field where the hitter has the greater probability of hitting the ball,” Houston manager Bo Porter told MLB.com.
While it’s jarring for fans to see three infielders on one side of the infield, it’s also not something the players have become accustomed to, either.
“The first time you get a double play ball hit at you when you’re standing in right field,” Pirates second baseman Neil Walker told the Wall Street Journal, “that’s pretty strange.”
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“He’s a bulldog when he’s out on the mound. You can even see it in his at-bats when he strikes out or doesn’t get a bunt down, he takes it personal. To have a pitcher putting out that much effort out on the mound and taking his at-bats that serious, as a team you want to play better for him, you want to make a play for him, because he’s working his (tail) off.”