Maddon on Defensive Shifts | The Process Report

Maddon on Defensive Shifts

Defensive shifts have been in the news frequently in recent weeks as the Houston Astros are leading baseball in usage of shifts and yet have the worst pitching numbers in all of baseball. Carlos Pena, who is quite familiar with the shifts from his time with the Rays, is even surprised with the frequency the Astros are implementing defensive alignments.

Pena played for the Rays, where manager Joe Maddon and another data-driven front office have been at the forefront of a baseball-wide move towards greater shifting on defense. But he said that the Astros shift far more — and more drastically than the Rays ever did. Pena believes the shifts are helping.

“We’re in better position, no question about it,” he said. “It’s unconventional, but when you see the percentages, it just makes sense. Bo Porter, Eddie Perez, these guys are not afraid.”

Yet, not everyone is on board with the moves the field staff is utilizing during games. At a Baseball Prospectus fan event this past weekend in Houston, General Manager Jeff Luhnow addressed the issue by pointing out a double standard that exists on the team.

Luhnow stated that while pitchers such as Lucas Harrell (he did not name names) were quick to point out when they felt they were being hurt by the shift, rarely did the pitchers note when the shifts were working and turning what would normally be hits into outs. As Manager Bo Porter was recently quoted as saying, ““You have to be able to take the good that comes with it. And you have to take sometimes the bad that comes with it.”

Joe Maddon recently made an appearance on the MLB Now show with Brian Kenny and Harold Reynolds. As much as the Rays have shifted in the Maddon era, not everyone has always been on board. Maddon mentioned that Troy Percival was never a fan of defensive shifting and that current reliever Kyle Farnsworth is another one of those pitchers who likes the defense aligned in a more traditional manner.  He had more to say on the topic:

“You meet in Spring Training and explain what you are doing and why….and then you show them the results on what can be benefited from these kinds of things. We always reserve the right for the pitcher to call it off but I want to hear about it BEFORE the play occurs, not after.  Don’t tell me after the ball rolls through the spot that you wanted the fielder over there. If so, turn around and move the guy before it happens…..We’re trying to play the percentages in advance of the moment and we’re pretty good at it. I’m a firm believer in it and those that mock it do not understand the entire concept but I still believe there are some residual psychological benefits coming back to us based on the hitter trying to do something different in a tight moment. Make sure your pitchers understand what you are doing in advance….at the end of the day, man, call me on it before it happens not after it happens.

To see Maddon’s interview on this as well as David Price’s situation, the types of hitting behaviors he likes, as well as where he started using advanced numbers, watch the video at mlb.com.



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