Thursday, May 31, 2012

Defensive Shifts More Popular Than Ever

          The Cardinals Used the Williams Shift During the 1946 World Series

During Monday's Cardinals game against the Braves I noticed a couple of exaggerated shifts. When Dan Uggla came to bat, the Cardinals had second baseman Tyler Greene playing behind the second base instead of at his normal position. Uggla then hit a ball that most likely would of been fielded if Greene was positioned at his normal spot. You could almost hear Lance Lynn say, "what the fuck was that?" I read his lips and that was exactly what I was thinking. A couple batters later Eric Hinske was up to bat, and Greene was positioned in shallow right and Rafael Furcal was shifted over. This time it worked, and Greene made an excellent catch to get Hinske out and get out of the inning. Unfortunately two runs scored that inning, but the Cardinals ended up winning the game.

The Cardinals front office has given manager Mike Matheny spray charts which detail what areas of the field where batters get their hits. Monday was the first time Matheny had tried using it. Matheny said he tried it because the Braves hit the Cardinals hard earlier this month and was looking for an edge. Matheny said he would only use them occasionally, and infield coach Jose Oquendo isn't a big advocate of them. Defensive shifts have been part of baseball for a long time, but they have become more exaggerated in recent years. Rays manager Joe Maddon frequently uses them. However, good hitters will adapt to them and hit the ball to the opposite field.

I've seen alot of shifts over the years, mostly on left handed batters. Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, David Ortiz, and Ryan Howard seen the shift quite a few times during their careers. Earlier this year, Ortiz bunted for a hit because the shift was on. During the 2009 World Series, Johnny Damon stole second and was able to steal third too because no one was covering it. The Phillies had the shift on and it burned them that time.

The most famous shift is the Williams Shift. Indians shorstop/manager Lou Boudreau came up with it during the 1946 season after Williams clubbed his pitching hard. The third baseman moved over to shortstop. Boudreau played short and moved to the second base position, with the second baseman moving over toward first base. The first baseman hugged the foul line, and the right fielder did as well. The center fielder moved to right center, and the left fielder moved to left center. Boudreau was trying to get in Williams head with the defense, and with such a great hitter its didn't work all the time. A bunt would of been an easy hit, but Williams was to proud to bunt when the shift was on.

The Cardinals played the Red Sox during the 1946 World Series and Cardinals manager Eddie Dyer decided to use the shift on Williams. In his only World Series Williams went 5 for 25(.200) with no home runs and one RBI. However, Williams was beaned in the elbow five days before the Series started in a exhibition game. That was probably more of a reason for his struggles than the shift.

I would think that professional hitters will adapt to all of the shifts that are becoming more prevalent in the game. Hall of Famer Wee Willie Keeler used to say, "he would hit 'em were they ain't". Keeler played over 100 years ago, but the logic still makes since today. While the shifts may work to your advantage sometimes, they can also burn you.

            An Example of the Shift during the 1946 World Series

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