Monday, May 5, 2014

Evaluating defense in the shift era

My last post of 2013 was about the closing off of new-age evaluative stats to the general public. For much of my adult life, savvy fans had access to statistical insights of which the teams themselves were (for the most part) ignorant.

Today the teams — or at least some of them — are developing new metrics for their own use and keeping them out of the public domain.

Some of that is visible on a daily basis as teams rely ever more heavily on exaggerated defensive positioning. These shifts are based on detailed charts of hit patterns and pitch sequences.

And it occurred to me Sunday that these shifts are going to raise havoc with the best of the public defensive metrics.

The play that crystallized this thought for me wasn't a defensive play at all. It was Brian Dozier stealing third — not off the pitcher, not off the catcher, but off the third baseman, who was playing Jason Kubel essentially at the traditional shortstop position. Manny Machado had no chance of getting to third far enough ahead of Dozier to take a throw.

My favored defensive metric, the Baseball Info Systems plus-minus, is a video-review system that splits the field into zones and measures how often balls hit into a specific slice of the field are turned into outs. But that system makes more sense when infielders are in their traditional spaces, not congregated on the first base side of second base as they are for Kubel.

Aesthetically, I'd prefer to see the shifts backfire enough to discourage such heavy use. I don't see that happening, because such hitters as Kubel can't/won't/don't take advantage of the shifts. (The Orioles kept the shift on even after Dozier took third; they knew Kubel wouldn't push a bunt to third and take the RBI single.)

Teams will keep shifting until the hitter make them stop. It's just incidental that they will, in the process, make it more difficult to get a objective handle on the quality of an individual's defense.

1 comment:

  1. Why would a player not take advantage of the space provided? Sane thing tonight, and Jubel struck out.