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Always innovating, Melvin open to new outfield alignments

MLB.com @Tom_Singer

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Having been the first general manager to get his team to liberally use defensive infield shifts a decade ago isn't enough for Milwaukee's general manager Doug Melvin.

He now wants to pioneer the four-man outfield. Not a matter of routine, of course -- but in the ninth inning, when teams protecting a slim lead enter their no-doubles defense, which now simply has corner infielders hugging the line.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Having been the first general manager to get his team to liberally use defensive infield shifts a decade ago isn't enough for Milwaukee's general manager Doug Melvin.

He now wants to pioneer the four-man outfield. Not a matter of routine, of course -- but in the ninth inning, when teams protecting a slim lead enter their no-doubles defense, which now simply has corner infielders hugging the line.

"Against a guy who is a pull, fly-ball hitter, why not play a four-man outfield?" Melvin posed rhetorically Wednesday at the General Managers Meetings. "How's that for a no-doubles defense?

"You know when guys play a five-man infield? I said, 'OK, when you're trying to prevent doubles, why not four outfielders? If you have an outfield that doesn't cover a lot of ground, it's the kind of thing you might do. I've always been open-minded to all that stuff."

Melvin was ahead of his sport's metric timeline. The Brewers began extensive shifting, including for right-handed batters, in 2004, when manager Ned Yost shared his boss's foresight.

"Yost was very open-minded," Melvin recalled of the American League champion Royals' current skipper. "We had enough data to prove the shift worked against certain hitters. We were one of the first to put three guys on the left side of second base for right-handed hitters. A lot of teams wouldn't do it. Hey, any way you can gain an edge defensively. So we did some different things; the shift is interesting, like playing zone defense in the NBA."

In theory, Melvin's four-man outfield not only makes sense, but would not be that revolutionary. In today's overshift against lefty dead-pull hitters, the second baseman camps in shallow right field. It does not make him a legitimate fourth outfielder, but the salient point is the move already leaves an infield vacancy, which would simply be more dramatic with four guys playing in front of the warning track.

In practice, however, it hasn't yet been tried.

"You've got to have a strong-minded manager willing to do it," Melvin said. "I've talked so some of our Minor League people about trying it, but so far we haven't. Those kinds of things take a lot to gain acceptance. Who knows, down the road, it might happen where somebody says, 'I'm going to do that.'"

Infield shifts have not only become common, they have become such a defensive weapon that some voices in the game want it outlawed for the same reason spitballs became illegal.

"There's some talk about people wanting to eliminate the shift, because it hurts the offense," Melvin said.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer.

Milwaukee Brewers