Astros not shifting from shift strategy
Club willing to live with bad outcomes
HOUSTON -- Astros relief pitcher Oliver Perez put his hands on his head in disbelief. He had made the pitch he wanted, gotten the kind of contact he wanted and then watched the ball off the bat of Kendrys Morales roll into right-center field to drive in the tying run in the sixth inning of Friday's Game 2 of the American League Division Series against the Royals.
Had Jose Altuve of the Astros been lined up at the traditional spot for a second baseman, he would have had the opportunity to start what could have been an inning-ending double play. Instead, the Royals would go on to tie the the game and pushed across another run in the seventh to win, 5-4, to even the series, which continues today at 4 p.m. ET on MLB Network.
It's no secret the Astros have used defensive shifts more than any other team over the past couple of years, and don't expect them to change things now.
"So we live with that, we embrace it, it's who we are," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "We have taken a lot of ground balls and line drives up the middle. We were in New York [in Tuesday's AL Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser], and Carlos Correa fields a ball up the middle that would have broke the game open or [right fielder George] Springer fields A-Rod's ball down the right-field line. That's good defensive shifting. And so, we're going to take the good and the bad and what comes with that. And we're going to do it again tomorrow. And we're going to be in the right position. I really believe that. Otherwise we wouldn't put the guys there."
The Astros began utilizing the shift in 2012 under new general manager Jeff Luhnow, who relied heavily on analytics. The philosophy was simple: put fielders in the best positions to catch the ball. If that mean putting three infielders between third base and second base for a right-handed pull hitter, so be it.
While not providing any data, the Astros have said their information proves the shift works more often than not, even though plays like the Morales single can be frustrating.
"Obviously, I understand how it looks like the shift doesn't work or where the defensive positioning doesn't work," Hinch said. "But the reality is, it did work on a few other outs that we haven't talked about. And I think that's the point of this shift. You can't live with the good and not accept some of the misfortune that leads your way."
Astros third baseman Jed Lowrie said the infielders have bought into the effectiveness of the shifts.
"I think it makes total sense," he said. "Not only that, I think if you get a guy like Kendrys Morales to hit a weak ground ball the other way, that's a win. If he's trying to do that, I think that's a win as opposed to him trying to drive the ball."
Altuve said when the Astros played the Royals in July, he was lined to the right of second base and Morales hit one up the middle.
"It's like a lottery," he said.
The Astros, though, believe the odds have been in their favor.