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Ausmus: Defensive shifts have gone 'overboard'

BALTIMORE -- Brad Ausmus took over the Tigers' managerial job last fall with a plan to incorporate some new strategies into the team's game plan, including a defensive coordinator to help coordinate infield shifts. But even Ausmus thinks the recent trends towards shifting have gone too far.

Much like football teams copying a winning offense, Ausmus expects the trend to eventually be countered.

"I think it's probably gone overboard," Ausmus said. "Like a lot of things in baseball, it tends to become an extreme. If a team does it, then three teams do it, then everyone does it, then a few teams start doing it more and I think in baseball, it gets out of hand."

After Alex Avila's ground-ball single against the shift started the Tigers' ninth-inning comeback Wednesday night, the manager might have a point. Ausmus didn't use it as an example, but he has acknowledged for the past couple weeks that Avila would need some opposite-field singles to counter the trend. He has even encouraged Avila to potentially bunt against it.

In the ninth inning of a one-run game, Avila didn't show bunt, but he didn't have to.

"I don't know if he has been trying to hit it that way or not," Ausmus said Wednesday morning, "but it is the risk of the shift. You're trying to play on the hitter's tendencies, and the vast majority of the time, a guy like Alex is going to end up hitting the ball from the shortstop to the right-field line. But it does leave a large void on the left side of the infield if he happens to be late on a pitch or if he tries to hit a pitch that way."

That leads to the question of situational shifting, depending on the score of the game and the inning, as well as the hitter involved.

"I think you have to take account what the score is," Ausmus said. "With guys like [Red Sox DH David Ortiz], you're not really concerned about them necessarily trying to beat the shift with the bunt, although he has done it before. But you have to take that into account with the score."

Yet as shifting has gained popularity, Ausmus said, it has become less situational and more of a general philosophy. It's being used too often in his opinion, and it's bound to shift back once hitters start countering it with regularity.

"There's such a big void, I think players will eventually bunt or hit the ball the other way," Ausmus said. "I think teams will start taking the score into account, especially in the last three innings of a game, and the risk of allowing an easy baserunner. When you have a lead, the last thing you want to do is allow the other team to have baserunners."

The Tigers, for their part, have used more shifts under Ausmus than they ever did under former manager Jim Leyland. The vast majority of the shifts, though, have been to move the third baseman into short right field against pull-heavy left-handed hitters. Even then, it hasn't been a blanket philosophy.

More of defensive coordinator's Matt Martin's work has been subtle, working with infield coach Omar Vizquel to move the shortstop or second baseman a few feet in either direction. It doesn't draw much attention until Andrew Romine or Ian Kinsler is in position to field a hard-hit ball up the middle or in the hole.

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.
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