Defensive shifting paying dividends
CLEVELAND -- The Indians have embraced advanced metrics and have a front office and coaching staff that craves as much information as possible. Data can provide a competitive advantage, and that is made no clearer than through defensive shifts.
Cleveland has implemented shifting based on in-depth charts for several years, joining a growing list of teams that are using the approach more each season. In the dugout, defensive positioning for the outfield is handled by bench coach Brad Mills and infield shifts are in the hands of third-base coach Mike Sarbaugh.
"We are probably a little more aggressive shifting than we have in the past," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "You ask the players to give it their best, to give their all. So we as a staff feel the same way. We need to be prepared and we need to be ready. And there's so much good information now that, if we don't take advantage of it, then I think you're looking at an older manager that's stuck in their ways. That's not good."
A great example of a shift paying off came on the final play of the Indians' 6-4 win over the Blue Jays on Sunday. With the bases loaded, two outs and Edwin Encarnacion facing a full count against Tribe closer John Axford, Sarbaugh had second baseman Jason Kipnis positioned behind second.
With the runners going, Encarnacion ripped a pitch up the middle that might have gone into center field and tied the game under different circumstances. Instead, Kipnis barely had to move as he gloved the ball and fired it to first base for the game-ending out.
"It's just playing to the odds, playing to the percentages of them hitting it there," Kipnis said. "That time, we got fortunate enough where it worked out and worked in our favor. I think a lot of teams have been [doing it], actually. People are seeing the benefits of it."
When a shift works to perfection, Francona said it is reassuring to everyone involved.
"It really helps," Francona said, "because the ones you remember are the [broken-bat hits] that go where somebody wasn't. That's human nature. But, for the very most part, man, the shifting done in the Major Leagues now, it takes hits away. Most teams are doing it."