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'Shift' to top-tier defense paying off for Marlins

MLB.com @JoeFrisaro

PHILADELPHIA -- Playing the percentages is paying off for the Marlins, as an already sure-handed group of infielders is shifting more than ever and converting more outs with minimal mistakes.

A year after ranking near the bottom in total number of infield shifts, the Marlins are now among the most active teams when it comes to repositioning their infielders. The results are evident, as if not for one questionable error last week at Seattle, they would be heading into Philadelphia on Tuesday night trying to establish a Major League-record errorless streak.

PHILADELPHIA -- Playing the percentages is paying off for the Marlins, as an already sure-handed group of infielders is shifting more than ever and converting more outs with minimal mistakes.

A year after ranking near the bottom in total number of infield shifts, the Marlins are now among the most active teams when it comes to repositioning their infielders. The results are evident, as if not for one questionable error last week at Seattle, they would be heading into Philadelphia on Tuesday night trying to establish a Major League-record errorless streak.

Miami's lone infield error came on April 19 in a 10-5 loss at Seattle. In the sixth inning, Mitch Haniger reached on Martin Prado's misplay at third base. The decision was questionable when you consider the ball was scorched. Per Statcast™, the exit velocity of the grounder was 108 mph.

For the Marlins, putting infielders in positions to make plays has not come by accident.

"It was one of those things we looked into this winter," manager Don Mattingly said. "As much as anything, the bottom line of, 'It isn't about how much you shift or how much you don't, it's really about turning ground balls into outs.'"

Miami infield coach Perry Hill, one of the game's top instructors, is a stickler for fundamentals and positioning. The combination is working. Dating back to the final 10 games of 2016, the Marlins went 24 straight games without an infield error.

In 2016, the Marlins established the MLB mark for most consecutive games without an infield error, 28. According to STATS LLC, the streak that ran from May 29-June 30 was the longest since 1913, the first year such defensive statistics were available. If not for Prado's error last week, Miami could have been going for 29 games in a row on Tuesday at Philadelphia.

Shifting is helping the infielders make more plays. Through their first 18 games, per fangraphs.com, the Marlins have done traditional shifting to 187 batters, which is tied with the Rangers for the seventh most in the Majors. The Rays have shifted a league-high 266 batters.

The breakdown of innings in which Miami's infielders have shifted is 44 2/3, the sixth most in the Majors. Of the 187 batters faced, opponents have 45 hits for a .241 batting average.

In 2016, the Marlins were among the least active teams in total shifting -- repositioning for 748 batters, which ranked 26th. In those situations, opponents batted .320. Miami's 156 innings of shifting was 28th out of 30 teams.

For perspective, the Astros ranked No. 1 in the Majors in total batters shifted (2,052) and innings of shifting (452 1/3).

"Last year, we were down the line on turning ground balls into outs," Mattingly said. "That told us we had to take a look at how we were positioning everyone. We've tried to take an analytical look at that, making sure we're putting people in the right spots."

Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast.

Miami Marlins