Open-minded Green embraces defensive shifts
SAN DIEGO -- There probably wasn't just one palpable separator that gave Andy Green the advantage over the rest of the field when it came time for the Padres to make a decision on their manager hire late last month.
That said, there was one particular trait that resonated over and over again with Padres general manager A.J. Preller during his conversations with Green.
"I think the biggest thing with Andy is he's open to ideas," Preller said. "Not just ideas, but he's open to thoughts and ideas. That was attractive, for sure."
This wasn't just something that merely stood out in conversation, as Green, who spent last season as the third-base coach of the D-backs, has shown a proclivity for embracing new concepts and ideas, especially in terms of advanced metrics.
It was Green who essentially spearheaded the D-backs' shifting efforts, the latest trend as teams continue to emphasize defense with the intent of saving a few -- and in some cases, more than that -- runs for a pitching staff.
According to Baseball Information Solutions, the D-backs used 587 shifts on balls in play last season -- good for 10th in the big leagues, well behind the Rays, who shifted 1,462 times. That was far and away more than 2014 when the D-backs shifted just 252 times, which put them at 21st out of 30 big league teams.
Consider this: The D-backs had the most defensive runs saved (71) in baseball -- by a wide margin. The Royals were second with 56. The Padres finished 26th with a minus-28.
One way BIS measures the effectiveness of shifts is through a metric called Shift Runs Saved, which is essentially similar to Defensive Runs Saved. In 2014, the D-backs had four Shift Runs Saved, but this past season that number jumped to 12, second-most in the National League.
"I think, as a coaching staff, you have to recognize that not all information is great for players to receive," Green said. "You need actionable information; you need stuff that you're going to do something with. You don't want to inundate them with information. You have to be able to analyze it as a staff: Is this productive to give our players?"
There are two components to shifting -- full and partial. A full shift will use three infielders on one side of second base, which is the general definition of a shift. A partial shift is more of a strong shade, like having two infielders on each side of second base but shaded to the pull side of the hitter.
But Green didn't just employ shifting without taking into consideration how the D-backs' infielders and pitchers felt about it -- if they were going to buy into it.
"I think there's a psychological impact to the shift. If you don't recognize what it does to a pitcher who is not completely on board, you're probably overvaluing what you would get out of the shift," Green said. "... People have to be on board with what you're doing.
"For me, jamming stuff down people's throats and telling them how it's going to be, the psychological ramifications of that can be worse than what you might get out of the shift."
As an organization, the Padres have increased their number of total shifts in each of the last three seasons, using 35 full shifts and 52 partial shifts in 2013. In 2014, it was 191 full shifts and 49 partial shifts. This past season, the team used 452 full shifts and 116 partial shifts.
If nothing else, Green's openness and aptitude for new ideas and concepts made him attractive to Preller and the Padres.
"He's open to any idea that's going to help a team, help an organization get better," Preller said. "He's not looking at any idea or a particular statistic as being gospel. I think that's something we share. You present an idea, he wants to hear it and then he wants to see how it works."
Look for the Padres to continue to push forward with their shifting efforts in 2016 -- with a greater focus on better defensive play.
"In me, there's a desire to take information from wherever you can get it to gain a competitive advantage. I'm open to anything," Green said. "I believe, to be successful going forward, we'll be open with our front office and be ready for any information that's going to come through the door. If it's usable, let's put it into practice and take advantage of it."