Padres reaping benefits of increase in shifts

Green, coaches working before every game on defensive game plan

April 13th, 2016

PHILADELPHIA -- Eddie Rodriguez arrives at Citizens Bank Park at around 11:30 a.m. ET. First pitch isn't for 7 1/2 hours, but he's got binders of information to pore over, with one task in mind -- turning would-be hits into outs.

To some, agonizing over hundreds of spray charts would be a mundane task. To Rodriguez, an assistant coach who -- along with Padres third-base coach Glenn Hoffman -- is in charge of the club's defensive positioning, it's just as essential as his pregame work with infielders.

"When hits get through, I take it personally," Rodriguez said.

Manager Andy Green is a proponent of defensive shifts, and according to Fangraphs, he's used them against 55 batters this season, the 14th most in the Majors entering Wednesday's game against the Phillies. For the most part, those shifts have paid off.

Green's system of preparation is very similar to the one used by Arizona, where he was in charge of infield shifts as third-base coach last season. Rodriguez and Hoffman formulate a plan before the game, based on that day's starting pitcher and the tendencies of the opposing hitters. Then they meet with Green, who has the final say in the defensive game plan.

"Like it was in Arizona, we have the same process basically," Green said. "I'd go in with Chip before the game and say, 'These are the guys we want to move around on. How do you feel about it? How do you feel about it in leverage situations?' Our process is almost identical to that. They pick out all the positioning, they make decisions, and then I have some say."

Green keeps an eye on other teams around the league and has noticed a trend toward drastic shifting on right-handed hitters. (Lefties had always been shifted upon.) The Padres have, in large part, followed suit, and Green said on Monday, "Some teams have great ideas; it's not wrong to steal from them."

Still those ideas must be implemented and executed correctly. Padres second baseman Cory Spangenberg is making throws he never had to make at the developmental levels -- whether from short right field or from the opposite side of second (practically shortstop).

But Spangenberg has gotten enough work on those throws in workouts that it's second nature by now.

"I guess it was awkward the first couple times I made [the throws]," Spangenberg. "The angle and the depth of it is just different than any other throw from second. I think I'm just used to it. I don't even think about it any more."

Of course, Spangenberg must first be in the correct position to make the play. And that's the job of Rodriguez and Hoffman.

The Padres have spray charts for every hitter against both left- and right-handed pitchers, and they have spray charts for every count as well.

Then, there's the infield instruction, and Rodriguez is constantly preaching for his fielders to trust their instincts. If the catcher sets up outside or if the hitter appears unable to catch up to a fastball -- it's within their rights to move accordingly.

"To a large degree, it's prepared for, but game situations dictate otherwise," Rodriguez said. "A lot of times what Hoffy and I talk to the infielders about is natural instinct. Believe what you see. I'm big in that. What we're giving them is a guideline, but it's not etched in stone."