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Old 02-27-2019, 08:24 AM   #83
Marco Polo Marco Polo is offline
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This article was posted on the Athletic yesterday. Not a lot of comments after the article, like normal, but it's a very important shift (pun intended) on the defensive approach. Also, I still hate Matheny.

With Paul Goldschmidt anchoring Cardinals infield, they’re preparing to shift more, at last

JUPITER,​ Fla. –​ It​ was​ the​ second​ inning​ of a spring-training​ game,​ a moment with virtually​ no impact​ on​ the St.​ Louis​ Cardinals’​​ chances this season, at least at first glance.

Matt Adams, ex-Cardinal and an extreme left-handed pull hitter, was batting. Third baseman Matt Carpenter did something he figures to do more than ever before in his career — he jogged over to the opposite side of the infield.

Adams swung at Michael Wacha’s first pitch and hit a weak popup in foul territory. It was on the third-base side, where only shortstop Edmundo Sosa was left standing.

By the time the ball landed in Sosa’s glove, Wacha, too, had run over and could have made the catch. A year ago, that shift might not have happened, because under manager Mike Matheny and infield coach Jose Oquendo, the Cardinals didn’t often practice what to do while three infielders were on one side of the diamond.

The Cardinals led the majors in errors last season, just one indication of how poorly they have fielded in recent seasons. Shifting more aggressively is part of the planned solution.

“Michael was right on it,” Shildt said. “We’re going to have more of an understanding of how to execute when we’re in the shift.”

In 2019, the Cardinals employed three infielders on one side of the second-base bag less frequently than any team in the National League. Against left-handed batters, the Cardinals employed shifts 6.8 percent of the time. Against righties, they did it 1.9 percent of the time, according to Statcast data. By contrast, the data-driven Houston Astros shifted nearly 60 percent of the time against lefties and 21.2 percent of the time vs. righties.

The Cardinals think it’s time to start catching up to one of the game’s most talked-about trends.

“We’re preparing to do more of it,” general manager Michael Girsch said. “Now, whether we do a lot more of it will depend on how our pitchers are pitching and who our defenders are and all sorts of things, but we’re in a better position to do more of it.”

The managerial change from Matheny to Shildt is among the factors prompting the Cardinals to shift more, team sources said, but there are two others.

Oquendo moved infielders based on his deep knowledge of major league hitters, but he will give way to Stubby Clapp, who is in his first season as a major-league coach. The Cardinals are hopeful that, as good as Oquendo was at it, computer-supplied data will be even better.

First baseman Paul Goldschmidt, a three-time Gold Glove Award winner, not only is athletic enough to cover the ground necessary to shift in extreme ways, he’s more than willing to do it. Last year, the Cardinals had Carpenter and José Martínez at first base in most games, and both were learning on the job, not always successfully.

“I think the idea of the shift is you’re trying to put all seven of your players besides the pitcher and the catcher in the best spot possible to catch as many balls,” Goldschmidt said. “If guys are going to hit it to one spot, you want to be standing in the best spot possible. I think we’ve seen the numbers back that up. One step here or there can make a big difference, and the data does show you that.”

Evidence suggests that shifting has tamped-down offense to some extent, but the data is not overwhelming. The two teams that employed three fielders on one side of the bag most frequently, the Astros and Tampa Bay Rays, each were among the top five in MLB in batting average on balls in play (BABIP) allowed. The Rays allowed opponents a .278 BABIP and the Astros .283.

The Cardinals (.293) and Los Angeles Angels (.294), the teams that shifted the least, were both below average at converting batted balls into outs. The San Diego Padres (.305) also were among the least-aggressive teams with regard to shifting, and they, too, struggled defensively.

Among the 10 worst teams in BABIP, the Kansas City Royals, Minnesota Twins and New York Yankees, though, were also in the top five in shifts.

“I’m not sure anyone knows what the exact right answer is for efficiency. I think we could definitely shift more and be in the range of: ‘This seems like the right thing to do,’ Girsch said. “But I’m not 100 percent sure that there’s an exact right answer that we were missing.”

It’s also not universally popular, even among Cardinals infielders. Second baseman Kolten Wong, the team’s most agile infielder, isn’t a fan.

Wong, who was a finalist for a Gold Glove Award in 2018, said he thinks shifting allows teams to employ infielders “who shouldn’t be playing the infield,” and he would like to see Major League Baseball rule against it.
“It takes away from guys like me who pride ourselves on being able to make those plays,” Wong said. “I didn’t need to be put in any position. I know if I do my job and I read these pitchers, I read how they’re throwing the ball, I can make my best educated guess of how to get to balls. With other guys, you can see if they’re not really focused on that.”

Wong said he will go along with the plan to shift more. Cardinals pitchers have already been told to expect more of it. One of the reasons Matheny backed down from an earlier attempt to shift more, sources say, was because of blowback from Oquendo and some of the pitchers.

“I think we’re past the point of upsetting anybody,” Shildt said.
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