Throughout baseball it’s become commonplace to play shifts on various players over the course of the past ten years or so. The Tampa Rays are often credited with beginning this trend, and to be fair it seems they employ it more often than most teams. It started as something that teams would do for extreme lefty pull-hitters, but now it seems that there’s a shift that’s put on for almost everyone. The Baltimore Orioles are no exception; in fact I tend to think that the O’s potentially use the shift more so than most teams. Whether or not that’s true is another story, and if so there could be various reasons for that.
However here’s my question: do the O’s out-think themselves in a sense in using these shifts? Over this past weekend against Seattle I noticed several players hitting successfully against the shifts and thus getting on base. At one point the Birds played a shift towards right field to Raul Ibanez that in effect gives him the third base line in total. Sure enough, Ibanez slapped a tight grounder down the line right to where Manny Machado would have been standing if not for the shift. When the smoke cleared, Ibanez was on second and the Orioles had a RISP situation with which to deal. So in effect the shift allowed the exact result that it was designed to prevent.
There’s no statistic of which I know that tells you how often guys hit against the shift, however I suspect that teams keep track of that type of thing internally. It’s also worth mentioning that these shifts are put on as a result of the fact that all teams have spray charts on different hitters which show where they hit the ball. If the majority of their hits are concentrated in one area of the field, that’s the area to which the defense is going to shift. However again, is this perhaps happening too often? The Orioles play San Diego this evening, which means that the Padres probably had advance scouts at Camden Yards during the Seattle series. I suspect that those advance scouts probably noted that the Orioles play a lot of shifts, which means that in BP several pull hitters might work on opposite-field hitting.
I would tend to agree that these shifts work more often than they don’t. However I think it went from being something that was intended to be sprung on a hitter from time-to-time, into a part of teams’ game plans. The above-mentioned Ibanez double isn’t the only time an Orioles shift has been defeated in recent memory; in fact it seems to happen a lot. Some of that might be due to bad luck, however opponents obviously know that their extreme pull hitters are going to see this type of defense. In no way am I suggesting that they cease using it all together, because I think we’re in an era of baseball where you can’t ignore spray charts as such. However perhaps they should consider scaling it back just a bit, because as I said there’s almost the impression that teams are expecting it and perhaps even welcoming it.
The aforementioned series with San Diego begins at 10 PM eastern time this evening with Bud Norris making his second start as an Oriole. He’ll be opposed by San Diego’s Edinson Volquez, and his five plus ERA. This begins an eight-game road trip, all through National League parks for the Birds. That of course means that they’ll surrender their DH for the next week or so, however one advantage that they’ll have is that Scott Feldman is fresh off of an NL team. Furthermore, Bud Norris was an NL pitcher up until last season with Houston; they’ve both swung a bat or two in their day. However the Orioles will have to be much more cognizant of how they’re using their outs and so forth given that their lineup will now come with the potential for an automatic out built in. The Orioles sent Danny Valencia back to triple-A Norfolk, as Brian Roberts will re-join the team today after coming off of the paternity list.