Monday, April 26, 2010

The Shift

I'm still kind of stuck in my pinkhatted way of watching games. Focus on the batter, rely on the scoreboard or TV header for the count, cheer when I hear the crowd erupt.* Until yesterday I had not thought much about defensive positioning and strategy in baseball.

We're listening to the game in the car, and I hear Joe Costiglione announce that Ortiz hit one "through the shift."

From what I have learned, Ortiz is a pull hitter, which means that he hits the ball towards the same side of the field as his feet. Ortiz bats left-handed, thus standing on the right-field side of the plate, and "pulls" the ball towards right field. I guess this is so predictable that opposing teams apply a defensive shift when he steps up to bat.

Every team plays the shift differently, and it matters whether there are runners on base. If nobody is on base or there is only a runner on first, they might employ a full shift where the second baseman and shortstop move towards right field and the third basemen covers second. If there is a player on second, a modification might be made to the shift so that only the second basemen moves towards right field and the shortstop covers second.

According to Jerry Remy,** the shift might work in one of two ways: either the batter hits into it for the out or the batter tries to hit the ball differently resulting in a less productive swing. Remy also states that the (Ted) Williams Shift, as designed by the Cleveland Indians, is the "most famous".

I am watching tonight's game to figure out how the teams communicate alignment and movement such as defensive shifts. Maybe the daily rotation of outfielders is partially to blame for the slow start to the season. I memorized the original starting lineup (S is for Scutaro and shortstop) so I know that four of tonight's nine starters are different than the regular lineup. Bill Hall is in left field for Jacoby Ellsbury, Darnell McDonald is in centerfield for Mike Cameron, and Jason Varitek is catching tonight.

Of course the score is currently 13-10, so it might be the wrong night to focus on defense.

*Sad, but embarrassingly true.
** If this is your first reading, you should know I rely heavily on Jerry Remy's Watching Baseball: Discovering the Game within the Game. Thus far I've only used it to discover the game, but hopefully my baseball learning will pay off (or I'll meet Yoda) and attain the game within the game.

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