Certain clubs continue to debate their use of defensive shifts. That's right, not every team is the Astros, who seemingly shift with every breath.
The Red Sox, according to the numbers, are at the low end in shifts -- through Saturday they ranked 22nd with 79 shifts, according to STATS LLC, 221 behind the Astros, who ranked first.
The Sox's numbers, however, might be somewhat misleading because of the way they position their infielders. And, as the team discusses new shifting strategies, it might start to ascend in the rankings.
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Red Sox pitching coach Carl Willis, bullpen coach Dana LeVangie and infield coach Brian Butterfield plan to begin asking certain pitchers to eliminate a certain pitch or location to take better advantage of shifts, Butterfield said.
The way Butterfield explained it, some right-handers occasionally like to elevate their fastballs against left-handed hitters; both Jake Peavy and John Lackey did that when they were with the Red Sox, and Rick Porcello does it now.
Early in the count, the pitcher might want the left-handed hitter to chase; late in the count, the elevated fastball might be a way for the pitcher to finish the hitter.
The problem, Butterfield said, is that when the ball is up, the chances increase that the left-handed hitter will go the other way. Eliminate the location and the hitter becomes more likely to pull, giving the shift a better chance of success.
Even then, it's not that simple.
Mess with a pitcher's repertoire, and you risk messing with his psyche. A veteran pitcher might prefer to pitch to his game plan than pitch to the shift. And, as Sox manager John Farrell put it, "pitching is the priority."
The other and perhaps larger issue is that the shift becomes less effective if a pitcher is unable to command his pitches and hit his spots.
Farrell, who generally embraces data, said that relying too heavily on numbers "turns a human, gray game to black-and-white. It's still played by people. And on given days, they don't execute as consistently."
Yet, most pitchers have come to understand the value of shifting, embracing the concept if not always executing properly.
"They've gotten so used to it," Red Sox general manager Mike Hazen said. "And pitching to the shift, you can be more aggressive pitching inside. Make a good pitch on the inner half with all the defenders stacked over there ... do that and there are some advantages. The infielders are over there, and you want them to hit it over there -- just not over the fence."
So, why do the Red Sox rank so low in shifts?
Part of it might be due to the way shifts are counted -- STATS records a shift only when three infielders are on one side of second base. The Sox do not always go to that extreme against left-handed hitters, playing their shortstop behind the bag.
Dave Dombrowski, the Sox's president of baseball operations, was surprised to learn that the Sox did not rank higher.
"We shift a lot," Dombrowski said. "I don't know how we're near the bottom. We shift all the time."
Hazen, however, acknowledged that the Sox do not shift as aggressively as the Astros and some other clubs.
"Some teams unilaterally shift," Hazen said. "We're more selective in how we shift. Even though we're shifting in every game on a large group of players, it's not as unilateral."
The front office provides Farrell and his coaches with information but does not dictate how the Sox shift, Dombrowski said. The staff makes those judgments, and the Sox's internal debates demonstrate that those conversations are ongoing.
One thing is clear: Shifting is not going away.
Teams are again on pace to set a record number of shifts, according to John Dewan in a recent article for BillJamesOnline. As of April 16, teams were on track to break last year's record of 17,744 shifts by 70 percent, Dewan said.
"Nobody has figured out how to beat it yet," Hazen said. "I don't think the shift will get beaten by bunting. What will beat it is a complete change of approach by hitters. We haven't seen that yet."
What we've seen is evolution. And we will continue to see more.