Andy Green embraces shifts. The first-year San Diego Padres manager showed that last season in Arizona when, as the team’s third-base coach, he was put in charge of defensive positioning. The Diamondbacks employed 587 shifts in 2015, more than twice as many as the year before. It was a contributing factor to the club’s league-best Defensive Runs Saved total. Meanwhile, the Padres were one of the worst defensive teams in either league.
I recently asked Green for his thoughts on shifting in the outfield — should it be done more? — and my question prompted a short discussion on the subject of shifting as a whole.
Green on extreme shifts: “I think it’s possible (to shift more in the outfield). If you want to throw some crazy things off the wall, you can look at certain guys and wonder if it’s wise to put a fifth infielder on the field. Look at Dee Gordon’s spray chart when you pitch him a certain way. Do you want to do it? I’m probably not the first one who’s going to do it. Maybe we’ll put that ball in Joe Maddon’s court, because he seems to be the guy who likes to do those kinds of things first. But shoot, there is a lot of data that would support moving the outfield aggressively at certain times. I don’t think we’ll be out-of-this-world extraordinary, but we will be progressive.
“Look at a DJ LeMehieu’s spray chart. Look at his tendencies. He might be somebody who falls into that type of category. It’s a matter of what you’re willing to do about it. You also have to factor in another equation: he might change his approach. Of course, wth a lot of guys there could be a positive to that.
“When I was in charge of shifting… I’ve done a lot of count shifting. You expose the right side, even on a guy who’s not a full-out shift, and maybe it changes the thought process of the hitter. Maybe you want him to try to shoot a ball the other way in a certain count.”
On the psychological component: “I’m the kind of guy who is going to explore every idea. I’m going to listen to whatever the data says. At the same time, I’m going to trust our players and bring them along. I think there is a psychological element to shifting. You have to be sure that your players are completely on board. You have to communicate it out front. You have to make sure that the pitcher on the mound isn’t doubting it.
“You have to look at the advantage gained by the shift and factor in any psychological disadvantage if the pitcher doesn’t embrace what you’re doing behind him. That might outweigh the shift. You’d be foolish to not recognize those types of psychological ramifications. You move accordingly, and you also make sure that guys are aware of what you’re doing, in advance.”
On hitters changing their approach: “Look at Mike Moustakas last year. There was a change. There was a noticeable change. He was bunting in spring training — he’d never been successful doing that — and he bunted some during the year.
“There are some that change, but again, you have to ask if there is an advantage in forcing them to change. By and large, very few players engage in changing, but as the shift becomes more ubiquitous, I think you’re going to see more people responding to it. I’ve heard that a manager in the league is generating a shift-offense plan right now.”
On roster construction and shifting: “Looking at the construction of our roster, we have very minimal shift candidates. Matt Kemp can be shifted. Brett Wallace can be shifted. But the guys we have in camp — we’re not radically disposed to being shifted against.
“I think you look for the best available player and factor in what shift defense is doing to certain types of players. Look at Pittsburgh. You look at signing pitchers within a certain philosophy and then positioning players according to that philosophy. You’re seeing some teams do things like that. The game is evolving, and it’s important to evolve along with it.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.