By Cole Parkinson
Looking across any baseball diamond, it’s now become unusual that the defending team isn’t utilizing some sort of shift.
While some teams, like the Tampa Bay Rays, deploy a four-man outfield when certain batters reach the plate, that’s not a usual formation many other baseball teams use, but it’s become a rarity where some sort of defensive shift isn’t used in minor or major leagues.
Locally, the Vauxhall Academy of Baseball Jets experiment with mov- ing around their defence but due to
their schedule where they only face certain teams a limited amount of times, the data isn’t nearly as rock-solid as a 162 game MLB schedule would be.
“I do think you play some hunches here and there,” explained Les McTavish, head coach of VAB. “A lot of times when we play, especially when we were going to the U.S. a lot, they were using a lot of the same programs that we use — stat programs — so you are able to see some of those things. You do have to be careful on shifts and such when it comes to a program where you are taking an eight or 10 game snapshot. If you have 40 at-bats, that will show you and it’s a different story. This is always a concern of mine, you don’t know who is throwing. They could have a guy that looks like he pulled the ball, pulled the ball and pulled the ball, but maybe they were facing 75 miles an hour. If they were facing 90 MPH, they may not be pulling the ball. In the Major Leagues, things are more relative.”
As a former pitcher himself, McTavish isn’t outspoken against baseball’s direction towards a more analytics-based defensive formation.
Despite this, the coaching staff preaches to Jets players to focus on their own strengths as players instead of trying to play to opponent’s weaknesses.
“I think (shifts are) good. Ultimately, I’m a huge believer that we should pitch and play to our strengths as opposed to always trying to exploit the hitter. I think a lot of times, what happens with these programs or players in general, is they worry so much about the hitter. Or they worry so much about the pitcher instead of worrying about their own strengths because ultimately, these are just young kids. Their strengths are probably more prevalent than their opponent’s weakness.”