The infield shift isn't a new thing. The infield shift is something of a new thing for the Giants, though. More than a few times this year, the centerfield camera gave us a glimpse of a sharp grounder past the pitcher's mound, which made us say, "Aw, raspberries," before a cut to the field camera showed Brandon Crawford behind second base, harmlessly scooping the ball up. It's hard to get used to.
The Wall Street Journal published an article about the efficacy of the infield shift, which they call supply-side fielding*, and the Giants feature prominently in the data provided. To the discoveries!
*This is not true
- The Giants shift less often than the average team
- They've saved more hits than every team but one
- They save more hits per shift than any other team in baseball
To the numbers, from the WSJ, via Inside Edge:
|Team||Times shifted||Net hits saved||Percentage of successful shifts|
I don't know if it's mathematically accurate to have those negative percentages, but I'm an English major who doesn't care about those teams, so ignore them if I just divided by zero. Focus on the team at the top. There really isn't an explanation for this other than the Giants being ...
... incredibly informed and ...
... ahead of the curve when it comes to the timing and implementation of their shifts.
I can't think of another realistic explanation. Perhaps Ron Wotus is an underappreciated genius.
Ron Wotus: Ryan Howard hits the ball to the right side 78 percent of the time. His grounders go to the right side 98 percent of the time. Ryan Vogelsong throws his two-seamer on the inside half with 45 percent of his pitches to left-handers. Doug Eddings is behind the plate, though, and he calls the outside fringes regularly, so Vogelsong and Posey will work there. The wind is 5 mph from the NW, and Howard got six hours of sleep last night, but he also slept on his pillow weird and he has a kink that's bothering him.
Joe Panik: So where do you ..
Wotus: SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP. Is that moon waxing gibbous or waning? I can never tell.
Wotus: Stand on the bullpen mound and get ready to jump. Hurry.
I don't have the raw data for 2013, but it sure seems like the Giants are shifting a lot more this season. They're still not shifting as much as the rest of the league, but when you look at the Rays up there, that doesn't have to be a bad thing. The important thing is to be efficient, and the Giants have certainly done that this season.
Is it sustainable? I'll let the people who wear neckties and twiddle abacuses answer that question. It seems like the kind of thing that would vary wildly over the years. On the chance that it is sustainable, it's excellent news. The Giants would know what they're doing with the infield shifts, despite being relative newcomers.