Thursday, April 29, 2010

That Outfield Shift

Yah, we've all seen it...the little pop up the line that Lastings Milledge can't quite get to because he's stationed in the Notch, playing the Vasho shift. It always seems to lead to a three-run inning, too, and is universally despised by the Pirate faithful.

But ya know what? Matt Bandi of the Pittsburgh Lumber Company ran a scatter chart of the balls hit at PNC in 2008-09 a couple of weeks ago, and makes a sound argument that there is some rhyme and reason to the scheme.

OK, we'll agree with Matt that the balls for some reason at PNC gravitate towards the gap rather than straightaway left field, probably because the Pirate staff works the outside of the plate so much. But GW still has some problems with the alignment.

First off, it's used way too often. Batters have tendencies; some actually pull the ball, no matter where the hurler puts it. Pitchers, at least good ones, move the ball around and change speeds; that has a big influence on where the ball will end up.

Watch the infielders - if the upcoming pitch is soft or targeted inside, they'll move toward the hole. If it's hard or called away from the hitter, they'll slide toward the middle.

Hey, even parks have tendencies. Matt mentions one park where the balls don't follow that pattern; we'd guess it's not alone, depending on home rosters; where do the pitchers work and are the batters spray guys or pull hitters?

What does ol' GW want? First, he suspects that the opposition batting reports aren't very good; JR and Varsho may be unorthodox, but they're not suicidal. So we'd like to see adjustments made to the batter's tenedencies, at home and especially on the road, based on solid scouting.

We'd also very much like to see the pitchers free to go inside to righties. The Varsho alignment presupposes pitching to the outside of the plate; coming inside would defeat the purpose.

We're not sure what Joe Kerrigan thinks of the whole thing, but we're betting that he's not about to give up half the dish to make Gary Varsho look smart. Just that dynamic helps compromise the shift during the course of an at-bat.

And it's not that hard to play to the pitch; high school outfielders adjust their position based on where the infielders set up.

Our take? It's an innovative response to a current PNC phenomena, but the alignment needs to be much more finely tuned and discriminating in its use to be truly effective.

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