While David Stearns has been aggressive and leads the NL in defensive infield shifts, there was a former Milwaukee Brewers manager who played a heavy influence on shifts too.
In a recent article from JSOnline, they explain how the Milwaukee Brewers have been the most aggressive team to use the infield shift thus far in the National League. While, it’s good to see David Stearns impact on the field early in the season, it’s easy to forget a certain manager we had at the start of last year was a fan of infield shifts too.
In Travis Sawchik’s Big Data Baseball, it talks about how the Pittsburgh Pirates readjusted in recent history adding on GM Neal Huntington and now Director of Baseball Informatics, Dan Fox, to the sabermetrics world of baseball when they were well behind. In it, he references a Bill James article, specifically, “To Shift or Not to Shift” speaking about how the Tampa Bay Rays and Milwaukee Brewers were at the top of infield shifts in the 2011 season.
Big Data Baseball explains how Ron Roenicke’s 96-Win NL Central Division Champion Milwaukee Brewers got a few more wins with their shifts,
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"“In 2011, the Brewers infielders made a defensive runs saved improvement of 56 runs and added 5 or 6 wins simply through shifting more often.”"
Remember an infield of Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, Casey McGehee, and Yunieski Betancourt wasn’t all that sharp and anything to bounce back from a 77-win season in 2010 when the front office was watching players come through the system hit their prime would help any 1st year manager look good.
The 2016 Milwaukee Brewers have shifted the infield already 216 times. In 2011, the Tampa Bay Rays led all of baseball with 216 shifts. That tells you a bit of how popular it has become.
While JSOnline’s article is very well detailed on David Stearns and his impact on the infield shift with the Houston Astros and how he’s bringing that over to the Milwaukee Brewers, it’s important to remember Ron Roenicke might be one to thank for further developing the idea to begin with.