Baseball is a game of strategy. To say the game is like a chess match between managers who are trying to align and utilize all of their pieces properly would be a perfect analogy. With strategy, comes unorthodox methods. One of these methods is the defensive shift.
The shift is defined as situational defensive realignment of fielders away from their “traditional” starting points. This can range anywhere from having three or more infielders on one side of second base, adding an additional infielder or outfielder, or strategic positioning such as guarding the lines or playing more up the middle.
The evolution of analytics has helped improved the shift to the point that infielders may now even change positions based on the count the opposing batter is in. With pitchers throwing the ball harder than they ever have before, the concept of just hitting the ball where the defenders are not has become more difficult. Many believe that the increased number of high velocity pitchers and the defensive shift has resulted in poorer offensive numbers and a less exciting baseball game.
How this all fits into the current lockout is that the MLBPA recently agreed to allow MLB to ban the shift. Jon Heyman was the one to report this and that the change could take affect as soon as 2023.
How might banning the shift impact the Brewers?
Since 2016, the earliest recorded team fielder positioning statistics on baseball savant, the Brewers have been documented near the top in shifting nearly every year. The only exception was 2021, when they shifted the second-least amount in the league.
With the Brewers historically tending to shift a high percentage of the time, the questions becomes has it resulted in increased defensive runs saved? Below is a table that shows shift percentage by year and DRS according to fangraphs.
- 2016- 21.6% (5th highest) 24 DRS (9th best)
- 2017- 25% (3rd highest) 23 DRS (12th)
- 2018- 23% (7th highest) 121 DRS (2nd)
- 2019- 34.1% (8th highest) 26 DRS (12th)
- 2020- 44.4 (3rd highet) -9 DRS (22nd)
- 2021 17.5% (2nd lowest) 61 DRS (5th-Tied)
When you compile DRS from 2016 to the present day, the Brewers are fifth best in total DRS. However, as you can see from the numbers above, the idea of a linear relationship between increased shifting and DRS is not necessarily true, but it has resulted in several top half of the league defensive teams.
The bottom line is that banning the shift will have an impact on the Brewers given their history. They are an analytically driven team that constantly is looking for unique ways to gain an edge on the field. It is possible that Craig Counsell and company find a loop hole in the system, but for now they will have to plan on using traditional fielding positions as soon as during the 2023 season.
It remains to be seen the complete details on this proposed “shift ban”. It could be a small adjustment or something larger, but any sort of restriction on the ability to shift is going to have an impact on the Brewers defensive alignments.