The Dodgers shift more than 28 of 30 MLB teams, moving the defense for 55.7 percent of plate appearances against them. Only the Mets (56 percent) shift more often.
Manager Dave Roberts, who at various times has extolled the virtues of shifting, explaining that the strategy is deployed because, generally, the benefits outweigh the cost. But on Tuesday, Roberts seemed to change his tune.
“Sometimes I think we end up kind of talking out of both sides of our mouth, as far as trying to promote offense but allow for other things that suppress it,” Roberts said. “I guess if I had my druthers, I would do away with it.”
This came after Monday’s game, when third baseman Manny Machado caught a line drive in shallow right field, 232 feet from home plate off the bat of Matt Beaty. Roberts also referenced “a one-hop bullet up the middle” off the bat of Will Smith in the sixth inning, turned into an out by Ha-seong Kim near second base.
Roberts said he would prefer either two infielders required on each side of second base before the pitch, or if shifted, every infielder must be on the dirt as the pitch is delivered.
On one hand, Roberts might have a point. Batting average on balls in play across the majors this season is .290, the lowest since 1992. That’s down from .292 last year, after a run from 2004-2019 that saw BABIP fluctuate within a narrow range from .295-.302.
But it’s not all because of the shift. Rob Arthur at Baseball Prospectus in early June wrote about how defenders in general have been playing deeper in the last few years, from third basemen to outfielders:
An analysis of fielding since 2016 shows that batted balls that used to be dropping for hits have become outs instead, thanks to a new alignment that pushes outfielders closer to the wall. The result is that, even ignoring the impact of the shift entirely, the league’s improved positioning has taken away hundreds of extra-base hits.
But mostly, I think Roberts was just reacting to a couple plays that went against his team. The question was broached by asking about Machado’s positioning so deep in right field.
For what it’s worth, Double-A is experimenting this season by requiring all infielders to play no deeper than the outer boundary of the infield dirt. Through Monday, the 10-team Double-A Central — former the Texas League, where the Dodgers’ affiliate Tulsa plays — has a .308 BABIP, compared to .314 in 2019, without those restrictions.
MLB’s stated goal for the change in Double-A was to increase BABIP, and depending on how the first half goes might also require two infielders on each side of second base in the second half of the season.
Perhaps opinion of the rule changes will shift by then.
- With Julio Urías now at 88 innings — his most in a season since 127⅔ innings in the majors, minors, and postseason combined in 2016 — and still over half the season remaining, Dave Roberts doesn’t think fatigue is the reason for his recent struggles, writes Mike DiGiovanna at the Los Angeles Times.
- From Monday, Albert Pujols told reporters his time with the Dodgers is “the most fun I’ve had in a while.” Bill Plunkett at the Orange County Register has more.
- Alex Verdugo, hitting .289/.350/.457 in his second season with the Red Sox, was profiled by Jorge Castillo of the LA Times. Says Boston manager Alex Cora: “He’s probably the most complete hitter that we have. He can go the other way, he can hit for average, he can hit for power.”
- Many minor league players can’t afford housing, even after a raise, writes Marc Normandin at Baseball Prospectus.