As we all know, Joe Maddon loves his shifts. He's famous for deploying aggressive shifts against batters that other teams typically don't adjust against, and he's not afraid to try wacky defensive alignments if he thinks it will help the team in a particular situation. Over the past few years we've seen Maddon shift against many different players in the AL East: David Ortiz, Luke Scott, J.D. Drew, Matt Wieters, Mark Teixeira, and Nick Swisher, to name a few.
But after the long off season, there are some new faces in the AL East - in particular on the Orioles. The O's had an aggressive off season as they seem determined to have their first winning season since 1997, and their lineup is certainly more potent than it was last year. Mark Reynolds, Vladimir Guerrero, and Derrek Lee form the heart of the O's new lineup, with J.J. Hardy providing a decent bit of pop from shortstop. Jason Hanselman took an in depth look at their lineup yesterday, and his analysis got me thinking: will Joe Maddon use a shift against any of these new players?
For all you lazy or impatient people, the short answer is "Yes." If you want to find out who Maddon should employ a shift on and how much, though, you'll have to follow me down the rabbit hole.
I'll analyze Mark Reynolds, Vladimir Guerrero, and Derrek Lee, but first let's look at some context so we know how dramatic a player's batted ball profile should be before Maddon shifts on them. And what better example to choose than...
The chart shows David Ortiz's batted ball results over the past two seasons, while the percentages I'm quoting for you are only for 2010 data. The percentages are meant to be read as columns: in other words, Ortiz pulls 52% of his line drives, while sending 20% of them to center and 27% of them to left field. Also, notice that Ortiz doesn't have a dramatic difference in his fly ball splits; it's solely his line drives and ground balls that are predominantly pull heavy. These are the two batted ball profiles that Maddon tried to adjust for with his shifts, since even very pull heavy hitters typically are more even in their fly ball distribution.
I almost saved this for last, but I find the juxtaposition between David Ortiz and Mark Reynolds to be too much to pass up. Although Reynolds is a righty, he has an even more dramatic batted ball profile than Big Papi: he pulls 59% of his line drives and 71% of his ground balls. If you consider that a dramatic over-shift would place one infielder in the middle of the infield, such a shift would potentially eat up 89% of Reynolds' ground balls (and be better placed for a similar percentage of his line drives). This is a shift that definitely needs to happen.
Guerrero has a less extreme batted ball split than Reynolds and Ortiz, so I'm uncertain if Maddon will employ a dramatic shift. Guerrero does hit most of his grounders to either the left side or up the middle (89% of them), so the Rays should be sure to cover that area adequately. They may or may not use a dramatic shift against him, but at the very least, I expect the Rays second baseman will be standing closer to second base with Guerrero at the plate.
I find Lee fascinating, as he has an extreme split for his grounders, but he's even with his line drive distribution and push heavy with his fly balls. It'll be very interesting to see how Maddon plays him: you could make the case that he deserves to have a dramatic infield shift applied against him, but you also want to make sure you're guarding against his line drive spray. I'd suggest shifting the infield against him like David Ortiz was at the plate, yet then shifting the outfield slightly toward right field so that the left fielder is edging toward left-center.
Of course, this would only be the case if there were no men on base. With someone on base, you probably wouldn't want to take the risk that Lee could hit a ball into the left field corner and score a runner from first base. If he hits it into that corner with no one on base and the outfield shifted, though, he's old and slow enough that I doubt he'd be able to turn it into a triple.
With Opening Day just a few days away, we'll see what tricks Maddon has up his sleeves soon enough. If his past history suggests anything, though, I wouldn't be surprised to see many different defensive alignments this Friday.