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Early Season Shift Leaders

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While the 2016 season is still quite young, it never hurts to get an early perspective of how team-wide and league-wide trends are developing. When diving into the early-season defensive positioning numbers, several developments relative to shifting strike us as noteworthy.

MLB Shifts by Season
2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
2,350 4,577 6,882 13,299 17,744 30,179**
**Prorated from 1,540 shifts thus far

As it stands today, teams are yet again on pace to set a record number of shifts. Last season, teams had 17,744 total shifts, and this year teams have shifted 1,540 times in a week and a half of baseball, which equates to 30,179 shifts when scaled to a full 162-game season. If the trend continues, the league as a whole would see a 70 percent increase in shifts from 2015.

Last year, we saw three teams breach the 1,000-shift mark. Currently, 12 teams are paced to hit that milestone in 2016, and six more are pegged to reach at least 900.

MLB Top 10 Teams by 2016 Prorated Shifts
Team 2015 Total 2016 YTD 2016 Prorated
Angels 436 129 2,322
Astros 1,417 118 2,124
Brewers 382 79 1,600
Rockies 1,010 78 1,580
Mariners 352 80 1,440
Rays 1,465 68 1,377
Braves 211 63 1,276
Yankees 931 54 1,250
Giants 552 67 1,206
Athletics 610 73 1,183

Four of the most under-shifted teams in baseball last season have opened up 2016 with a greater emphasis on defensive shifting. The Angels currently lead the league in shifts after finishing third-lowest in the American League last year. Thus far the Brewers have deployed the third-most shifts following a season in which they ranked 23rd in total shifts. And the Mariners and Braves sit fifth and seventh respectively after finishing last in each of their respective leagues in 2015.

Interestingly enough, all four of the teams mentioned above have undergone significant front office changes in the past 12 months. In most cases, if not all, these changes have come in the form of hiring young, analytically-driven baseball minds to take on the role of general manager. The first week and a half of 2016 has revealed that new front office management isn't shy about trying to maximize run prevention through the deployment of defensive shifts. It will be interesting to see if the trend continues. 

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