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Infield Shifts are on the Rise Again?

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Stop me if you've heard this before: infield shifts are more frequent this season.

Of course, we're a week into the 2020 MLB season. Anything we say about what we've seen so far should be prefaced with SMALL SAMPLE SIZE ALERT.

But in a season that's going to be a small sample even when it's complete, we are seeing another increase in infield shifts on balls in play. We're seeing more than half of balls in play feature some form of full or partial Ted Williams shift.

Season Infield Shift Rate
2016 24%
2017 23%
2018 31%
2019 43%
2020 55%

*Includes full and partial Ted Williams shifts

Six teams—the Tigers, Braves, Twins, White Sox, Pirates, and Mariners—are shifting on more than two-thirds of balls in play so far.

Only three teams—the Padres, Yankees, and A's—are shifting on fewer than one-third of balls in play. In 2016, that was true of all but seven teams in the league.

Defensive alignments are getting more and more varied, as well. The Royals put three infielders back on the grass against Miguel Cabrera. We've seen a handful of four-man outfields against the likes of Freddie Freeman, Justin Smoak, and Cavan Biggio. It's a Wild West of defensive alignment these days, and it's only going to get wilder.

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