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The Marlins are Shifting Like Crazy

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This offseason featured renewed discussion about banning the shift. That doesn't look like it will happen in the imminent future, though, and that's good news for MLB teams. Through the first week of the season, the league is once again on pace to shift more than it did the year before. And three teams have started on pace for more than 2,000 shifts on balls in play, well above the previous record.

But what if I told you that the Marlins are on pace to use infield shifts nearly 1,000 more times than the previous record holder?

Well, first you'd say stop playing the on-pace game. Of course, all small-sample caveats apply when talking about baseball in April.

But next you'd probably say, "Really? The Marlins?"

That's right, it isn't the Astros or the Rays who have jumped out to a torrid pace from a shifting perspective. And this is a serious pace we're talking about.

Team Shift Rate Leaders on Balls in Play, 2019 (Through 4/3)

Team Balls in Play Shifts Shift Rate
Marlins 182 120 66%
Orioles 137 81 59%
Royals 133 75 56%
Twins 111 58 52%
Brewers 149 74 50%
Pirates 91 43 47%
Astros 133 61 46%
Dodgers 186 84 45%
Rays 146 62 42%
Diamondbacks 184 78 42%

Miami is on pace for almost 2,800 shifts on balls in play this year, which would smash the record of 1,869 set by the 2016 Astros. And it's not as if their first opponents this year, the Rockies and Mets, are flush with shift candidates; current Rockies hitters were shifted at a below-average rate as a whole last season, and Mets hitters were middle of the pack. The Marlins are really going all-out on the strategy so far.

This start by the Marlins is also interesting because they've committed heavily to full (three-to-one-side) shifts. So far, 102 of the Marlins' 120 shifts this year have been full shifts. That proportion is in line with BIS' persistent finding that full shifts perform better than partial shifts.

Unfortunately for Miami, they aren't getting great results from their shifts yet. By Shift Runs Saved, a BIS metric that compares performance in shifts to average defensive performance, the Marlins have cost themselves two runs in shifts so far. Part of that is shifting too often against the wrong hitters, and part of that is poor execution by the fielders when the shift is on. It will be very interesting to see if they maintain this pace both from a volume and performance perspective.

For more on this topic, check out a companion article on the Sports Info Solutions blog.

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