By Mark Simon
This offseason there was a lot of talk about the possibility of banning infield shifts, though that has yet to happen. It should be noted that teams aren’t just getting creative with their infield positioning these days, they’re also doing unusual things with their outfield positioning.
BIS defines an outfield shift as when the three outfielders are positioned at least 110 total feet from their average position, taking into consideration bat side, ballpark, team, fielder and situational effects. The outfielder locations and average positions were obtained using Statcast data.
There were 2,814 outfield shifts last season. That’s up 28 percent from 2017 and 89 percent from 2016.
Here are the leaders in outfield shift usage in 2018:
Among teams that used an outfield shift more than 30 times, the Phillies had the biggest jump in usage, a nearly eightfold increase from 2017. New manager Gabe Kapler set the tone for that last spring training with how he maneuvered his outfield against hitters like Joe Mauer.The Astros increased their shift usage by 69 percent from 2017, a season in which they ranked second in outfield shifts to the Padres. San Diego just about halved its total from 2017, but remained in the top five in usage in 2018.
Besides the Padres, other teams to notably decrease their usage of outfield shifts from 2017 to 2018 included the White Sox (216 to 136), the Pirates (126 to 66), and the Cubs (111 to 27).
The strategy has not caught on entirely. Five teams barely used outfield shifts in 2018—the Reds (7 usages), Athletics (7), Royals (5), Mariners (5), and Orioles (4). But given that 17 teams increased their usage (by any amount) it seems possible that this strategy could be utilized even more in the future.