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2020 MLB (non-Twins) Postseason Discussion Thread

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Recent Blogs


Josh Donaldson Loves To See Pitchers Hurt By The Shift

On Tuesday Josh Donaldson was consuming playoff baseball when the Twins’ third baseman unleashed a tweet that read “Shifts in MLB playoffs are continuing to hurt teams!!”

Not one but two exclamation points.

Donaldson had presumably just witnessed this play, an Austin Riley grounder with eyes that dribbled right through the spot where a straight-up second baseman would have played. And, if that second baseman had a pulse, it would have easily been converted into the inning’s first out.

Instead, the loafing baseball reached the outfield grass, Riley reached safely and the Braves launched a 6-run assault on the Marlins that inning, giving Atlanta a one-game lead in the NLDS.

The Miami Marlins were, in fact, hurt by the shift.
Image courtesy of Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
A few hours later, Donaldson, whose current team shifted 41.3% of plate appearances (7th most frequent in baseball), expanded on his viewpoint saying “pitchers are getting hurt because of these shifts. Hitters are taking advantage of it. Love to see it.”

In the simplest form, the goal of hitting is to not make an out. The next level would be to not make an out while gaining as many bases as possible in one at bat. By deploying the infield shift, teams are playing the percentages on a hitter’s batted ball tendencies while also tempting that hitter into a B-swing - one that does not do as much damage as it tries to direct a pitch to a certain area of the field. Teams in the field will concede the occasional single in the short term in exchange for more outs and fewer extra base hits over the long haul.

Over the course of a 162 game schedule, this alignment typically favors the defense. Recency bias likely plays a factor in Donaldson’s sentiments toward the shift. In a failed shift deployment, it becomes very noticeable (and usually highlighted by the broadcast crew) whereas the ground ball at a well-positioned infielder or the results of a hitter taking a less than optimal swing does not get amplified nearly as much during the telecasts.

Of course, from an offensive perspective, there are certainly times where teams would benefit from a well-placed hit rather than gambling on a gap shot.

In Riley’s case, the Braves were down by a run in the seventh inning. While a blast would have quickly tied it, simply reaching base would ensure that the top of Atlanta’s order - Ronald Acuna, Freddie Freeman and Marcell Ozuna - would get licks with a runner on base. So Riley inside-outs a 97-mile per hour sinker and starts a rally.

Josh Donaldson is not going to keep an opinion to himself. He’s very outspoken. He also just finished watching the Houston Astros dismantle the Minnesota Twins’ infield shifts.

In Game 1, with a 1-0 lead and runners on first and second, the Twins used a modified shift, pulling the infield around to the left against George Springer. On the mound, Tyler Duffey spins his knuckle-curves at the right-handed hitting Springer hoping to get him to over-pull into the shifted Marwin Gonzalez at third and Jorge Polanco at short. Springer, however, stays in line and drives the pitch back to the left side of second base where the shortstop might play. This ties the game 1-1.

Now, it comes off the bat at a hundred miles an hour so even if positioned a few steps over toward that hole might not be enough for Polanco to corral it. And Polanco was in a spot where a bulk of Springer’s ground balls were hit. So you can’t fault the logic. But this goes to show the approach the Astros are seemingly taking: hit toward the empty real estate.

Sure, Springer could have used his A-swing. He could have tried to drive the ball and put up a crooked number. He does not. He stays within himself and moves the line along. Aside from the terrible baserunning that ensued resulting in the third out at third, it was a fine piece of hitting.

In Game 2, more shift-beating ensued.

With two out and two on in the fourth inning, Jose Berrios was tangling with the left-handed hitting Kyle Tucker. The infield was swung around the right, with shortstop Jorge Polanco on the right side of second base and Marwin Gonzalez, playing slightly in at third to guard from the bunt, as the only body on the left side. On a two-two pitch, a very well located fastball by Berrios at that, Tucker keeps his hands in and inside-outs the ball to exactly where a straight-up shortstop would be playing.

Tucker’s swing was in protect mode but he undoubtedly saw the gaping hole on that side of the field. He didn’t need his best swing, he just needed a good enough swing. The Astros would take the early lead.

Then there was the ninth inning encounter between Taylor Rogers and Alex Bregman.

With a runner on first and no outs, Rogers throws Bregman an 0-1 fastball on the outer edge of the zone. It is left up and Bregman punches it right toward the vacant left side. The ball bounces at least five times as it travels into right field. Michael Brantley on first, alertly heads to third.

In a previous life, this would have been a double-play ball and the Twins might get their chance to tie it with a one-run game in the bottom of the ninth. In the modern era, Luis Arraez can only watch from 20 feet away as it bounds into the outfield.

This was an intentional approach by Bregman. He wasn’t protecting the plate or fighting anything off. He had what amounted to an automatic hit available to him and he took it when Rogers failed to execute his location.

When the dust settled, the Astros hitters were 7-for-15 on ground balls facing the infield shift from the Twins. Some were legit hits regardless of the alignment, others were borderline. Similarly, the Astros have since picked apart the Oakland A’s defensive shifts as well, going 7-for-20 in those situations in the ALDS as well. It seems to be a premeditated strategy.

Given that the Astros abused the Twins’ defensive alignment, which was viewed up close and personal by the injured third baseman, as well as the Braves’ march over the Marlins in Game 1 which was ignited by a shift buster, it’s no small wonder that Donaldson sees the shift as something that hurts pitching.

In some regards it does hurt pitching but for most teams not playing the Houston Astros, defensive shifts have been fairly effective in the postseason. While the Astros have hit .444 on grounders facing the shift, the rest of the teams in the postseason have hit .180.

For better or worse, the Minnesota Twins built their offense around the home run. Like the NBA’s increase in three-point shots, favoring the long ball has its advantages over the course of a season. As Earl Weaver said, the home run equals instant runs. That being said, throughout the year the Twins struggled to get others on base and score runs through other means. While they finished third in the American League in total home runs, they also finished 18th in overall runs scored.

In short, the team’s offensive toolbox only had one tool. And this became painfully apparent during the Wild Card series.

Because the games were close, the Astros could use the take-what-they-give-you approach rather than chucking up three point shots. The Minnesota Twins weren’t undone by infield positioning so much as they were outmaneuvered by the Houston Astros and their strategic bat control.

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24 Comments

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terrydactyls1947
Oct 07 2020 10:17 PM
If a professional baseball player can't intentionally hit a weak ground ball to a vacant area of the infield, he should be sent to the minors until he perfects that skill. If you want to get rid of shifts, start hitting the ball where six opponents aren't standing.
    • PDX Twin, bighat, wabene and 2 others like this

I 100% (or at least like 75%) agree with Donaldson... I think good teams and team players make adjustments in the playoffs in an attempt to help the team. In the regular season, sure, go for the downs, swing hard... But in the playoffs, don't get out. Other team gives you a hit, take it... Runner in scoring position, 3 guys one one side of the diamond, take the easy RBI. 

    • Taildragger8791, PDX Twin, chpettit19 and 3 others like this
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Major League Ready
Oct 08 2020 06:12 AM

Rod Carew would have hit 900 against the shifts they put on Kepler. It drives me crazy that Kepler has not done anything about it and twins management should have insisted he learn how to bunt adequately to nullify this shift. The shift the put on him obviously takes away hits. It would appear Kepler and the team have accepted teams taking away hits for the rest of his career because that's what will happen if Kepler does not learn to bunt.

 

A little slap bunt would be even more effective because it would go into left field. If he used a hitting motion for a slap bunt he could even use it with 2 strikes. Pull hitters should be working on this stuff in MiLB. Allowing others teams to take this advantage is incredibly stupid. Our organization should be working on this with current prospects to gain an advantage over the rest of the league. Our prospects that cant adapt to using the entire field should be required to learn how to bunt or slap bunt adequately enough to beat a shift.

    • bighat, wabene, heresthething and 1 other like this
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ToddlerHarmon
Oct 08 2020 06:40 AM
Rangier infielders necessitate less extreme shifting. Donaldson is indirectly displaying pride in his fielding, and the Twins should listen. We definitely missed more than his bat in the playoffs.
    • wabene likes this
I like the concept of shifting, but it sure does seem to hurt teams a higher rate than the analysts will tell you it should. I have no numbers, just a feeling I get since it became “the thing.” Is that reality, I don’t know (I also recall a ton of outs made by the shortstop on balls up the middle that were base hits for 100 years prior).

I’d love to see an actual comparison. What did the spray charts say the outcome should be vs. the actual outcome on every shift by every team over a season? It would also be interesting to see what percentage of failures were because the pitcher didn’t locate properly (example, shifting a player to pull then missing with a fastball on the outer half intended for inner half, etc.).

I would guess the problem, if any, lies in statisticians not following their own principles in terms of sample sizes and regression to the mean. How many points of data does it take to get to the true long-term trend for a hitter? Sure don’t want that regression to the mean striking in a playoff game.
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Parker Hageman
Oct 08 2020 07:05 AM

This is a good reminder that home runs are still king no matter the scenario

 

That being said, what we saw between the Astros and Twins is a good reminder that you need to have another offensive tool in case the home runs disappear. 

    • Huskertwin likes this

 

I 100% (or at least like 75%) agree with Donaldson... I think good teams and team players make adjustments in the playoffs in an attempt to help the team. In the regular season, sure, go for the downs, swing hard... But in the playoffs, don't get out. Other team gives you a hit, take it... Runner in scoring position, 3 guys one one side of the diamond, take the easy RBI. 

One thing I would like to touch on...when you advocate 'swing hard' go for it etc.If you are consistently doing that once you reach the playoffs it gives me the sense it would be difficult to flip a switch and go to slapping the ball the other way or putting something as simple as a bunt where no one is positioned.So much emphasis has been put on launch angle/power that players don't seem to have it in their game to be able to flip that switch and play the 2020 version of small ball. 

So what we are saying here is slap hits aren't the Bomba way of the life for the twins.  hate the shift, especially in double play situations

Has it become so ingrained that "bunt" means "giving up an out" that the mere thought of laying one down on the side where there is one infielder will cause managers to get migraines and laptops will immediately start emitting blue smoke because they figure out the concept? 

There has always been a saying in baseball, "hit it where they aint" (pardon the poor grammar I did not write the saying) That being said, no matter where you line up there is holes in the field.The concept of the shift is not knew, I actually get annoyed when people act like it is and want outlaw it.Shifts have been going on for decades, sometimes big shift like now, but sometimes little shifts, that we would call 'x' defense. 

 

Double defense would shift the middle infielders closer to the base, leaving larger holes between the corner defenders, but making double play more likely because someone is closer to the base.No doubles defense, would have outfield further back, and corner infielders closer to line.Infield in, which Twins used a ton this year.Bunt prevention, so on and so on.Now, teams have identified that generally ground balls are hit at higher rate on pull side, however, some can still hit to opposite side beating that shift.Some times will still shift those players, some will not.  

 

As the article points out, there are times teams will still shift to dare the hitter to take the HR swing away.It really comes down to hitter philosophy and game situation.So many MLB hitters could learn to bunt well and get so many singles bunting against shifts, but they have yet to do that.If they went up looking to hit a certain pitch a certain way they could hit more against it, but some players are not there to get a single.They are there to hit HR.If the team has the plan to hit HR, why would they teach hitter to bunt for a single?  

 

My personal philosophy is take the easy hit, do it again and again and again, until the other team tries to take that away, and different holes open up.Personally, I think eventually, hitters will make that change and teams will then adjust to it.I wonder why it has still taken this long. 

 

However, it is not like tee ball where you can just hit where ever you want.Pitchers are trying to pitch into the shift, or get out the hitter.Not all hitters are so good they can see the hole and hit it every time no matter the pitch.Maybe, as shifts keep happening some teams will teach how to beat it better.Right now, the league just tries to hit line drives over it anyway, and does not care about hitting grounder through the hole, but maybe if a team sees that as easy win, they will start doing it more.I would only ask players that can make that change in approach easy though, else they may not be able to change it up when teams stop shifting. 

    • DocBauer likes this

 

This is a good reminder that home runs are still king no matter the scenario

 

That being said, what we saw between the Astros and Twins is a good reminder that you need to have another offensive tool in case the home runs disappear. 

This^

There's been a lot of posts on Twins Daily since the abomination of a sweep last week suggesting the Twins' strategy of building a powerful lineup is forever doomed because teams just don't hit HRs in the playoffs. It's just not true. Stanton has about 1000 HRs himself already this postseason. I understand he is a different kind of beast, but Randy Arozarena has 3 in 5 games and he's certainly no Stanton.

 

HRs play in the postseason, but they can't be your only weapon. The failure of the Twins is that many of their hitters don't adjust their approach (seemingly from the outside looking in at least) based on the situation. I don't know whether this is guys simply being stubborn and refusing to adjust or coaching staff not promoting a varied approach or what, but it needs to change before next season. Cruz took advantage of the shift all year. He has spoken many times about his change in approach from at bat to at bat and pitch to pitch based on the situation. I assume he's had conversations with Sano and others about that. The Twins need to figure out if it's a matter of convincing guys to change or if it's a lack of ability to change and make team building decisions around that.

 

As for the shift in general, it's a tricky beast. Baseball is a game of adjustments. The best players are able to constantly adjust to what the league is doing to them. Especially hitters. The shift has been prominent enough for long enough that good hitters are adjusting and starting to beat it by taking their singles from time to time instead of trying to hit over it. Again, it's situation based, but the good teams are giving their good hitters the info needed for them to take the right approach at the plate. And good teams are convincing their good hitters that just getting on and moving the line along is how you win. Bases loaded less than 2 outs in the first inning of a playoff game? Sure, sit fast ball and look to lift and separate until you get a strike on you. Then adjust and make sure you score a run.

 

It would be interesting to see the reverse side of shift data and see what hitters are the most successful against them. See how long teams continue to shift after a player "proves" he can/will beat the shift by hitting to the open spot. And what teams are most successful at beating the shift and how that influences run scoring and winning. All about balance. The Twins seem to have swung their analytics pendulum too far (pulling starters, pinch hitting, shifting, etc.) at this point. I know Rocco takes a lot of flack, but I think a lot of it is pre-determined and he is given less leeway than we think when it comes to making decisions. Could certainly be 100% wrong about that, but my guess would be the Berrios decision was heavily influenced by Falvine pregame and that trio decided before the game Berrios wasn't seeing the lineup for a 3rd time.

    • wavedog, DocBauer and wabene like this

In every sport, a winning strategy works because it beats yesterday's opposing strategy. The shift works more often than not against a player who continues to follow his past spray chart. The comment about Rod Carew is spot-on. Every minor leaguer should be drilled on learning the bat control to put the ball in the defensive gaps.

 

It might take 5 years, but as more players learn to do this and more teams look for players who can do this, the shift will wane in success and popularity.

    • wabene likes this

Russell Carleton, in BPro August 19 and 26, found that:

"in front of the shift, we actually see an increase in called balls and walks. The problem is that there are a lot of extra walks, more than the number of hits saved by the shift."

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Taildragger8791
Oct 08 2020 09:04 AM

 

Russell Carleton, in BPro August 19 and 26, found that:

"in front of the shift, we actually see an increase in called balls and walks. The problem is that there are a lot of extra walks, more than the number of hits saved by the shift."

 

I wonder if this is due to the pitcher trying to throw to a side to get a ball hit that way, and missing their spots. Add to that the hitters not wanting to swing towards the shift and you've got a recipe for more balls.

The shifts are giving hitters free base hits every time. Someone above mentioned Kepler - they play him to pull, and the 3rd baseman is essentially standing on 2nd base. All Max has to do is just doink one to the left side of the infield and he's on first. Or bunt. Whatever, just put the ball in play over there.

 

Unbelievable that hitters are going up there and seeing the defense against them, and they can't - or worse yet, won't - try and hit the ball to an empty spot.

 

Speaks a lot about the hitting coach.

Any team and professional baseball player that does not take advantage of the shift is foolish. When you have teams that put on the shift 40% of the time, you are setting yourself up for a lot of baserunners. Why isn't it taken more advantage of by the offense? Ego? Most professional hitters can place a ball wherever they want within reason. The home run is instant scoring and highlight reel material but is not team play. Especially in the playoffs when you have elite pitching and hits are at a minimum you need to take what you are given. As much as I despise the Astros and their cheating ways, you have to give them credit for taking advantage of the shifts. I know I am old school, but wish the Twins would go back to basic team play.

redacted

 

Has it become so ingrained that "bunt" means "giving up an out" that the mere thought of laying one down on the side where there is one infielder will cause managers to get migraines and laptops will immediately start emitting blue smoke because they figure out the concept? 

 

There's a difference between "giving up an out" and bunting for a hit.I think most MLB managers and players know which is which, and I'd like to see guys do it and/or try to hit to beat it, especially when the game is not in doubt.Unless the computer is astute enough to pick up on where balls are going in a meaningless portion of a game, hitters can screw up the scouting reports a bit.  

BTW, in the article, I think this part needs editing:

"with shortstop Jorge Polanco on the left side of second base and Marwin Gonzalez, playing slightly in at third to guard from the bunt, as the only body on the right side."

If the third baseman was the only body on the LEFT side, then Polanco was on the RIGHT side of second.  

 

 

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ScrapTheNickname
Oct 08 2020 02:21 PM

I say that a successful MLB team needs to be multi-dimensional. More and more teams are cultivating defensive players who are capable of playing different positions, but how about offense? How about a Twins team that can steal bases, hit and run, hit against the shift, even bunt! As well as hit home runs. The Twins should be in a hurry NOW to start bringing up (and bringing in) players who are multi-dimensional offensively. Or will the Twins be one of those unfortunate teams that watches as the league adapts while they sit on their hands waiting for dingers?

 

 

How about a Twins team that can steal bases, hit and run, hit against the shift, even bunt! 

I can't remember the exact number, but in order for stealing to pay off over the course of a season, a base stealer has to be successful something like 75% of the time, or else the expected run value is hurt to the point that staying at first is the better move.Stealing third is even of less advantage; my recollection is that it has to be successful over 80% of the time to pay off over the course of a season.  

Bunting is almost always dumb move from the EV standpoint--giving up an out for a base is not the right statistical play unless the hitter's average is something like .160 (again, working from memory), which won't be the case too often with the DH (but this could be adjusted for a lefty against lefty where the hitter can't handle southpaws, I presume).Giving up an out for two bases--moving runners from 1st and 2nd to 2nd and 3rd-- with no outs IS a proper play to get at least one run.If a big inning is needed, then probably not too wise to give up an out for two bases.  

Hit and run isn't so easy to quantify--or if it is, I've missed the articles analyzing it.Sending Kepler on a hit and run with Arraez at the plate is probably OK. Sending Sano when 2020 Garver is up--not so much.  

But, I like to end on agreement, and hitting them where the fielders aren't strikes me as just common sense.I heard a major leaguer explain that it's hard enough to try to hit a 97 MPH fastball or a 85 MPH slider without trying to aim it, and I understand that; not all hitters can do it.But it's something to work on, maybe. 

 

JcS

    • ScrapTheNickname, DocBauer and chpettit19 like this

 A couple weeks ago I saw Gardner trying to bunt for a base hit with a 3-0 count.

As Trov succinctly pointed out, there has long been shifts and defensive re-alignments. It's just gone to a whole new level the past few years through analytical research. For every hit that makes it through the infield where a player would have been in a traditional alignment, there are probably a dozen outs made by these shifts. If this wasn't so, the shifts wouldn't be happening. I think, however, that strategy always shifts, pun partially intended, lol. As guys DO bunt or change their approach and begin to slap the ball the other way instead of looking for maximum barrell contact, you very well could either see fewer shifts or not as exaggerated forms of such.
    • Joey Self likes this
Last year hitters retooled to hit the Bombas.
Niw they need to retool to beat the shift.
Not easy tasks
Neither of them.
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Major League Ready
Oct 11 2020 07:55 AM

 

Last year hitters retooled to hit the Bombas.
Niw they need to retool to beat the shift.
Not easy tasks
Neither of them.

 

There are varying degrees of difficulty. The 1B is still present when a RH bunts to beat the shift. He can field the ball with the pitcher covering. Extreme shifts against a LH hitter like we see with Kepler have no defenders on the left side. The degree of difficult is far lower than a RH hitter. It’s also FAR easier than bunting for a hit against a traditional defense. The direction does not need to be nearly as good and the ball does need to be deadend. As a matter of fact, the harder the better.

 

Learning to bunt for hits against ML pitching and a traditional defense is not so easy. Learning to guide the ball somewhere within 25 ft of 3rd base with a hard bunt not nearly as tough. If considered in terms of a single AB, it’s not that big a deal. However, in the case of LH hitters who face extreme shifts, forcing opponents to abndoned the shift will result in better results across literally thousands of ABs. If I were LH hitter who faces exremes shifts I would not be willing to accept the imp[act of shifts on my career. I would be working very hard in practice and during the off season to learn to bunt hard toward 3B and beat the shift. I would hope that any player with the skills of a ML player could learn this skill within a reasonable amount of time. Sounds like a great spring training activity to me.

    • USAFChief likes this