Cincinnati Reds are finally shifting to become a team that leans on defensive shifts

Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports /

The Cincinnati Reds continue to use more shifts as they become more prevalent across all of MLB.

The Cincinnati Reds more than doubled their use of defensive shifts from 426 in 2015 to 876 in 2016.   The Reds used the fifth most shifts in the National League, but none of the teams who used more made the playoffs.  The shifts should have helped hide the bad season on the right side of the infield, but didn’t.  The Chicago Cubs used the fewest shifts and won the World Series.

In 2014, MLB teams shifted 13,299 times and saved 196 runs.  MLB shifted 17,744 times in 2015 and saved 267 runs.  In 2016, MLB teams shifted 28,074 times and saved 359 runs.

Those numbers show that the shift is ever increasing and that the number of runs per shift decreased in 2016.  Some people argue that is from diminishing returns and other argue that it is merely a statistical anomaly.  The third option is that teams are costing themselves by shifting too often or at inappropriate times.

The general rule of thumb is that about 10 shifts per game, or 1,620 over the course of the season, is the optimal number.  Only the Texas Rangers shift more than that in MLB.  The rest of MLB has plenty of room to shift.

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The basics of the shift is determined by who is batting.  All of the top five batters against whom the shift was used were left-handed batters.  MLB hasn’t caught up how to shift exactly to take advantage of strong pull right-handers like Albert Pujols.

The Cincinnati Reds have several of their players that lost quite a few hits to the shift in 2016.

No Red had been shifted against more than Jay Bruce.  Teams shifted against him 328 times in 162 games or just over twice per game.  Bruce loss six hits to the shift last year and an estimated 23 over the course of his career.  It is part of why the Reds traded him.

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Teams shifted heavily against the right-handed Devin Mesoraco.  In only 16 games Mesoraco lost five hits to the shift in 2016.  The shift may have been more effective against Mesoraco since the velocity  of the ball off of the bat was slower in 2016 due to his injuries.

Teams also shifted against Adam Duvall, the Red’s other right-handed slugger.  He lost five hits as well, but he saw a shift 139 times in 150 games.  It will be interesting to see if Duvall continues to see the shift in second season as an everyday player.

Under much ado about nothing was the number of shifts that Joey Votto saw in 2016.  Teams shifted against him 232 times in 2016.

He only netted a loss of two hits over the entire season.  Early in the season the shift explained his slow start, but by the end of the season the hits had averaged themselves out.

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The shift helps to limit hits.  More importantly in this era, it minimizes extra base hits when utilized properly.  For most teams, including the Reds, there are still more runs to save by properly using the shift.