The Philadelphia Phillies Will Use Defensive Shifts in 2014


Ryne Sandberg. Image Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Phillies got a taste of sabermetrics…and apparently they liked it.

First, they hired Scott Freedman to serve as the team’s analytics expert. Next, they signed Roberto Hernandez because statistical analysis indicated that he hasn’t pitched as poorly as his traditional numbers would imply. If those moves weren’t enough – and most people would say that they weren’t – they’re going to start shifting their infield defense.

When the Phillies signed A.J. Burnett, some critics said that Burnett wouldn’t be as effective for the Phillies as he was with the Pirates. That was largely because the Pirates often employed defensive shifts based on analysis of the tendencies of both hitters and pitchers.  Theoretically, that would maximize the chances of having a ground ball being hit at a fielder. Since the Phillies had never done this type of thing in the past, it was assumed that they wouldn’t do so in the future.

That assumption might have been correct under former manager Charlie Manuel, but with Ryne Sandberg in charge, things have apparently changed:

"“I was aware that they were doing it,” Sandberg said. “(Pittsburgh) wasn’t the only team doing it, but they pitched to it effectively and the way their season went, I think it worked well for them.”"

Sandberg added:

"“We’re going to play with it a little bit,” Sandberg said of shifts. “Once we get our charts and everything, make a decision. Sometimes it may be dependent on the game. Right there there were two outs in the inning and wind blowing out to right field. (We’d be) happy with him trying to take a stroke the other way. Even thought it wasn’t a ground ball, it changes his approach at the plate with two outs.”"

What’s next? Being more worried about WAR than RBIs? Signing guys with high on-base percentages? It is a strange new world we’re living in as Phillies fans.