Major league teams relying on shift more often
DENVER (AP) Several times a game, Nolan Arenado takes a couple of giant steps to his left and fills the hole at shortstop.
A necessary evil for the Colorado Rockies Gold Glove third baseman, who doesn't particularly care for the view from that spot. But he is on board with anything that gets outs.
The Rockies are among the teams utilizing the shift more often this season, relying on analytics to be more aggressive on defense. Through Sunday, Colorado has shifted the infield 141 times on balls in play and is on pace for 816, which is seven times the Rockies' total last year and by far the highest percentage increase in the majors, according to Baseball Info Solutions. The next closest is Arizona, which is on pace for 659 shifts, 2.6 times more than a season ago.
As a whole, moving infielders from left to right - or right to left - and back again is trending up across the majors. So far, teams have shifted on 3,395 balls in play this year, which factors out to 17,666 times over a 162-game season.
That is on pace to be up nearly 33 percent from last year's total of 13,298. There were only 2,357 shifts in 2011.
''If shifting is going to help the team, we have to do what we have to do,'' said Arenado, whose team dropped its 10th straight game Tuesday - their longest skid since 2005 - as they've tumbled to the bottom of baseball following a 7-2 start. ''It really is whatever is best.''
Colorado's significant philosophical change on the shift happened over the winter, when manager Walt Weiss visited with Zack Rosenthal, the team's assistant GM overlooking baseball operations. Weiss wanted to use more data to get his team into better position, especially with an infield that includes three Gold Glove winners.
''I talk about dominating the ball defensively,'' Weiss said. ''This is one way we can try to do that.''
So far this season, the Rockies have been statistically mediocre on defense - 16th among the 30 teams in average errors per total chances.
Besides the Rockies and Diamondbacks, other teams relying on the shift more often include Detroit (on pace for 532), Cincinnati (502) and San Diego (491).
''You play the percentages, and it's definitely something you're going to see more and more,'' Diamondbacks infielder Aaron Hill said, ''because the data is there. It's hard to ignore.''
For some fielders, moving even the slightest bit can be awkward. That's the case for Arenado, one of the top fielding third basemen. When he moves over to the shortstop hole with a pull-prone left-handed hitter up, he feels out of sorts.
''Your instincts are a little different, because you're like, `I usually don't make this throw,''' Arenado said. ''You definitely have to get used to it.''
The Pittsburgh Pirates employ a different approach. Rather than move shortstop Jordy Mercer more toward second and third baseman Josh Harrison to the shortstop hole, they simply bump Harrison all the way over to the middle.
That way, it's just one player out of position instead of two.
''We want them to think about changing their swing, which is why the shift (is there) in the first place,'' Mercer said. ''Everybody's playing the numbers game. Seems more and more teams are starting to buy into that. Even some of the bigger teams that you think would never do it, like the Red Sox or the Yankees or guys like that, they're doing it now.''
The usual pull hitters are the most shifted players, with Lucas Duda facing a stacked infield in 106 shifted plate appearances, followed by David Ortiz (100), Chris Davis (90), Adrian Gonzalez (89) and Ryan Howard (81).
''David Ortiz is going to be shifted against until he retires,'' Weiss said. ''But it's the other guys, that aren't the sluggers, who are going to have to adapt.''
Like drop down more bunts to combat the shift or slap it the other way. Try to keep a team honest on defense.
''I think hitting has gone backward from the standpoint of using the whole field and I think that's going to have to change,'' Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said.
When he played for the New York Yankees, Mattingly said he faced shifts. Nothing over the top like in today's game, just a shortstop shading more toward the middle.
''I didn't like it when I hit a line drive up the middle and the shortstop was there,'' Mattingly said. ''But it was kind of my fault.''
AP Sports Writers Ronald Blum and Will Graves and AP freelance writers Monica Costello and Michael Kelly contributed to this report.