Major League Baseball has an offensive problem on its hands: Hitting and scoring are down, strikeouts are way up, and that decline in firepower is getting decidedly dull. And there's one clear target to blame — math.
Thanks to pro baseball's growing acceptance and implementation of advanced statistics, or sabermetrics, offense in the Major Leagues is at a low not seen in almost 20 years. In particular, defensive statistics, which were once considered rudimentary and difficult to calculate, have matured considerably in the last decade or so, giving teams a better understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses.
One particular strategy, the defensive shift, got a closer examination in The New York Times today as a particular cause of the decline in offensive firepower. Certain players are more likely to hit the ball in one specific direction the majority of the time, and advanced stats have finally convinced managers that shifting their infielders from their regular positions to where the hitter is most likely to put the ball in play is the optimal strategy.
Though once a relatively rare sight, "the shift is on the verge of becoming the norm," Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon told the Times. Maddon and the Rays used defensive data with stunning success during their run to the World Series in 2008, and the game has taken notice. The strategy — the shift — that was once considered risky and bizarre is on pace to be used almost 14,000 times this year, a modern high and far above last year's 8,134 uses, according to research from Baseball Info Solutions.