2012 Greg Lucas     All rights reserved

Analytics are NOT the Whole Story

A debate came up on social media last week with some using the argument that no once should challenge the Houston astros for being analytic heavy in they way they defend the opposition. because the team was 73-40.  Naturally,when I did for a certain situation that opened myself up to being charged with thinking this "old man" was smarter than the guys who run computers or the management of the club.  

First of all since I have long felt--even when I was 25 years old -- that experience counts-- I totally rejected the age argument. Secondly, I DO respect the analytic work done in baseball as it pertains to how the game is played.  I am much more dubious with the "new" stats that add little except form yet a new way to try to "rank" players.  I understand the extreme defensive shifting MAY cut down on the number of base-hits with some players--mostly extreme pull hitting left handed hitters-- but it also may cut down on some defensive plays that should be or need to be made.  

 

Case in point is the double play.  I complained that in double play situations I felt the shifting needed to be less extreme.  If the middle infielders cannot get to the bag there is no chance to turn two.  That has happened on more than one occasion to Houston this season.  Of course the cynics to my pointing that out say, "Look at our record.  We are the team that extreme shifts more than any other in baseball and we have nearly the best record of the 30 teams."

While I cannot deny that fact based point I also would like to point out that the Astros probably have fewer defensive plays to make in the average game than any other team.  Verlander and Cole  get a large number of them through strikeouts.  And in both cases many of the outs they do get are fly balls that don't test the shift.

My whole point in this is that getting two outs is better than one...or none.  When the infield remains in an extreme shift with a runner on first and less than two out the odds are remote in getting those two outs.  Now, I am not calling for the complete long time "standard" DP defense where both middle infielders moved a step or two closer to the base and in a bit closer.  No, I am OK with the pull side infielder to be further off the bag if that is where the analytics says he has a very high percentage of hitting the ball.  But the weak side defender must be able to get to the base to take a throw and return one to first base. He can't be on the pull side as well unless very close to the bag.  When both middle infielders are on the same side of the base, unless a corner spot is totally uncovered there is no one to take the throw.

Two other things the extreme shift has taken away.  Some pitchers are not reluctant to pitch against the shift.  They must induce the hitter to hit to his stronger side since that is where the defense is playing.  If he dares go away the hitter can even mis-hit the ball and dribble one through.  While that means he won't be hitting with an power he will still be on base when he shouldn't have been.  

 

Good hitters can beat the shift.

A great example of great hitting as pointed out by Lance Berkman while he was taking a turn in the booth last week. Jose Altuve is a very strong pull hitter on the infield.  So, the pitcher threw almost every pitch down and away.  With no infielder except the first baseman on the right side of the infield Altuve intentionally beat the analytics and drove a hard single into right field.  That ultimately was part of another scoring inning.  Yes, doing that took away some of Jose's power.  But even in this age HRs are not hit all the time.  Teams win with other sorts of hits too--the kind that are not quite as rare.  Why are the Astros currently hot?  They are getting all sorts of hits and feature a number of .300 or very near .300 hitters in the lineup in ADDITION to some good power numbers.  It is NOT all or nothing with this crew.

Do the "numbers" show overshifting works?  They do from the past, but they do not predict the future.  All it will take to show the weaknesses is a team winning the World Series by "beating the shift"..and if it is accidental  on a poorly hit ball that will result in looking back at why our baseball forefathers decided to put the infielders in the standard spots they have been for decades.

I am not a all against what the Astros do on defense--most of the time.  But I sure want those double plays turned.  I am sure the pitching staff does as well.