It's the Rays' Joe Maddon who tends to get all of the attention for extreme defensive shifts, but John Farrell is no stranger to alternative alignments. In 2012, while manager of the Toronto Blue Jays, Farrell employed an extreme shift that saw third baseman Brett Lawrie line up in short right field against pull-happy left-handed hitters. Colin Wyers of Baseball Prospectus wrote extensively about this last year, as Lawrie's defensive numbers were misleading (and overrating him) in certain systems thanks to the shift. From Wyers' work, a look at that particular shift in action:
Farrell no longer has a Brett Lawrie on his roster, but he does have a Will Middlebrooks, and because of this, the team is currently investigating whether or not this shift, or one similar to it, can be employed in Boston as well. From Nick Cafardo:
"Yes we will shift, but to what extent, we're going to get a better read," he said. "We felt we had the ability to move [third baseman Brett] Lawrie around more freely. We'd like to put the third baseman on the [shortstop] hole side with lefthanded hitters." Farrell said he has to gauge how effective Will Middlebrooks would be in that situation.
How much shifts actually help is an open question. The aforementioned Wyers has researched and written about the various reasons why the impact of shifts might be overstated, that it might be more of a sabermetric narrative than an actual development. That being said, if there is some positive impact, there's no harm in employing shifts, and the fact that Farrell has an open mind to possible improvements is itself a positive. As a team that just two years ago missed the playoffs by one game, you take incremental improvements where you can, and hope they all add up to something more than their parts.
John Farrell's Hands-On Approach To Defense
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