Shifts

Definition

A shift is a term used to describe the situational defensive realignment of fielders away from their "traditional" starting points. Infield shifts and outfield shifts are tracked separately. In 2017, lefty batters were shifted against on 22.1 percent of their plate appearances, while righty batters saw a shift on 5.2 percent of their plate appearances.

INFIELD POSITIONING

Statcast currently defines infield positioning as one of three categories. More granular categories may be added in the future. A variety of positioning leaderboards are viewable at Baseball Savant.
 

Standard (Not Shifted)
SHIFT: Three (or more) IF on One Side of 2B
SHIFT: Strategic Positioning

Standard (Not Shifted)

In order to know when a fielder is shifted, you need to know where they're shifting from in the first place. The "standard" alignment is when all four infielders are standing in their traditional spots. (Standard plays are not considered shifts.) Nearly 73 percent of pitches in the 2017 season were with fielders in the "standard" positions.

Standard positions are defined based on the zones where, under neutral conditions (first to eighth inning, no runners on), the league average fielder was positioned 70 percent to 90 percent of the time. For angles below, -45 degrees is the third-base line, 0 degrees is straight up the middle from home plate to center field, and +45 degrees is the first-base line.

Vs. LHH

1B: Between 85-130 feet from home; angle between 31 and 42 degrees
2B: Between 130-160 feet from home; angle between 9 and 31 degrees
SS: Between 130-160 feet from home; angle between -18 and 0 degrees
3B: Between 80-130 feet from home; angle between -37 and -17 degrees

Vs. RHH

1B: Between 85-130 feet from home; angle between 23 and 38 degrees
2B: Between 130-160 feet from home; angle between 0 and 18 degrees
SS: Between 130-160 feet from home; angle between -8 and -28 degrees
3B: Between 80-130 feet from home; angle between -42 and -30 degrees

Three (or more) Infielders on One Side of 2B

Simply put, this is when three (or more, in some cases) infielders are positioned to the same side of second base. This is the most common type of shift.

In 2017, 12.3 percent of tracked pitches came with this shift on, and 11.4 percent of balls in play came against this kind of shift.

Strategic Shift

A "strategic" shift is our current catch-all for positioning that is neither "standard," nor "three infielders to one side of second base." More granular categories, like "guarding the lines," "five infielders," etc., may be added in the future.

Examples of this often include just a single player being out of position, like a second baseman being shifted to short right while no other fielders are, as in the image above, or a shortstop moving very close to the second base bag, outside of the usual shortstop zone, but not quite moving to the other side of it.

Strategic infield shifts happened on 7.5 percent of all pitches in 2017, and were 30.4 percent of all shifts.

This Nick Markakis groundout is a good example of a "strategic" shift. The second baseman and shortstop were both out of their standard positions, but both the shortstop and third baseman remained to the left side of second base.

Video: ARI@ATL: Owings slides for a nice stop up the middle

 

 

OUTFIELD POSITIONING

Statcast currently defines outfield positioning as one of three categories. More granular categories may be added in the future.

Standard (Not Shifted)
SHIFT: Three OF on One Side of 2B
SHIFT: 4th Outfielder
SHIFT: Strategic Shift

Standard (Not Shifted)

As noted above, in order to know when a fielder is shifted, you need to know where they're shifting from in the first place. The "standard" alignment is when all three outfielders are standing in their traditional spots. (Standard plays are not considered shifts.)

Standard positions are defined based on the zones where, under neutral conditions (first to eighth inning, no runners on), the league average fielder was positioned 70 percent to 90 percent of the time. For angles below, -45 degrees is the third-base line, 0 degrees is straight up the middle from home plate to center field, and +45 degrees is the first-base line.

LF: Between 260-320 feet from home; angle between -33 and -21 degrees
CF: Between 280-350 feet from home; angle between -8 and 7 degrees
RF: Between 260-320 feet from home; angle between 21 and 33 degrees

Three OF on One Side of 2B

Three outfielders to one side of second base is exactly what it sounds like, and it's a relatively rare alignment. In 2017, this was only seen by the D-Backs against Colorado's DJ LeMahieu.

4th Outfielder

"When does an infielder play far enough out to be considered an outfielder" is a complicated question. We are currently considering the line to be "220 feet from home plate." (Read more on that here.) When an infielder gets past that line, we consider him to be a fourth outfielder. This is also a relatively rare alignment, most notably seen by the Cubs against Joey Votto in 2017 and the Astros against Joey Gallo in 2018.

Strategic Shift

As with the infield positioning, an outfield 'strategic' shift occurs when players are in a non-standard alignment that does not fall into another category. In the image shown above, the center fielder is clearly shaded over towards left, outside his traditional spot. Approximately seven percent of pitches in 2017 came with this kind of outfield alignment in place.