Sunday, December 10, 2017
Tampa Bay Rays

Tampa Bay Rays frustrate hitters with more shifts than ever

BOSTON

The Rays have always been a shifty bunch.

And thus far they are shifting their defenders even more this season.

The changes are twofold: more dramatic shifts against certain hitters, and shifts against more hitters than they have before.

"Fair observation," manager Joe Maddon said. "It's a combination of those things. Our default setting is different, and we're manipulating against more players than we have in the past."

Maddon said the best way to describe the altered approach is "more aggressive."

The Yankees and Tigers had a few other words for it after the opening two series, their hitters frustrated when a number of balls that normally would have been hits were outs because the Rays were in the right place at the right time.

"Must be the computer stuff," sniffed Yankees 3B Alex Rodriguez.

"This club shifts more than any club in baseball," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "You're going to hit some balls at people hard. That's baseball, and you've got to deal with it."

In Detroit, 3B Miguel Cabrera had a running conversation with Rays 3B/INF coach Tom Foley about how he'd beat the shift if they kept doing it.

"He was chewing my head off, telling me, 'I can hit the ball the other way,' " Foley said. "And I said, 'Go ahead.' "

Getting hitters to change their approach can be as much a benefit of the shift as catching balls that would be hits. Foley said it's a matter of positioning defenders where the data shows balls are most often hit.

"We're going to keep playing the percentages," he said. "We're going to put guys in position where we feel we can catch the ball."

3B Evan Longoria said the Rays have shifted so often he feels like he should start taking ground balls at shortstop. "It's a different kind of alignment for every batter," he said. "There's fewer and fewer guys we actually play in a traditional straight-up defense."

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