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Yankees Move Out of Dark Ages With Shifting

By Jed Weisberger ~ April 19th, 2014. Filed under: New York Yankees.

Over the past few years, shifts for certain hitters have become the norm in baseball.

Both Joe Maddon of the Tampa Bay Rays and Clint Hurdle of the Pittsburgh Pirates have taken shifts to a new level and guided their teams to the postseason utilizing shifts.

For decades, the strategy was to “hit it up the middle’’ and a base hit would likely be the result. That’s not the case anymore. The hole is still there, but not in the so-called middle.

“We all have data now, of hitters at all levels,’’ said Trenton Thunder manager Tony Franklin. “This year, starting in spring training, we took all this data and put it on the field. You will see our team, and every other team in the organization, shifting depending on who the hitter is.’’

The Yankees, who fell behind the curve in this type of defensive strategy, are now emerging from the dark ages with this, playing catch-up throughout their organization.

In  a game vs. the Portland Sea Dogs last week, the Thunder made six plays with the shift. The next night, things did not work so well.

In last Saturday’s 7-4 Yankees win over the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium, the shifting hurt reliever Matt Thornton in the top of the seventh inning more than helped him.

One can say both situations occurred because both the Yankees infielders and their farm-system counterparts are just learning what this is all about.

“There is a time getting used to something like this,’ ’ said Franklin. “For instance, a second baseman is instructed to stand at a certain spot from Little League on. Now he is told to stand in another spot and why.

“It can be confusing to a player and uncomfortable to a degree when one is learning how to do this.’’

And not very effective, as when the Chicago Cubs botched a shift play against the Pittsburgh Pirates earlier this week, resulting in an error and two runs scored.

“You are seeing this all over baseball,’’ said Franklin. “It puts more pressure in the hitter. The hole is still there for him to get a base hit, it’s just in a different place.’’

Those who enjoy mixing baseball with numbers can claim a victory here. The data on each hitter is loaded into a computer, with positioning determined by what information results.

Radio and TV announcers delight in mentioning the shifts, often showing, or telling, viewers and listeners how the second baseman is in the outfield, or there is only one fielder to the right of second base. The Pirates, for instance, shift according to the count on the hitter at times.

The Yankees are not to that level of expertise yet, but one can easily see that happening. Baseball is changing.

And those Bronx Bombers have finally jumped on that train.

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Jed spent 35 years in the newspaper business working as both a writer and editor, in both sports and news under tight deadline pressure. As both sports editor at the Indiana (Pa.) Gazette and a copy editor/columnist at The Times of Trenton, he made daily decisions on overall coverage and designed and produced thousands of pages and special sections. Since accepting a buyout from The Times, he has concentrated on broadening his writing and editing horizons to the medical, academic and business fields. Anyone is welcome to Google Jed to see the different places in print, on the Web and in front of the camera his professional expertise has spread to.

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