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Plugging the shift: Cardinals, MLBN ahead of the curve

A chart of shift usage and effectiveness plus a plug for MLBN's new shifty feature.

He's shifty
He's shifty
Jeff Curry

Mark Simon, who helps oversee ESPN's stats/info blog, tweeted a chart the other day that looked at how often each team shifts and how successful they are at it. Simon has access to a lot of data that we don't, and he tweets a lot about, it including a lot of great stuff about pitcher and hitter hard hit rates. If you're on twitter and you're not following him, you're really missing out. He's @msimonespn . I'll make it easy. Click here and follow. If you don't have twitter, you should get it to follow him and others like him. So here's the chart.

Simon Shift Chart

from Mark Simon and ESPN

Here's a link to the image if it doesn't show up large enough in the browser: link

There are a couple of things to note here on first look, and I'm sure there's more to discuss with deeper consideration.

The Cardinals don't shift especially often, but they are especially good at it when they do. Only the Tigers, Phillies, & Giants got more out of each shift they implemented, so the Cardinals really chose their spots well this year, or their pitchers really did a good job pitching into the shifts. It was interesting to see the Pirates, who earned a strong reputation with shifting last season, so far down the list. They shifted nearly twice as often as the Cardinals, and saved fewer than half as many runs as the Birds. And look at the Astros!

The shift is here to stay, and it will be interesting to see how the teams stack up this time next year. Will the Cardinals continue their efficiency? Will the Astros cut down on the volume and try to do a better job choosing their spots? How will the Pirates respond to what looks like a decline in performance in this area? Anyway, this is great stuff from Mark Simon.

Moving on, one of the little quirks about having one's name on an SBN masthead is the steady stream of e-mails about new baseball-related products and developments. No, friend, I don't want to tell Viva El Birdos about the exciting! new! partnership! between Major League Baseball and Hello Kitty. And no, I don't want to know where the Cardinals rank in average resale ticket value this time or the last fifteen times you asked me. But every once in a while someone offers something the community would enjoy (hello, Ballpark Blueprints. Speaking of, I'll put up a post with the predictions contest winners after the Cards are done for the year) or I get something that I think genuinely is of interest to Viva El Birdos' readers. Such was the case yesterday when I got an email from MLBN telling me about their new feature showing how each fielder is positioned every at bat.

MLB Network will be using their new "Shift Trax" feature tonight, which will show in real time the position of each fielder. They developed it as it became clear how important and wide-spread the shift was becoming as a way to share what's happening with the viewers. They used it a few times on Showcase Games earlier this year, but I haven't seen it and am looking forward to checking it out tonight.

And here's a screenshot of the new feature.

While clutter should be avoided in telecasts, fielder positioning is now an essential piece of information for viewers, as it affects not just balls in play, but even how the pitcher ought to attack the hitter. I'm also really enthused it will be real time, as players will move around during an at-bat for a variety of interesting reasons.  MLBN will have pitch/fx and some fancy cameras featured as well.

Hopefully we will see the technology widespread as soon as possible. FSMW and all local broadcasts would do well to create a broadcast that communicates this important new development in the game.