John Farrell will always be remembered most for the controversial way in which he left the Blue Jays, and most fans would probably prefer to forget his time at the helm altogether, marked as it was by injury and underperformance.
But one aspect of his managerial style for which he may be missed is his affinity for the infield over-shift, a defensive alignment in which three infielders are used on one side of the diamond based on a hitter’s tendency to pull the ball to that side.
Traditionalists often complain about the shift’s growing influence in the game, but its success is undeniable and the prevalence of video analysis and hitter’s spray charts suggest it’s here to stay.
Last season under Farrell and infield coach Brian Butterfield, the Jays used the infield shift more successfully than any other team.
They shifted on 436 balls put in play, second-most in the majors, according to Baseball Info Solutions, a company that collects and analyzes statistical data from every major-league game.
The company estimates the Jays saved 12 runs solely from using the shift last season — more than any other team in baseball. The runs saved on the shift alone were worth 1.2 wins, according to the company.
Typically, they would use rangy third baseman Brett Lawrie as the rover, moving him all the way into shallow right field where he could snare line drives hit into the hole between first and second base.
Farrell and the Jays shifted almost three times more than the average team last season. Only Joe Maddon’s Tampa Bay Rays — the earliest and most aggressive proponents of the strategy — used it more often.
Don’t expect that to be repeated this season under current Jays manager John Gibbons and his staff.
“I don’t think we’ll be as aggressive as we were last year,” said Luis Rivera, who replaced Butterfield as the Jays’ infield and third-base coach. “Not with the pitching staff we have now.”
Rivera said he’s going to continue to study video and use the shift where appropriate. Expect it against dead-pull guys like the Yankees’ Travis Hafner and Mark Teixeira, he said. In other words, when almost every team uses it.