Elizabeth Bouzarth, Benjamin Grannan, John Harris, Andrew Hartley, Kevin Hutson, Ella Morton
September 15, 2020
Defensive repositioning strategies (shifts) have become more prevalent in Major League Baseball in recent years. In 2018, batters faced some form of the shift in 34% of their plate appearances (Sawchik, Travis. 2019. “Don’t Worry, MLB–Hitters Are Killing The Shift On Their Own.” FiveThirtyEight , January 17, 2019. Also available at fivethirtyeight.com/features/dont-worry-mlb-hitters-are-killing-the-shift-on-their-own/). Most teams use a shift that overloads one side of the infield and adjusts the positioning of the outfield. In this work we describe a mathematical approach to the positioning of players over the entire field of play without the limitations of traditional positions or current methods of shifting. The model uses historical data for individual batters, and it leaves open the possibility of fewer than four infielders. The model also incorporates risk penalties for positioning players too far from areas of the field in which extra-base hits are more likely. This work is meant to serve as a decision-making tool for coaches and managers to best use their defensive assets. Our simulations show that an optimal positioning with three infielders lowered predicted batting average on balls in play (BABIP) by 5.9% for right-handers and by 10.3% for left-handers on average when compared to a standard four-infielder placement of players.