ARLINGTON, Texas -- No team in baseball likes to play the infield shift more than the Tampa Bay Rays. And manager Joe Maddon has employed the technique during this series already. He's likely to do it again tonight against Josh Hamilton.
In his career, the left-handed hitting Hamilton has hit 21 percent of his balls to the opposite field and 26 percent were pulled. That's not a large enough split to go with a shift, is it? Well, you have to look at what Hamilton does on ground balls. ESPN Stats & Information (with help from Baseball Info Solutions) broke it down since 2009 (this is just balls in play on the ground):
Far Left: 5.8 percent
Far Right: 32.3
In the air, the opposite occurs. So that's why you'll see some teams shift Hamilton. BTW, Mitch Moreland has similar numbers and the Rays shifted against him in the first two games of the series. According to the charts, Mike Napoli and Ian Kinsler pull the ball for as high a percentage as well, making them candidates.
But the Rays are also the most likely to use the shift. They led the league in doing it in 2011 (the definition of an infield shift according to Baseball Info Solutions is when three infielders are positioned on one side of the base or the third infielder is directly behind second base) and are well on their way in 2012. They are already more than halfway to their 2011 total.
The Rays have shifted 125 times (63 times against right-handed batters, 62 vs. lefties). The next highest team, the Yankees, have shifted 50 times going into today's games.
So is all this shifting working? Well, the Rays are second to Toronto in defensive runs saved. Yet teams are hitting .255 on ground balls against the Rays, while the league average is .226.
The Rangers are batting .300 on ground balls, the best mark in the AL.
Hamilton and Moreland both said they don't change their approach when the shift is on.
"A lot of times they want to pitch me inside and get me to roll over," Hamilton said. "I keep my same approach. Just try to get a ball I can drive."
* Manager Ron Washington is pleased that Moreland has started to hit the ball and isn't surprised, saying earlier this week that Moreland might get on a roll since the club was facing four straight right-handed pitchers. Moreland is 5-for-14 (.357) on this homestand with a homer. He is not in the lineup against left-handed pitcher David Price.
* The Rangers have stayed healthy so far and Washington gave a lot of the credit to the training staff. He said specific programs for Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz on hamstrings and getting Elvis Andrus stronger have helped.