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John Dewan's Stat of the Week


Who Gives a Shift?

October 23, 2014

The 2015 Bill James Handbook will be on bookshelves on November 1, but we wanted to give you a bit of a sneak preview. This is an abridged version of the introduction for the new Shifts section.


Let’s address the main question first. Who does give a shift? Answer: the Houston Astros. Prior to this season, the highest single-season total of shifts deployed by a team was 599 by the Baltimore Orioles in 2013. Six teams exceeded that total in 2014, but the Astros crushed it. The lowly Houston Astros, losers of 92 games, more than doubled the Orioles total with 1,341 shifts this past year.

Over the past four seasons the number of shifts in Major League Baseball, as measured by a ball hit into play when a shift is in effect, has nearly doubled every year. Here are the totals by year:

MLB Shifts by Season
Year Number of Shifts
2010 2,464
2011 2,357
2012 4,577
2013 8,180
2014 13,296


It is clear that Major League teams have embraced this new defensive strategy. Some more than others. But is it effective?

Our best measurement of the effectiveness of shifts is Shift Runs Saved. It is an estimate of the number of runs saved by a team when employing The Shift Defense. It is a technique similar to other elements of Defensive Runs Saved in that it utilizes info down to the play-by-play level, including direction and velocity of every batted ball. Let’s repeat that chart above, but add Shift Runs Saved:

MLB Shifts by Season
Year Number of Shifts Shift Runs Saved
2010 2,464 36
2011 2,357 42
2012 4,577 76
2013 8,180 135
2014 13,296 195


As you can see, the more shifts deployed in Major League Baseball, the more runs are saved. And the lowly Astros with their 92 losses? They had the highest total of Shift Runs Saved by a wide margin. They saved 27 runs on their 1,341 shifts. The next best team was the Toronto Blue Jays with 16 runs saved on 686 shifts.

So the answer to all of this is: Shift or get off the pot! Maybe that should have been the tile of this article. If you want to save runs, shift. Simple as that. And the more you shift, the more you save. Despite all the shifting that is already done in baseball, many teams are still leaving runs on the table by not committing even more to this strategy.


The 2015 Bill James Handbook contains the full version of this article as well as more detailed shift numbers, including batting averages vs. shifts and against traditional defenses. Additionally, The Fielding Bible—Volume IV, coming out in the spring, will provide a more thorough analysis of The Shift Defense.

Search Archived Stats of the Week

Published Date:

 TitlePublished Date
Edit Who Gives a Shift? Oct 23 2014
Edit Who are the 2014 Fielding Bible Award / Gold Glove Contenders? (Part II) Oct 06 2014
Edit Who are the 2014 Fielding Bible Award / Gold Glove Contenders? (Part I) Oct 01 2014
Edit Pitchers with the Best and Worst Run Support Sep 18 2014
Edit Which teams have come on in the second half? Sep 09 2014
Edit Instant Replay Sep 02 2014
Edit Top Defensive Players for 2014 Aug 20 2014
Edit Who Are The 2014 MVP Candidates? Aug 08 2014
Edit How Do Shifts Affect League-Wide Batting Averages? Jul 25 2014
Edit The Best and Worst Baserunners in 2014 Jul 18 2014
Edit The White Sox Blow Another Lead Jul 10 2014
Edit Shifts Against Right-Handed Hitters Jun 26 2014
Edit Cannon Arms in 2014 Jun 10 2014
Edit The Most Improved Defensive Teams Jun 06 2014
Edit How Many More No-Hitters This Year? May 29 2014
Edit Rookie of the Year – Tanaka or Abreu? May 16 2014
Edit Can the National League Reverse a 10-Year Trend? May 09 2014
Edit Who Are the Best and Worst Defensive Teams So Far? Apr 25 2014
Edit Shifts Still on the Rise Apr 18 2014
Edit Can the First 10 Games Predict Playoff Chances? Apr 11 2014
Edit Who Will Be The 2014 Statistical Leaders? Mar 31 2014
Edit Can Spring Training Statistics Predict Breakout Power Seasons? Mar 25 2014
Edit Who Will Be The Best Defenders In 2014? Mar 11 2014
Edit Sochi Olympics - Dominant Countries Feb 25 2014
Edit United States on Track for Most Olympic Medals Feb 17 2014
Edit Sochi Predictions Feb 10 2014
Edit Super Bowl Predictor System Jan 30 2014
Edit Throwing Strikes Jan 20 2014
Edit Cannon Arms in 2013 Jan 10 2014
Edit Teams that Best Controlled the Running Game Dec 30 2013
Edit Opponent OPS and the Cy Young Award Dec 20 2013
Edit The Flat Bat Award 2013 Dec 09 2013
Edit Tim Lincecum Breaks Our Defensive Rankings Nov 19 2013
Edit Who Was the Real AL MVP? Nov 15 2013
Edit Making a Great Defensive Play Then Leading Off the Next Inning Nov 05 2013
Edit The 2013 Fielding Bible Awards Oct 28 2013
Edit Boston-St. Louis World Series Oct 21 2013
Edit Who are the Fielding Bible Award / Gold Glove Contenders? (Part II) Oct 07 2013
Edit Who are the Fielding Bible Award / Gold Glove Contenders? (Part I) Oct 04 2013
Edit Simmons Has Company Sep 23 2013
Edit Who are the Slowest Players in Baseball? Sep 12 2013
Edit Does Playing Shallow Work? Sep 06 2013
Edit Easy and Tough Saves Aug 30 2013
Edit Best Single-Season Runs Saved Totals Aug 19 2013
Edit Opponent OPS Aug 15 2013
Edit Who's Shifting and Who's Not Jul 25 2013
Edit Who Should Be Starting the 2013 All-Star Game? Jul 16 2013
Edit Edwin Encarnacion and Shifts Jul 11 2013
Edit The Pirates and Hot Streaks Jun 26 2013
Edit Scoring Runners from Third Base with Less Than Two Outs Jun 24 2013
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