Colorado Rockies: How Bud Black Views Defensive Shifts
By Tim Engquist
New Colorado Rockies manager Bud Black fielded questions about his philosophy on the shift a couple of days ago in Arizona, giving us an idea what his thoughts are. Included in Bud’s answers were his thoughts on analytics as a whole, how Colorado’s talented infield affects shifts, what he thought about the shift as a pitcher and more. Here are some highlights:
In his answers, Black, who took over the Rockies in early November, gave some information about how he handles all of the information the coaching staff gets and how they use it. He illustrates he wants to incorporate but not be handcuffed by it.
“Thing about data … we get a lot. It’s valuable and useful. It’s how you blend it and put it to use. There’s a time for and place for shifting. There’s a time and place to heavily shift, moderately shift, slightly shift, all those things,” Black said. “It’s fluid, at times, pitch to pitch, at bat to at bat, guy to guy.”
He continues on to say: “Am I for shifting? Sure, yeah. But to an extent, we do it how we think we should do it.”
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From this, it is hard to predict exactly how and when the Rockies will employ the shift in 2017 but it also confirms the fact that they will. Technically, it could also mean the Rockies will change the shift slightly based on the count and the pitch that is about to be delivered.
Black delves further into situation differences and says that the Rockies practice making situational plays in whatever formation has the best chance to get the out they are looking for.
“We talk about those things. You can’t cover every position on the field,” Black said. “That’s why when you do feel strongly about a guy and where he is going to hit the ball you try and position it, and then you practice turning a double play from that alignment, which we do.”
Another compelling response from the Rockies manager was provoked by a question revolving around if Colorado’s talent in the infield changes the way they will shift, referencing when Nolan Arenado would shift to essentially the shortstop position in some games last year. Black’s answer was actually the opposite line of thinking, saying, “Having guys that are very instinctual can have you shift less, or less extreme, because they can cover more game.”
Black talked about his time as a pitcher and shed insight on how the game was played before the dramatic shifts that are now being employed.
“Was I a propenent of infielders moving based on me as a pitcher? Yeah, but not to the extreme,” Black said. “There is no doubt looking back there were some hitters that, when I pitched in the 80s and 90s, I’d maybe want the second baseman on the left field side, put three guys over there. Would I care if (Mark) McGwire or Jose Canseco hit a ground ball to second? If they wanted to re-adjust their swing, go ahead. I was worried about those guys hitting it over the wall.”
He continues to point out a less appreciated benefit of the shift, stating, “When guys try to beat the shift and can’t, that’s a bad swing. That results in an ugly swing, and that’s sometimes what we are trying to do.”
My personal favorite quote from Black is at the end of this next excerpt. He also displays a holistic point of view on shifting that I think is spot on.
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“You have to look at the long haul. When you shift, you have to really truly track every out and non-out, right? And you will find that, by shifting, you get more outs, and the at-bats or the ground balls that go through, you have to live with that, and have the peace of mind and know that you did the right thing and this will work out more often that not for us…especially the pitcher.
“They hit ‘em where we ain’t, then you know what that is? It’s baseball.”