Phillies’ Defensive Strategy Worked To Near Perfection

During last night’s game, the Phillies utilized a dramatic defensive shift on Blue Jays’ right-handed sluggers Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista. Here are the spray charts for both hitters on ground balls since the start of the 2013 season:

Bautista GB 13-14Encarnacion GB 13-14

Phillies shift on Jose Bautista in the top of the 3rd, 5-5-14. (click to enlarge)

The spray charts clearly show that when hitting the ball on the ground, both hitters have shown a pronounced tendency to pull the ball to the left side of the infield. With Kyle Kendrick, a ground ball inducing sinker baller, on the mound, the Phillies elected to play the percentages and position second baseman, Chase Utley, on the third base side of the second base bag when Bautista and Encarnacion were at the plate. Click to enlarge the above photo and note Utley playing in a position similar to a shortstop at double play depth.

The results were even better than could be expected. Bautista and Encarnacion combined for eight plate appearances against Kendrick and went 0-for-7 with one hit by pitch. Five of those seven outs were ground outs to the left side of the infield including a critical bases loaded double play off the bat of Encarnacion to end the 7th inning.

Bautista Balls in Play 5-5Encarnacion Balls in Play 5-5-14

(Trivial Note: The ball hit to shallow left field on Encarnacion’s chart was a fly ball caught by second baseman, Chase Utley. Without researching it, I’d bet that was one of the few times, if not the only time, Utley has made a catch in left field during his long, illustrious career.)

Additionally, the Phillies employed a “Ryan Howard shift” (moving the shortstop, Freddy Galvis, to the first base side of the second base bag) on Juan Francisco, a left-handed hitter. This shift was less noticeable in this particular game as it only came into play once. During the third inning, Kendrick retired the side in order by getting all three batters he faced (Bautista, Encarnacion, and Francisco) to hit into the shift.

It’s not uncommon in baseball (or in life) for good decisions and smart strategies to backfire or bad processes and poor strategies to be rewarded. Last night, though, was a glimpse at an ideal world for rational minded Phillies fans. Sandberg and his coaching staff played one highly questionable strategy by tabbing Freddy Galvis and his nearly incomprehensible .032/.088/.032 slash line to bat second in the lineup and it was an utter failure. Galvis went 1-for-5 and struck out for the final out of the game. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the coaches embraced defensive shifting, a strategy with a new-fangled sabermetric-y reputation, to a degree we haven’t seen before and it worked to near perfection. Hopefully, the positive reinforcement of a good process and negative consequences of a questionable process will encourage the Phillies coaches to continue exploring common sense strategies rooted in relevant data when making future decisions.

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  1. Dan

    May 06, 2014 08:22 AM

    Do we know if this new defensive approach is coming from Scott Freedman? It’s certainly a very good sign that the Phillies are finally embracing very simple defensive metrics but having Galvis in the two-hole was a crime against humanity.

    • awh™

      May 06, 2014 09:53 AM

      Dan, “crime against humanity” is a bit of an overstatement, but it certainly was a crime against any kind of common sense.

      Bill, nice recap on the shifting!

    • mark66

      May 08, 2014 12:47 PM

      This is why I ache for changes in the front office and at the GM level. I am afraid the team needs to be rebuilt. And what a lack of chemistry.

  2. awh™

    May 06, 2014 10:01 AM

    Corrine, I apologize. I read past the author’s name and assumed it was Bill.

    To you I extend the same compliment: Nice writeup!

  3. mark66

    May 06, 2014 12:07 PM

    This offensive line-up in Mon’s game just blows my mind. How can Sandberg bat Galvis, Nix, Mayberry and Asche in a starting line-up. NO sense, NO way–absolutely NO logic. Why even play ! Put Ruiz in the 2 spot more often.

    • Bob

      May 06, 2014 12:40 PM

      1. Jimmy Rollins is injured.

      2. Happ is a LHP, so he wanted to put some RH bats in the l/u to get an advantage from splits. Both lefties who you don’t mention- Howard and Utley – went 0’fer.

      3. Kendrick is ostensibly a gb pitcher, so Sandberg wanted to maximize his defense, as the shifts also illustrate, with Galvis and Nix in the l/u.

      4. Bench players need to play every once in a while to keep or try and get their timing down. In fact, Mayberry, Nix, and Galvis all got on base.

      5. Regulars need some days off to stay fresh and avoid the minor bumps and bruises associated with a baseball season.

      6. Utley, Howard, Byrd, and Chooch – their best hitters so far – were in the l/u and couldn’t generate any runs. They’re getting paid the big bucks for their offense, so they’re the ones who need to step it up against Happ and a collection of BP pieces.

      7. Asche didn’t start.

      • Ryan

        May 06, 2014 02:48 PM

        I’m really hopeful Darren Ruf comes back soon and gives us a righty power bat off the bench/1st base/outfield sub. He is sorely missed.

      • mark66

        May 08, 2014 01:54 PM

        NO, absolutely 100% incorrect. Regulars do not need days off to prevent injuries. Where you got this crazy idea who knows. This is nothing more than a crazy idea that has been created by the media. 10, 15, 20 yrs ago it didn’t happen because players keep themselves in shape accordingly. They are paid to STAY in shape.

  4. mark66

    May 06, 2014 12:12 PM

    Is the front office watching and paying attention ? Another home loss and only 25,000 in attendance. Keep up putting an inferior product on the field and NO ONE WILL COME !

  5. George Callanan

    May 06, 2014 09:04 PM

    Corrine good article. But the best defense in the world can not win if you score no runs. Hollywood Hamel is up next and we are in the sixth inning down 5-1. In the last 22 innings the Phil’s have scored one run. Great news we just ended a 21 inning scoreless streak. This is very similar to last year every time they get to a game over 500 or 500 they lose three in row. As I write this the bases are loaded with Asche up. Please Oh my God he hit a Grand SLAM! 5-5. I need to criticize the offense more! Maybe just maybe they will pull this out. They are tough on the nerves but I love them anyway.

  6. DMAR

    May 07, 2014 07:16 AM

    How did last night work out for them? When you over think the game it ends up catching up with you. The more shifts guys like Bautista see the more they will work on exploiting them. Case in point high leverage inning last night and once he is down in the count he simply flicks the ball the other way.

    • Corinne Landrey

      May 07, 2014 08:19 AM

      “It’s not uncommon in baseball (or in life) for good decisions and smart strategies to backfire or bad processes and poor strategies to be rewarded.” Over the past two games, Bautista and Encarnacion hit eight ground balls and seven went into the shift including Bautista’s double past Asche and the “single” by Encarnacion which was misplayed by Galvis. The Phillies got beat because Bastardo threw a pitch off the plate outside and one of the best hitters in baseball beat them, not because their defensive positioning beat them.

      • Francisco (FC)

        May 07, 2014 12:49 PM

        That’s Bastardo for you. If you’re going to shift, put the stupid ball on the inside part of the plate. With the statue that is Ryan Howard on the right side of the field, anything remotely hit towards right field will bloop by.

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