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OC Register: Blue Jays, Angels set to get shifty


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ANAHEIM ― When the Toronto Blue Jays take the field against the Angels this week, shift your focus to the infield.

The Blue Jays rarely position their fielders in the standard defensive alignment. Through the first seven weeks of the season, Toronto is on pace to shift more than any team ever – on a whopping 64.3% of all plate appearances – since MLB began tracking defensive shifts through Statcast in 2016. No other team shifts on more than 60% of its opponents’ plate appearances.

So far it’s working. Through Tuesday, Toronto was among the best teams in baseball at reducing expected batting average on balls in play with its infielders in a shift, a difference of .043. The Angels are not far behind, at .032.

The Angels are shifting more this season too – against both left- and and right-handed hitters. More shifts, however, do not correlate perfectly with more outs. There’s more to it than that, Manager Joe Maddon said.

“It’s your group’s method of applying weight to this formula that you create, that causes you to do things,” he said. “For instance, we were heavy shifting against Oakland when they were here. I watched on TV the other night when (the A’s) were playing Seattle, and Seattle was hardly shifting at all. So it’s your cocktail. Whatever you put in your cocktail is what matters.”

Historically, Maddon said he will deploy three infielders on one side of second base only if the batter hits at least 80% of his ground balls to that side. He’ll bend that rule if the batter is in the 78-79% range too.

But the manager only has so much input into where his fielders are stationed. In 2018, Maddon’s Chicago Cubs shifted on only 5.1% all plate appearances – 28th among the 30 teams. In 2019, they fell to 30th. This year, the Angels rank 10th among the most frequently shifting teams.

“It’s up to the individual group, how they want to create their analytical department and what they perceive to be important,” Maddon said.

MEDICAL WARD

Head athletic trainer Mike Frostad said, via Maddon, that right fielder Taylor Ward had improved by 10% since Tuesday in his recovery from a neck stinger, but the Angels’ hottest hitter was out of the starting lineup for the fifth consecutive day. Ward was available to pinch hit against the Texas Rangers.

Ward’s issue with throwing the baseball has persisted ever since he crashed into the outfield wall after catching a fly ball at Angel Stadium last Friday. The right fielder leads all of baseball in on-base percentage (.481) and slugging (.713).

Shohei Ohtani is scheduled to pitch and DH on Thursday against the Blue Jays, and will not cede the DH duties. That leaves no place for Ward in the lineup.

“Shohei loves to hit when he pitches,” Maddon said. “I believe he can, too. Until Ward’s really ready to come back or if Shohei absolutely needs a day off, we’ll just stay with the way it is.”

ALSO

The Angels promoted outfield prospect D’Shawn Knowles to High-A Tri-City. Knowles, the reigning California League Player of the Week, had a .329 batting average and .433 on-base percentage in 38 games with the Inland Empire 66ers.

UP NEXT

Toronto (Hyun-Jin Ryu, 1-0, 6.00 ERA) at Angels (Shohei Ohtani, 3-2, 2.82 ERA), Thursday, 6:30 p.m., Bally Sports West, 830 AM

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