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Monday, March 18, 2013
Oh, those shifty Sox

By Gordon Edes

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Boston's big-league infield remained back in the Fort on Monday to attend coach Brian Butterfield’s tutorial on how the Sox plan to align their shift against left-handed hitters, which will impact third baseman Will Middlebrooks and second baseman Dustin Pedroia the most.

Manager John Farrell explained the team’s approach.

“With nobody on and we’re in a shift, Will will be where the second baseman is. Pedey will be in short right field," he said.

There will be times, Farrell said, that Pedroia will be deployed deeper in short right than he’s ever been.

“Depends," Farrell said, “but it will take advantage of whatever range a given player has. Pedey probably doesn’t feel comfortable that far out, so it’s something he’s got to work through."

With a runner on base, Middlebrooks will be deployed between second baseman Pedroia and the first baseman, who will be Mike Napoli much of the time.

“We don’t want [Middlebrooks] anywhere near the bag," said Farrell, citing a third baseman’s unfamiliarity with accepting feeds at second.

Last year in Toronto, Farrell used third baseman Brett Lawrie in short right field in shift situations, because of his range and strong arm -- attributes he shares with Pedroia.

Farrell believes in shifts. There were even occasions, Farrell said, when the Jays shifted against right-handed hitters, the way Tampa Bay’s Joe Maddon did, for example, against Kevin Youkilis when he was with the Sox. On Saturday, the Sox shifted against Wil Myers, the Rays’ top positional prospect who bats from the right side.

“I remember reading one [study] that said we saved like 38 runs because of the shift," Farrell said. “Is that an arbitrary thing? I don’t know, it’s not something we came up with, it was an independent [study].

“I still think it goes back to the players you have. Was that kid [Lawrie] that much more athletic than other third basemen to allow us to do that? There were a few games where we had him in straight center field, in shallow center field, especially against a guy like Adrian Gonzalez. He hit a lot of balls up the middle, so we would basically play a short field, and there were a couple times we threw him out."

ESPN Stats & Information reported earlier this spring that the Blue Jays were among the most frequent users of defensive shifts in 2012. Baseball Info Solutions, the study cited by the ESPN Stats folks, credited them with 12 Defensive Runs Saved due to shift usage last season, the highest such total in the majors.

Lawrie led major league third basemen last season with 20 Defensive Runs Saved.