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The Cardinals' hidden edge

A lack of defensive aggressiveness should benefit St. Louis in NLCS

Updated: October 12, 2013, 2:58 PM ET
By Scott Spratt | ESPN Insider

It was just a few years ago that extreme pull-hitting power left-handers such as Jim Thome and David Ortiz were the only hitters teams shifted their defense against. In recent seasons, that has changed dramatically. Even compared with two years ago, shifts were up threefold in 2013 as more teams used more shifts against more kinds of batters.

In 2011, the Tampa Bay Rays, Milwaukee Brewers, Cleveland Indians, and Toronto Blue Jays were the only three teams to eclipse 100 shifts on balls in play, with the Rays leading the way with 242 shifts. In 2013, 23 teams reached at least 100 shifts on balls in play, and 16 of them shifted more than the 242 times that led the league just two years ago. In total, the league shifted more than 8,000 times this season after being below 2,500 in 2010.

The reason defensive shifts have become so widespread so quickly is that they work. Baseball Info Solutions estimates that, collectively, teams saved 137 runs in 2013 with the use of the shift as opposed to traditional defenses. 

Of course, not every team has embraced the shift, and the two playoff teams with the fewest shifts in the regular season, the St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers, are matched up in the NLCS. In fact, only the Washington Nationals (37) and Philadelphia Phillies shifted less in all of baseball than the Dodgers (51). The Cardinals were a bit more aggressive with their shifts, doing it 107 times.

The shift played a role in the marathon that was NLCS Game 1, and, even though the teams don't use the tactic that often, it should play a role going forward, and the Cardinals are in better shape to take advantage of it.

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