In an effort to contain Braves, Cards use shifts

In an effort to contain Braves, Cards use shifts

ATLANTA -- The Cardinals' front office has been passing down the data all season. But it wasn't until Monday that manager Mike Matheny utilized spray charts and information on hitter tendencies to implement some exaggerated defensive shifts.

The decision to shift various infielders out of their natural spots when Dan Uggla, Brian McCann and Eric Hinske batted on Monday was partially in response to their propensity to hit pitches to a certain part of the field. It was, however, also a reaction to the fits Atlanta's offense caused the Cardinals during a series earlier this month.

The Braves scored 23 times against Cards' pitching from May 11-13.

"I think it all came to a head here," Matheny said. "I've had the data here for a while and have been hesitant to use it much. But when we came up against a team that we were having a hard time how to figure them out, we're going to use anything we can when it presents itself."

The Cardinals' infield shifts were particularly magnified in the fourth inning. Uggla benefited from it, dropping a two-out single into right field when second baseman Tyler Greene was shaded toward center. Two more hits followed, leading to two Atlanta runs.

But the shift also worked in the frame. This time playing in shallow right field, Greene snared a sharply hit grounder by Hinske to rob him of a hit and end the inning.

"It's a tool," Matheny said. "I don't think it's the end all, be all. It's not going to fit for everybody. If there is an advantage, we're going to try it.

"I like playing the odds. I really do. I think you're crazy not to look at all the information you can look at. There's going to be some people that don't like it. As long as our guys understand what we're doing and we give them the information to show why we're doing it, I think it's worth a shot."

It is not, Matheny reiterated, something that the Cardinals will do each series. Part of their evaluation, too, is listening to what opposing players say when defenses shift against them. If Matheny gets the impression that shifting his infielders will likely lead to a hitter trying to change his approach, it's something he's more likely to employ.

"We're going to do anything, whether it's conventional or not, that we think is going to give us an advantage," Matheny said. "We go in with informed decisions and live and die with it."

The success of shifts doesn't just lie with the percentages on stat sheets and the defense's ability to make plays, either. It also is reliant on pitchers pitching batters in a way that increases the chance that they hit a ball in a certain direction. That's why the Cardinals will alter this strategy based upon who is pitching on a given day. They will not shift if it comes at the expense of allowing a pitcher to pitch to his strengths.

As for the preparation, it is fairly minimal on the infielders' part. Infield coach Jose Oquendo, who is not a strong advocate of such exaggerated positioning, addressed it with his group before Monday's game, but there was no specific practicing of defensive alignment ahead of time.

"The evidence has to be right," Oquendo said. "Even if I'm not big on it, when evidence is there, I do it."