Let’s get it back to the Phillies.
Saw this pop up on Twitter Monday and totally forgot about it, so I figure I’d share it now:
The Rays are using a four-man outfield against Bryce Harper. Blue Jays did the same thing on Friday. After that game Harper was asked if it’s troubling to him that teams might start playing him that way: “Man, I hope not.” #Phillies pic.twitter.com/A0jFZd5ny1
— Meghan Montemurro (@M_Montemurro) March 11, 2019
“If they’re gonna start playing ball like that, it’s definitely different for sure,” Harper continued.
Matt Breen at the Inquirer wrote more about the Blue Jays game, when this uber shift first appeared:
Teams used a four-man outfield 65 times last season, according to MLB’s Statcast data. It was rare. Only 14 batters faced the alignment, but it did work. In a small sample size, batters hit .186 with a .339 slugging percentage against the four-man outfield.
Harper never faced a four-man outfield, but he did face the third-most defensive shifts among all major-league outfielders, according to FanGraphs. He finished last season with a .889 OPS, but FanGraphs noted that number dropped to just .683 when a shift was used. It is certainly possible that teams could test Harper again with a four-man outfield.
Interesting stuff. Anthony and Bob are the baseball guys (Phil, too), so maybe they can expand on this a bit at some point.
Jayson Stark had a quote from Rays pitcher Blake Snell regarding the four-man outfield, which is equally interesting:
Blake Snell on the 4-man OF vs Bryce Harper:
"He can bunt on me…But I don’t think they pay Bryce Harper to bunt. He wants to hit the ball far. So let’s put an extra guy out there and make him think about why are they doing this, and I think that messes with him a little more." pic.twitter.com/P6J0q6lh6B
— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) March 11, 2019
Yeah, they didn’t pay him to bunt, but if he slaps a few down the third base line, the shift goes away very quickly.
Rhys Hoskins had a take on the concept, from Breen’s article:
“It’s probably not going to be the last time (seeing the four-man outfield),” first baseman Rhys Hoskins said. “He’s professional enough. I’m sure he just takes his at-bat the same, but interesting to see it in spring. You see it, ‘Oh, OK.’ It doesn’t make you do anything different, because as soon as you try to do something different, they win. If I’m trying to hit a ground ball to the right side, then they’ve done their job and I’m not doing mine. You don’t want me to bunt, I promise you.”
It’s strategy. Whatever. I know some people think the shift is dumb, but if it’s legal and it works, who are we to criticize? It’s on players and managers to adjust, or MLB to address it via a rule change.
Football coaches similarly complain about the run/pass option and how it blurs the lines with the legality of downfield blocking, but you’ve seen college RPO concepts become more prevalent in the NFL as offensive coordinators look for plays that keep defenses off-balance and on their heels. Defensive coordinators adjust, and the cyclical nature of sport continues.
Something to keep an eye on as Spring Training continues, this four-man jawn.
Let’s play ball!