KANSAS CITY, Mo. – When Mike Moustakas and Alex Gordon came to bat Monday, Twins third baseman Miguel Sano and shortstop Eduardo Escobar dutifully shifted to the right, with three infielders on the right side of second base. It’s all in the name of using data to give your defense a better chance to turn potential hits into outs, and manager Paul Molitor is a proponent of doing whatever helps his team wins.
But part of him wonders if what’s good for his team is good for his sport.
“It’s a good discussion to have. Everybody is talking about lack of action in our game, lack of offense, and all the hits the shifts are taking away,” Molitor said. “It’s given us pause to at least consider whether this is good for the game or bad for the game. Even though it’s smart, I don’t know if it’s the best thing for the game of baseball.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean he thinks teams should stop shifting, or that he would support rule changes to spread defenders out. One recent proposal would mandate that two infielders be stationed on each side of second base, for example. “Yeah, I’ve heard that too. But how do you do it? Are they going to have it marked on the grass back there?” Molitor asked. “Can you straddle the line with one foot, but not two feet? I don’t know if” that’s the answer, either.
Twins rookie Fernando Romero gave up the decisive run Saturday when Seattle’s Mitch Haniger grounded a two-out single through the hole where second baseman Brian Dozier would normally be standing if not for a shift, but Twins players all said they are satisfied that shifting prevents more hits than it causes.
“Your mind-set has to be that you’re going to get beat occasionally,” Dozier said. “Over time, it’s still a big advantage to shift over to where you’re likely to hit it.”
Molitor supports the notion of data-driven defense, though he sometimes cancels a planned shift if he feels a spray chart doesn’t take into account other factors.
“I don’t take shifts lightly. When we go through our sheets and our positioning, I always highlight a couple in particular, where I might do something different leading off the inning than with two outs, or maybe depending on the score, or depending on who’s pitching,” he said. “There are all those things that I have general information on with these charts, but you don’t have everything. You don’t have what pitch was hit where, you’ve just got where everything was hit. Sometimes you’ve got to guess your way through it, then use your best instincts.”
Joe Mauer was back on a baseball diamond Monday for the first time since going on the disabled list May 19, but it was Target Field, not Kauffman Stadium. Still, it represented more progress as he recovers from a cervical strain. Mauer, who becomes eligible to be activated on Tuesday, took batting practice and fielded some ground balls, and had no setbacks.
“I don’t want to get too excited about the potential of him being ready sooner than later,” Molitor said, “but hopefully he has a good day [Tuesday] and he forces our hand a little bit about what we want to do when we get back in town.”