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People are talking up the four-man outfield again

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This morning Jake Kaplan of The Athletic has a story about how the Houston Astros have been messing with a four-man outfield in spring training.

The idea: against certain extreme, lefty pull hitters, manager A.J. Hinch will send third baseman Alex Bregman out to left field, the left fielder will move to left center and shortstop Carlos Correa will shift to the right of second base. Heck, it’s arguably a five-man outfield given that Jose Altuve dips back into shallow right, as you usually see during an infield shift.

This is not new. As Bill wrote last year, people talked up the possibility of teams using four-man outfields in similar fashion. It wasn’t new last year either. Joe Maddon had done it against David Ortiz a few times when he was managing the Rays. If I remember correctly, Maddon was the only manager to do it at all in 2017, pulling the trick against Joey Votto. Votto still found a hole and doubled, because he’s Joey Votto. I assume that if you talk to baseball historians they can find examples of Jimmy Dykes or someone pulling that against Ted Williams. There’s very little new in baseball.

Maybe this year will be different and maybe A.J. Hinch will use that alignment more often. If so, this quote from Kaplan’s article probably says more about it all than anything:

“There’s a psychological part of this on the hitter that I’m looking at, too,” Hinch said. “How much does it mess with the psyche of the hitter? And I’ve watched, this spring, guys try to change their swing and try to hit the ball the other way and hit the ball to a gap. That’s largely advantage to us when big hitters like that do that.”

I can totally see guys — at least guys who are less disciplined than Joey Votto — getting a bit shook by that and thinking about employing a seldom-used inside-out swing in that situation. Which, if the dude made it all the way to the majors by pulling the ball, is a win for the defense, right?

Angels’ Andrelton Simmons opts out of final 5 games

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Shortstop Andrelton Simmons has opted out of the remainder of the Los Angeles Angels’ season.

The Angels announced the four-time Gold Glove-winning shortstop’s decision Tuesday before they faced the San Diego Padres.

Los Angeles (24-31) is still technically in the playoff race with five games left in the regular season, and Simmons clearly caught the Angels by surprise, although the club said it respected his decision.

The 31-year-old Simmons, who can be a free agent this winter, is finishing his fifth year with the Angels. After spraining his ankle in late July and missing 22 games, Simmons is currently batting .297 with 10 RBIs while playing his usual stellar defense, albeit with four errors in 30 games.

“At this time, I feel this is the best decision for me and my family,” Simmons said in a statement. “We don’t know what the future holds, but we would like to sincerely thank the Angels organization and Angels fans for welcoming and making us feel at home.”

Manager Joe Maddon acknowledged he was caught by surprise when general manager Billy Eppler told him about Simmons’ decision Monday night after Simmons went 1 for 4 with an RBI single in the Angels’ home finale. Maddon texted Simmons, but hadn’t heard back by Tuesday afternoon.

“I’ve really enjoyed this guy a lot,” Maddon said. “I’m a big fan. This guy is a good baseball player, and I’ve enjoyed the conversations, too. It’s just unfortunate. He’s really a big part of what we’re doing right now.”

Simmons is a favorite of Angels fans for his defensive wizardry, and owner Arte Moreno has described Simmons as perhaps his favorite player to watch on the roster. Simmons has batted .281 with 36 homers and 281 RBIs during his five seasons with Los Angeles, and he won the Gold Glove in 2017 and 2018.

“He’s a thinking kind of a player, and I’ve enjoyed him a lot,” Maddon said.

Simmons will be a free agent this winter, and the Angels have an obvious replacement for him in David Fletcher, who has a .374 on-base percentage while regularly hitting leadoff for the Angels during his breakout major league season. Fletcher has been playing second base since Simmons’ return from injury.

But the Angels haven’t publicly closed the door on Simmons’ return, and he could be given a qualifying offer. Maddon has repeatedly said he would like Simmons to return in 2021 if possible.

The Angels haven’t had a winning season during Simmons’ five years in Anaheim, although Simmons said last week he wasn’t discouraged by the lack of team success. Simmons played his first four major league seasons in Atlanta, and he hasn’t appeared in the postseason since 2013.

Simmons also said he hadn’t been involved in any recent contract talks with the Angels, but he had enjoyed playing for the club. When asked if he wanted to return to the Halos, Simmons said he would have to “plead the fifth.”