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?