Bo Don't Know Shifts: Astros Manager's Defensive Shifts Rankle Pitcher

Categories: Baseball, Sports

Bo Porter has no time for your petty concerns.
There's been a lot of nonsense coming out of the Houston Astros this week. Primarily the nonsense around the Houston Area Women's Center and a canceled gala that instead of being handled quietly saw the Astros filtering press statements through attorneys. Here's a hint: The Astros lost that PR war. There was also the departure of team president George Postolos, who supposedly resigned to return to his consulting business. So welcome aboard, Reid Ryan. Now how about getting a television deal handled?

But lost in all of that insanity has been the team's continued crappy play on the field. And lost in the team's continued crappy play on the field is the fact that some of the players aren't exactly thrilled with the machinations of new manager Bo Porter.

You don't get any of that from Chronicle beat writer Brian T. Smith's craptastic puff-piece profile of Bo Porter that ran behind that damn payroll in Sunday's Chronicle. In that piece, Porter is presented as a Greek god, stranded on earth with the mere mortals who can't live up to the expectations that Porter places on himself.

The players, according to the story, worship Porter, and they would eagerly run through a brick wall into the middle of the Gulf Freeway should Porter instruct them to do so. Because Porter's a motivator, the story says. He quotes himself. He's stuck his inspirational quotes up all over the locker room. He teaches the guys how to celebrate wins.

What the story didn't tell you is that there are some guys on the pitching staff who aren't buying into Porter's emphasis on extreme defensive shifts. First and foremost of that group being Lucas Harrell, who spoke up rather loudly after his, and the team's, loss on Tuesday night.

"We're trying some new things with our defense, and I thought they worked against me," Harrell said after the game. He was specifically talking about a go-ahead double hit by Detroit's Andy Dirks in the fifth inning that went to a spot where, because of the shift, there were no players.

Porter responded with a few things. He requested that Harrell speak to him and his staff privately about such matters. He then essentially stated that Harrell was just going to have to deal with the shifts because the shifts are working, citing for support the nonsensical stat that the Astros lead the majors in double plays (Porter fails to note that the Astros also lead the majors in giving up hits and putting opposing players on base, which give the Astros way more chances for double plays than other teams).

The extreme defensive shifts complained of by Harrell are one of the new fads of baseball. Stat-heavy teams are big into the shifts, positioning players all over the field based on stats and charts that show the expectation of where guys hit the balls based on the pitch, the count and so on. And these shifts work. The Tampa Bay Rays are the kings of these shifts, and because it works for the Rays, lots and lots of other teams are copying what the Rays are doing -- kind of like how everybody decided to copy Oakland's moneyball approach.

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The traditional positioning has one advantage over the extreme shifts - it generally allows all parts of the field to be reasonably covered. The extreme shift may make it harder for a player to get a hit in their favorite places on the field but it can also make it ridiculously easy for a hitter with bat control (old school term, ask your dad) to punch one into a spot he normally doesn't prefer.

Harrell, a sinker-baller when his stuff is working, wants guys to cover the entire infield because he normally induces a lot of ground balls. With any ground ball, Lucas is "doing his job" and it is up to his fielders to be there to make the outs. With extreme shifts, sometimes the fielders aren't there which is why Lucas is steamed.

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