SAN FRANCISCO — In the second inning last Friday night, with left-handed pull-hitter Yasmani Grandal at the plate, Brandon Crawford left his position and joined a shift on the right side of the infield. Evan Longoria was alone on the left side, but when the count got to two strikes, he started walking toward second base. Crawford went back to his original position and handled the entire left side.
“He just started coming over and I was like, ‘alright, I guess I’ll go back over,’” Crawford said the next day smiling.
There is some freelance work at play here, but for the most part this is all actually pretty choreographed. The Giants don’t like talking about their use of advanced analytics — for whatever reason, they’re comfortable with fans thinking they’re still in the dark ages — but they did beef up the department over the offseason. One change was to add a recently added member of the front office to the traveling party, and you can see subtle changes.
In spring training, an exit velocity leaderboard was on display in the clubhouse. Players have talked about getting additional info regarding launch angles and their tendencies. Then there are the shifts, which the Giants have embraced for years.
They certainly have taken it to a new level this season, shifting between pitches for the first time. In the first inning Sunday, Longoria was once again by himself on the left side for Grandal, and he once again swapped positions with Crawford when the count got to two strikes. When the next hitter, Cody Bellinger, walked up, the two switched positions again.
The Giants are being more aggressive in part because of data and in part because of the offseason addition of another Gold Glove infielder.
“It’s all based on personnel,” said Ron Wotus, who coaches the infielders.
Crawford never swapped between pitches with Matt Duffy or Christian Arroyo or Pablo Sandoval, but Longoria has gotten used to doing it and he made it clear which plays he’s comfortable with. He’ll stay by himself on the left side to handle a bunt as a third baseman normally would, but when the count reaches two strikes to some hitters, Crawford takes over and Longoria plays a modified second base.
“That gives me the freedom to make plays over there,” Crawford said.
There are variations the Giants use. With a runner on, Longoria will never move into the shift because the Giants don’t want him turning double plays. He is, however, comfortable playing a version of second base with the bases empty. He fielded a slow roller to second at one point over the weekend and flipped it to first.
The Giants also shifted Matt Kemp, moving everyone over toward third base for the right-handed hitter. They surely have more up their sleeves this season, as there are plenty of shift-worthy players elsewhere in the National League. There’s one common theme to all the alignments though.
“With the infield we have here, it doesn’t matter who it’s hit to,” Crawford said.