Continued from page 1

Plus, it’s difficult to guide a 95 mph fastball or late-breaking slider anywhere you want to _ even for the best hitters in the world.

“When a guy is throwing you inside, it’s hard. There’s no GPS on the bat, so it’s hard to manipulate it. I’m not that good, so I just try to hit it hard,” Fielder said. “If I wait or get beat a little bit, there’s a good chance of getting a hit in the big hole over there.”

How about a bunt? Push it toward third, easy single.

“It’s not necessarily out of the question. It’s not necessarily the prettiest thing. But then it comes down to, you know, is it about average? I mean, it’s great to be able to go out and hit .300,” Howard said, “but I’m a guy who’s supposed to go out and try and produce. So yeah, I mean at times it would be nice to throw down a bunt and kind of laugh on my way down to first. But I mean, that’s what teams want you to do.”

He’s exactly right, according to Mets pitcher Mike Pelfrey.

“You’re doing me a favor. I’ll give you that single to left, as long as you keep the ball in the park,” Pelfrey said.

The conventional wisdom in baseball has always been that power hitters pull most of their grounders, even if they go to all fields in the air.

That’s one reason teams shift on Fielder, Howard and Hamilton even though all three have prodigious pop the other way.

But now, the computer age has produced all sorts of metrics to go with spray charts and advance scouting, showing exactly where batters hit the ball against particular pitches, in specific zones, on certain counts.

Clubs that embrace the data use it to set their defense _ and it seems there’s more shifting going on than ever before.

The difference in positioning is more pronounced, too, with that second baseman often backed up into short right field to take away line-drive singles.

“We get a lot of good information prior to each series and we don’t run away from the information,” Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said.

“Every team could get all the info that they want, but then are you going to apply it or not? That’s what it comes down to. And for us, for me personally, I’m a big believer in information and getting as much as you possibly can and then utilizing it.”

Indeed, it seems that Maddon and the Rays, who shifted against Hamilton during their first-round loss to Texas, are more aggressive than others.

Most teams are reluctant to overload the left side of the infield against right-handed sluggers, in part because the first baseman can’t stray too far _ he needs to be able to cover the bag.

Story Continues →