Choosing mediocrity and sweat over shift… How Lotte became a defending champion
The Lotte Giants have been an active defensive shift team under Larry Sutton.
Over the past two years, Lotte has actively utilized defensive shifts based on left and right-handed hitters and ball-count situations. The effectiveness of the shift can only be maximized if there is a solid trust between the pitcher and the defense. However, over the past two years, the effectiveness of the shift has been questionable.
The team itself claims to have had a decent success rate with the shift. However, the disparity between last year’s ERA (4.47) and FIP (3.61) raises questions about whether the shift was efficient and effective. It’s also hard to ignore the fact that the team made 85 fewer errors in 2021 and 114 in 2022, and that their fielding efficiency (DER) was flat in 2021 (.675) and 2022 (.649).
Lotte spent the offseason thinking about these metrics and its defense. The front office, which includes Sutton, pitching, defense, and the club’s R&D team, sat down and talked about the goal of becoming a “long-term powerhouse,” and the stepping stone to that goal was defense.
As a result, Lotte’s defensive efficiency this year is .671, ninth in the league. That’s still low. However, they have reduced their absolute number of errors. They have only 17 errors this year, which is at least tied for first. Their fielding percentage is also the second highest at .987.
Gone are the days of evaluating a team’s defense based on errors and fielding percentage. The goal of modern baseball defense is to increase the probability of outs by making defensive shifts based on data based on the distribution of batted balls. Lotte’s shifts are based on those odds.
But the past two years of trial and error have set them back. That’s not to say they don’t fully utilize the defensive shift. When the odds were close to 100%, and when everyone was convinced, the defense shift was used.
The pitching staff in particular had to be convinced. “Actually, the pitchers only think about the failed shift and not the hit that was caught with the shift,” Bae laughs, “but we only make defensive shifts when they are convinced and sure. I only want to do what is sure and correct. We have a lot of meetings and we respect the defense. And our coaching staff works as a team,” he explained from the pitching side.
“I think Korean hitters almost always make good contact, except for the really powerful ones. We had a lot of meetings with the R&D team to make adjustments. We’re constantly getting updates and giving feedback. We have weekly meetings and it’s getting better and better.” “Now, after two strikes, hitters who still have good contact are shifting a lot. I ask the pitching coach on a case-by-case basis if I should shift or not. I also talk to the pitcher and try to react immediately if there is a need. The pitching coach helps me a lot,” he said, emphasizing the importance of collaboration and feedback from the pitching staff.메이저사이트
Larry Sutton explained how he reduced the number of defensive shifts, saying, “Depending on the player, we paid more attention to the details. We had a lot more meetings, a lot more discussions. We were trying to take what we did well for two years and make it more efficient, and R&D did a great job. We talked to all departments and strengthened and reorganized our defense-related programs.”
And Lotte traded the odds of a shift for the efficiency that comes from mediocrity, and a heavy dose of sweat. Rather than focusing on catching hard-hit balls, the emphasis was on making sure the “routine groundballs” were covered.
Lotte put in a ton of defensive work from the final camp last fall, convinced that sometimes “old school” can be the answer. In spring camp, both young and veteran players received early work and supplemental training. Everyone was equal before the hell of training, and everyone was tongue-in-cheek about the amount of training, and there are no plans to reduce it.
“I think the players are moving well because of the increased training volume,” said Coach Moon, adding, “Even during the season, we try to maintain our defensive training volume by doing early work every other day. The same goes for the hot summer. The players are willing. We try to keep doing early work. I feel like I’m catching a lot of hard hits now because I’m always ready, regardless of the shift,” he said, thanking his players for sticking with the rigorous training regimen.
Sutton also thanked the coaching staff. “They put in a lot of hard work,” he said. They created situations similar to the game and trained us, and that’s the reason why we can play stable defense now.”
Lotte’s goal of becoming a “one-man team” has also been achieved on defense. This year, Lotte has become a team that defends and can proudly cite its defense as the foundation of its top ranking.