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Emphasis on stats, like A's defense, is shifting

Emphasis on stats, like A's defense, is shifting

OAKLAND -- With the rise of sabermetrics in recent years, defenses are shifting their alignments more than ever.

For a middle infielder like Nick Punto, it seems like he never stands in the same place twice. This marks his 14th big league season, and the respected veteran said he had seen defensive shifts become much more widespread across baseball.

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"I would say the last three, four years, I think sabermetrics has something to do with that," Punto said. "It's just playing percentages. There's so much information on us as hitters now -- where we hit, tendencies -- that it's just probability, just taking a chance. It's definitely more than it ever has been. … It's going to hurt sometimes, but it'll help more often than not."

The A's are constantly making changes to their infield alignments. When Seattle first baseman Justin Smoak comes up to bat, for example, the second baseman moves to shallow right field, the shortstop shifts over to the other side of second base and the third baseman lines up where the shortstop usually does.

While the A's shifts for left-handed power hitters like Smoak are very pronounced, each opposing hitter has his own defensive blueprint. Punto said the A's meet on the first day of every series to go over defensive alignments, noting that sometimes the infielders also make subtle shifts based on the count.

Manager Bob Melvin has been commended for his ability to evolve as a manager and absorb new information, and said the A's have benefited from the new insights that sabermetrics can provide.

"I think last year, production-wise, we were the top team in the league as far as getting productions out of shifts," Melvin said. "So that's something we've been doing for a couple years now."

Alex Espinoza is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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