The Brewers front office and the field staff under Craig Counsell have always tried to optimize their choices and strategies in areas like fielder positioning, and for a long time, that meant using shifts. Not by accident did they briefly utilize the 1,000-pound infield of Mike Moustakas, Travis Shaw, Jonathan Schoop, and Jesús Aguilar, using shifts to make Schoop a passable shortstop and Moustakas and Shaw cromulent at second base.
As you can see, though, they’ve veered sharply toward more traditional alignments on the dirt since the start of 2021. In fact, few teams are better prepared for the new rules preventing imbalanced infields or infielders playing on the outfield grass than are the Brewers.
That’s not merely a matter of the team getting out of those alignments proactively and training their defenders to make the plays. It’s something they’ve addressed via their offseason moves. By trading away Kolten Wong and letting Jace Peterson walk as a free agent, the team ended up getting younger and more athletic, not only because those choices created more room for incumbents, but because new additions Abraham Toro and Brian Anderson are considerably younger than the men whom they’re replacing.
Anderson and Toro also help in another way. It receives little attention, but infield throws are likely to get much tougher under the new rules. Strong and accurate arms are more vital to good infield play if a fielder is more likely to field the ball on the run, or heading away from their desired target, and that’s exactly what will happen in a post-shift world. Peterson has a very strong arm, but in Anderson, the Brewers got one every bit as good. Wong, on the other hand, had the weakest infield arm in baseball in 2022, according to Statcast, while Toro, Luis Urías, and Mike Brosseau all rated around average.
The linchpin of the infield defense, of course, is shortstop Willy Adames. That’s another bit of good news, because he’s as unlikely to suffer disproportionately from positioning constraints as any shortstop in MLB. Some shortstops who are especially tall will have to show the ability to bend and make plays more often, but Adames is only six feet in height. Those with fringy arms, as we’ve already discussed, will be stretched, but Statcast measured Adames’s arm as the fifth-strongest among infielders last year. Older, slower guys who depended on their savvy and the extra step afforded them by shifts will struggle, but Adames is only 27 and is an above-average runner.
Brice Turang only deepens the collection of good options on defense, and the scouting report on him from FanGraphs lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen highlights his utility under the new rules.
“Turang is so defensively gifted that he is almost certain to have a significant and lengthy big league career, especially now that shifting is banned,” Longenhagen wrote in December. “He has plus feet, range, and actions, and will make throws from all kinds of odd platforms, including when he’s backhanding balls to his right and throwing on the run.”
With Adames as the anchor and Anderson, Urias, Brosseau, Toro, and Turang as the supporting cast, the Brewers don’t need shifts to defend the infield well. That’s part of why they used them less over the last two years, and now that none of their rivals can use that tactic, the Crew gains a comparative advantage.
They have one more edge, too. Only the Dodgers induced weaker ground balls, on average, than did the Brewers in 2022.
There are no guarantees that they can sustain that skill, of course, and we can explore the chances of that another time. For now, though, it’s safe to say this much: the Brewers’ overall run prevention infrastructure is as well-suited to the new constraints teams will face as any team in MLB.
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