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Angels have been baseball’s most effective team using infield shifts

ARLINGTON, Texas — Mike Gallego has been converted.

The Angels’ infield coach spent 13 years as a major-league infielder, and he was skeptical that analytics could position infielders in such a way that they’d take away more hits than they allowed.

“I’m going to be honest with you, when they first came out, I didn’t buy in,” Gallego said. “The more I was watching and paying attention to it, the more I was amazed by how accurate our guys are.”

The shift became a topic of debate after the Angels’ discouraging loss on Tuesday night. They took a one-run lead into the eighth inning, but the first two Rangers hitters hit balls softly to empty parts of the field, resulting in hits that sparked a seven-run rally.

“It’s not frustrating at all,” Gallego said on Wednesday. “It’s part of the game. Live by the sword, die by the sword. The majority of the time, we’re going to be in the right spot.”

According to Sports Info Solutions, the Angels have used the shift more effectively than any team in the majors. They are currently +25, which means that they’ve taken away 25 more hits than they’ve allowed by using the shift.

That is the sum of the fractional hit probabilities allowed and prevented, meaning if a ball with a .350 expected batting average against a straight-up defense is turned into an out, the defense is credited with +.35 hits prevented. Similarly, it subtracts from the defense when a ball that would be an out ends up as a hit.

Viewed another way, the Angels have allowed a .170 batting average on ground balls when they are in a shift, compared with .217 when they aren’t in a shift. Last year the gap was just seven points. It suggests that they are using the shift more efficiently.

One of the differences from last season to this season is the presence of defensive whiz Andrew Velazquez at shortstop. The Angels move Velazquez to the pull side of second base on every single hitter.

Aside from simply being a much better shortstop than José Iglesias was last year, Velazquez has also been given the freedom to refine his positioning, beyond what the analytics say.

“No disrespect to any of the shortstops we’ve had here, but this guy has an uncanny ability for the swing and the feel of the ball,” Gallego said. “He pays attention to the hitters. Even though he’s very accurate with his positioning, he has a tendency to cheat one side or the other according to the swing, according to the pitch, according to his feel. It definitely makes my job that much easier.”

SUAREZ RETURNS

The Angels recalled left-hander José Suarez to be a part of the bullpen, but Manager Joe Maddon said Suarez remains on the starting pitcher depth chart. They just needed him to provide coverage for their overworked bullpen after the starters were knocked out early on Monday and Tuesday.

Suarez replaced right-hander Cesar Valdez, who was designated for assignment.

Since he was removed from the Angels’ rotation earlier this month, Suarez pitched twice at Triple-A Salt Lake, allowing six earned runs in 10 innings. He struck out 12 and walked five.

NOTES

The Angels had no update on right-hander Griffin Canning, who was scheduled to be re-evaluated on Wednesday because of continued issues in his rehab from a back injury. Canning had been unable to throw since he faced hitters last Monday. …

Right-hander Archie Bradley (oblique) threw all of his pitches in a bullpen session of about 25 pitches on Wednesday, the second time in three days he’d thrown off a mound. “It was great,” Bradley said. “I’m not feeling any symptoms from my injury. Everything is coming out smooth and on the right path.”

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