Written By: Andrew SumnerNatalie Hansen

With increased collection and access to college baseball and softball data, coaches are able to scout and develop players in many new ways–including how to position their defensive players.

By using ball in play locations and information about player attributes, programs have implemented unique defensive positioning over the past decade, shifting players out of typical defensive alignments. This practice of shifting players is nothing new. With access to advanced data in MLB, teams have been shifting for years, and the practice has been effective in MLB. In early September 2022, Major League Baseball passed a set of new rules and regulations to go into effect for the 2023 MLB season. Among these rules were restrictions placed on defensive positioning strategies, effectively banning the shift. The recent ban in MLB turns attention to the shift at the college level, sparking conversation about how these defensive positioning strategies are currently implemented and evaluated for college baseball and softball. With the logistics that go into monitoring defensive positioning regulations, it’s safe to say that the shift is here to stay at the college level, so it’s important to understand the different types shifts and how to implement them. Coaches and fans alike want to know: Does the shift help college teams convert more balls in play to outs?

Currently, 6-4-3 Charts offers both hitter and pitcher spray charts, along with a suite of split types to help coaches make defensive positioning decisions. Over the past few years, 643 has expanded capabilities and partnerships to further interact with ball tracking data and video. 643’s partnership with Synergy Sports (www.synergysports.com) has already pathed the way for coaches to begin interacting with video alongside 643 data throughout the entire interface. With new technologies and data becoming available, coaches of the future will be able to utilize even more data points when making defensive positioning decisions. Considering all the information available, it’s important to understand this data and how it can be used in defensive positioning strategies. The remainder of this post will break down different types of shifts in college baseball and softball and discuss how defensive positioning data can be used to evaluate shifts in the future.

Defensive Positioning and The Shift

Although defensive shifts are not a new concept, they have become increasingly popular due to the expanded availability of advanced statistics, analytics, and scouting practices. Through offering both hitter and pitcher sprays for a team and their opponents, 643 sets coaches up to begin making informed decisions on defensive alignments.

In order to begin unpacking potential shifts and defensive positioning, we need to establish what a standard defensive set-up may look like:

In a typical defensive alignment without a shift, there are 4 non-pitcher infielders who spread evenly throughout the infield. The third baseman and shortstop are on the left of second base while the second baseman and first baseman are on the right of second base. In the standard alignment, 3 outfielders spread evenly throughout the outfield.

However, a data centered approach has led to more college coaches experimenting with and implementing more unique defensive positioning strategies that stray from this evenly distributed defensive alignment. But, how do coaches make this decision? What data do they use? How do they decide where to set up the defense?

Spray Charts

This is where spray charts come into play. By visually showcasing the percentage of balls in play hit to every zone of the field, spray charts help uncover how to optimally position your defense with the goal of converting as many balls in play to outs as possible. Understanding batter spray tendencies is crucial to deciding how dramatic of a shift to align the defense in. While this concept is not new, 643 makes it easy to look at sprays for individual players and teams in a variety of split types. 

By analyzing hitter spray charts, coaches can make defensive adjustments to account for ball in play locations. For example, pull heavy hitters might need to be defended in a heavy infield shift to account for the large percentage of balls pulled on the infield.

Left Infield Shift

The spray above is for a right-handed pull hitter who hit 82% of balls in play on the infield to the left side. Due to the ball in play tendencies of this hitter, the defense could benefit from a left infield shift. One way to implement this shift would be moving the second baseman to the left side of second base to increase coverage on the left side of the infield. Depending on batter speed and defensive arms, coaches can adjust the exact positioning of players to best defend against this type of hitter.

Right Infield Shift


Similarly, the spray above here is a left-handed pull hitter who hits 84% of infield balls in play to the right side of the infield. The defense could implement a right infield shift, moving the shortstop to the right of second base to help account for this batter’s ball in play tendencies.

Not every player is going to have a spray chart that looks like these, so what are some other defensive alignments?

If a hitter has pull tendencies that are slightly on the more neutral side, such as the one pictured below, it might require less dramatic of a shift.

Right Neutral Infield Shift

In this spray we can see that the left-handed hitter pulls 67% of balls in play on the infield to the right side. Although it might seem smart to shift the infield right to account for this, coaches must consider what they might give up in moving an infielder. The hitter still has hit 33% of infield balls in play either up the middle or to the left side, so vacating this area entirely doesn’t make sense. So, this type of hitter might require a defense that shades towards the pull side, but not as drastically as a full shift.

By paring these hitter spray charts with types of defensive shifts, we can see how coaches make these positioning decisions.

5 Player Infield in Softball

With the rise of the quick-footed left-handed slap hitter on the softball side, spray charts like the one below have enticed softball coaches to experiment with a 5 player infield defensive shift.

In the spray chart, we can see that a majority of infield balls in play went to the left side of second base, while a majority of the outfield balls in play were to left field or center field. Since most slappers focus on putting the ball in play and using their speed to beat out the throw to first, placing another defender on the infield can aid in covering more ground.

In this example, the hitter had 112 balls in play to the infield, while only 40 BIP to the outfield. Of the 40 balls in play to the outfield, only 5 were hit to the right of center field. This means that this hitter only hit to right or right-center 3.3% of all BIP. Moving one of the outfielders to the infield and positioning 3 players across the left side of the infield can help defend against this type of hitter without sacrificing the 4 hole. However, this requires some defensive versatility from whichever outfielder is moved in and puts pressure on the center fielder and second basemen to reach balls in play that beat the shift to right field.

Combining the knowledge gained from this spray chart with other information & data on the hitter can help coaches decide how drastic of a defensive shift to implement against a given player. 

4 Player Outfield in Baseball

Another defensive shift that gained traction on the baseball side is the use of a 4 player outfield shift.

By using sprays and BIP locations, it’s clear that some hitters put the ball in the air and deep in the outfield more often than others. For example, looking at the spray chart above, we can see that this player had 2 times as many BIP to the outfield (122) as the infield (63). With some additional data, we also know that this player has a 49.0 Fly Ball %. Of the BIP to the infield, we see that this player hits 72% to the left side of the infield.

A power hitter like this might constitute using a 4 player outfield shift like one of the defenses shown to the right of the spray. Many coaches who have used the 4 player outfield do so depending on the game situation and hitter speed. For example, if a team wants to implement a “no doubles” defense against a power hitter, they can move their second basemen to shallow right field or deeper right field to further protect against extra base hits. With a slower hitter and a second baseman with a strong arm, it’s easier to push the second baseman further into the outfield without sacrificing a double on a ground ball to the right side. A given hitter’s infield BIP tendencies also will impact where the shortstop and second baseman set up in this type of defensive alignment. Like any of the other shifts, coaches should use the data available to them and their own expertise & knowledge of players to make the best decisions for their team.

Game Specific Factors

In addition to spray tendencies impacting defensive positioning, shifts may also be reliant on the count, game situation (out/base state), and the pitcher’s ability.

For example, during the early portion of an at-bat, a shift may be appropriate, as the batter is likely to play more into their batted ball spray tendencies. When hitters are up in the count or early in the at-bat, they are able to be more selective with their swing decisions. However, a two-strike count may necessitate moving the defenders to a more neutral position. Since the batter is likely to take more defensive swings to put the ball in play, they may deviate from their normal spray tendencies, making a shift ineffective.

The sprays below are for a left-handed softball hitter. We can see that in the “Overall” spray she pulls the ball on the infield and sprays her hits across the outfield. But, with 2 strikes, her infield hits are spread a little more evenly throughout the infield. Of her 10 BIP to the outfield with 2 strikes on her, she hit half of them to left field. By using 643 Sprays with different split types, coaches can consider cases like this when planning their defensive positioning strategies. 643 also offers sprays by characteristics like pitcher handedness, with runners in scoring position, power, and home/away.


While it’s important to analyze hitters and how they perform under different split types, they’re only half the game. This is where self-scouting pitchers becomes important for coaches.

What type of pitcher is on the mound? What kind of pitches do they throw? Where do they best locate? What kind of balls in play do they induce?

Depending on their arsenal, velocity, command and location, you may have a pitcher that effectively produces a certain type of ball in play and location, especially against a certain handedness of hitter. For example, check out this spray chart for a right-handed softball pitcher against RHHs (orange). This pitcher induces a lot of balls in play to the left/center of the field due to her pitch types, command, location, and velocity when facing right-handed hitters.

We can combine the knowledge from the pitcher spray with an opposing hitter’s spray to formulate a more specific defensive plan for this given matchup. This hitter spray below (green) shows how this RHH performed against right-handed pitchers. In general, she pulled a lot of balls to the left side of the infield while spreading hits evenly throughout the outfield.

Combining knowledge about opposing hitters’ spray tendencies with a pitchers’ spray and other game information can help coaches formulate defensive positioning strategies. From these individual hitter and pitcher sprays, a coach might want to implement defensive positioning to cover the left side of the infield well. The pitcher and hitter from this example have faced off against each other in 16 plate appearances since 2019. Using the Player vs. Player tab in the 643 Web Application, we can generate a spray for all the matchups between these two players.

In the 16 PAs for this matchup, 6 resulted in balls in play. Of the 6 BIP historically, we can see that the majority were to the pull side. The Player vs. Player tab within the 643 Web Application gives coaches an additional way to digest spray chart data. By leveraging overall sprays, sprays by various split types, and matchup sprays, coaches can further decide how to position their defense.

Additional Factors

We can also evaluate the depth of our positioned defenders on factors like defender ability, speed of batter, and average exit velocities and launch angles of the hitter. Current collegiate ball-tracking systems do not give us the capability to evaluate defender ability or batter speed, so we leave it to the coaches for now, but data for exit velocity and launch angle is becoming more widely used. A hitter with a higher average exit velocity and launch angle may require more depth in outfield positioning to limit extra base hits (“no doubles”). In contrast, a hitter on the other end of the spectrum of this batted ball profile may want to be played a little shallower in the outfield, taking away shallow line drive base hits. 

It’s always best for a coach to combine the knowledge that they gain from spray charts and data with their expertise regarding their own players. For example, the sprays and shift data might signal to play a defender in short right field, but the second baseman might lack the arm strength to make the play on a grounder deep in the hole. While a solution to this may be moving the shortstop over to that spot, some coaches may avoid this because his range ability makes him more valuable playing in the original position, or shifted further toward up the middle. A shift could remain as a possibility, but the individual abilities of defenders can impact how dramatic of a shift to implement. With each case, a coach must use the data available and individual knowledge to create their defensive positioning strategy. With that being said, new data regarding defensive player positioning is starting to become more accessible at the college level, allowing for further defensive evaluation.

Once a coach has analyzed the information available to them, they also need a clear plan to communicate alignments with their defenders. The 643 Pocket Cards Module allows users to select an opponent and generate a customizable pocket card sheet. Coaches can use the information gained from spray charts and data to fill in the defensive shifts for their player’s pocket cards according to their own positioning method. With spray charts, stat books, and pocket cards all available within the 643 interface, coaches have a seamless experience when making their defensive alignments.

Trackman Data & College Baseball

Towards the end of the collegiate season in 2022, Trackman began making defensive positioning data available via CSV format through the Trackman Portal. Included in this new data is location coordinates for all defenders on the field at the time of pitch release, as well as a column for a classification label of whether or not the defense is shifted. With this new data, we will be able to gain even more insight into how Division 1 Baseball teams position their players in different game situations, a feature that we be showcased within the 643 interface in the future. Coaches will be able to better understand the role of defensive shifts on opposing hitters’ performance stats. This information could be combined with more descriptive data from 643 to dictate more granular shifts. By doing so, coaches would be better able to evaluate when teams are shifting and whether the shift is effective.

As more data is collected, teams will be better informed of how the shift plays a role in game strategy, making it easier to quantify things like:

  • How a particular batter does against the different types of shifts (i.e., where can a team find success by shifting against this batter, and the best ways to defend that hitter).
  • The best ways to align your defense behind one of your pitchers. Are there certain tendencies against your pitcher that will create more success if defended by a particular defensive alignment?
  • Advanced Scouting of opposing team shift tendencies and how they might look to defend your lineup
  • Advanced splits can be particularly informative on how to change a shift during the course of an at-bat. Your defensive alignment may need to look different against a particular batter in a 0-0 count when the hitter is swinging at their own will, versus a two-strike count where they are at mercy of needing to defend the strike zone.

Additionally, player positioning data will provide us with one key ingredient in further defensive evaluation of players at the collegiate level. With the ability to track where each player is located during the time in which each pitch is released can help us identify important variables that occur during a ball in play, such as how far each defender is from the batted ball’s location. 

Pairing this data with our ability to leverage defender information from Synergy, we will be able to provide defensive metrics such as Outs Above Average (OAA) and Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) on the 643 platform. While these defensive metrics are becoming more standard for defensive evaluation in MLB, 643 will be able provide them at the college level for the first time

Evaluating Defensive Shifts

How are defensive shifts best evaluated? When looking to evaluate the performance of a player versus or with the shift, regardless of good or bad performance, there are certain metrics that play a larger role. For the most part, we want to look at metrics that isolate hit type and batted ball profile, because we can attach those metrics to the value of a ball in play. 

Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP), Slugging Percentage (SLG), and Weighted On Base Average on Contact (wOBAcon), are among some of the best metrics to evaluate defensive shifts. Rate stats such as Pull %, Opposite %, and even Ground Ball % and Fly Ball % are helpful when being able to explain those outcome related metrics, how teams should prepare to shift, and when evaluating the performance of their shift after the fact as well.

How do we know if shifts are succeeding or struggling? When to shift and when not to shift?

At a surface level glance, we can compare player performance versus the shift with performance stats against standard defensive coverage. Looking at the differential between the two gives us a lot of valuable insight into whether shifting is a good idea or not, particularly if they are willing and able to change their offensive approach.

Future of Defensive Positioning Data

Despite the changes in rules for MLB, shifting is here to stay for college baseball and softball. The ability to implement unique defensive positioning necessitates the use of data & expertise in making these coaching decisions. With 643, coaches have access to a variety of spray charts by split type and matchup (Player vs. Player). Using 643 spray charts, stat books, pocket cards, and the web application, coaches have the ability to interact with all this data on one platform. With expanded access to ball tracking and video tagged data from Synergy, we are only hitting the tip of the iceberg when it comes to analyzing and implementing defensive decisions in college baseball and softball. As this type of data continues to be collected and combined with traditional spray chart analysis, coaches will be able to improve defensive decision making. The collection of defensive positioning data at the college level will also allow coaches to further evaluate the effectiveness of implementing different types of shifts. As this data becomes more comprehensive 6-4-3 Charts will continue to build out tools within their platform to help coaches analyze defensive aspects of the game.