Detroit — According to data compiled by Mark Simon of ESPN Stats and Info, the Tigers last season saved eight runs when they deployed a defensive shift, which was one above the Major League average.
Their 3.90 runs saved per 100 shifts was the best in the Major Leagues.
However, the Tigers deployed the second fewest shifts in the league — 294 overall, 205 on balls that were put in play. According to Inside Edge, the Tigers' 294 shifts saved 13 hits — which ranked 15th in the Major Leagues.
So, the obvious question is, will the Tigers use the shift more in 2015? Answer — maybe a little more, but don't expect the Tigers to become shift-happy like the Houston Astros, who deployed a shift 1,562 times last season.
"In our postseason analysis we looked at a few things," manager Brad Ausmus said during the Winter Meetings earlier this month. "I wouldn't say dramatic changes, but there were definitely a couple of specific areas in terms of positioning where we're going to try to make adjustments."
One of the adjustments, Ausmus said, was to use a shift more against right-handed pull hitters. The Tigers, almost exclusively, shifted against left-handed hitters last season.
"Against left-hand pull hitters I thought we did a real good job," Ausmus said. "You may see slightly different positioning in the outfield on certain hitters. That's probably the two main areas."
Ausmus believes teams have gotten carried away with shifts and he thinks hitters are making the necessary adjustments to beat them. Both Alex Avila and Victor Martinez came up with clutch, shift-beating hits last season.
"There's such a big void (in the field), I think players will eventually bunt or hit the ball the other way," Ausmus told reporters during the season. "I think teams will start taking the score into account, especially in the last three innings of a game, and the risk of allowing an easy base runner.
"When you have a lead, the last thing you want to do is allow the other team to have base runners."
To Ausmus, using a shift is not a general philosophy but a situational tool.
"Shifting to me has to be done the right way," he said. "You don't just shift because the numbers say you should. The game plays into whether you shift or how much you're shifting or whether you play the shortstop in the case of a bunt.
"You've got to be very aware, especially late in the game, of what the score is."
The Tigers late in close games would leave their defense in normal position against a pull hitter for a pitch or two and then deploy the shift.
"I thought we did a nice job in the sense that a lot of times on the left handed hitters we would shift," he said. "If the game was tight, we'd keep our shortstop in until one strike and eliminate the bunt, and then back up. And that actually worked pretty well for us.
"There wasn't many balls, if any, that got hit past the shortstop when we had him playing in at the grass."
So, how much more might the Tigers shift in 2015?
"I don't know that you'll see a ton of difference," Ausmus said. "We might shift a little bit more against lefties. We might take a little more chance in that regard. But I would say the bigger change would be shifting against righties and some outfield movement."
Having a healthy Jose Iglesias back at shortstop won't impact the number of shifts, Ausmus said.
"We always left the shortstop there, anyway," he said. "We always sent the third baseman over on the shift. My theory behind that was the shortstop generally has the strongest arm and most range. So, if by chance the ball is hit to that side, if you've got your strongest arm and best range player there, you've got a better chance of covering yourself and kind of minimizing the risk.
"I would say having Iggy there just makes us stronger on the shift in terms of covering the left side of the infield should the ball be hit that way."
Having Iglesias should help the Tigers defense, period, regardless of positioning. According to Simon, the Tigers' infield cost the team 27 runs last season on plays not involving shifts — only four teams were worse in that category.
Chris McCosky on Twitter @cmccosky