We may see more four-man outfield alignments in the near future. The KC Royals are in an interesting predicament when it comes to using them.
Normally, shifting a fourth player into the outfield would help in a spacious ballpark like Kauffman Stadium. It wouldn’t benefit the KC Royals as much as you think, though.
I was reading an ESPN article a few days ago. Senior Writer David Schoenfield set the scene: The Tampa Bay Rays used a four-man outfield two times against Atlanta Braves switch-hitter Ozzie Albies in spring training. Second baseman Mike Brosseau shifted to right field for both at-bats, and both ended in outs (one lineout, one strikeout). Mission accomplished. The Rays are taking it seriously, though.
Stud center fielder Kevin Kiermaier explained that the four-man outfield helps eliminate the threat of extra-base hits for players that are capable of driving the ball into gaps. This also comes in handy when runners get on base, as power hitters tend to be slower than others. It makes it more difficult for them to score. Schoenfield lays out just how often teams have been implementing the tactic:
"“According to Sports Info Solutions, in 2018, there were 37 four-outfielder alignments on balls in play across the majors. In 2019, there were 101, with the Rays’ 48 accounting for nearly half of those. (The Reds had 35, so two teams accounted for 82% of the four-outfielder setups.)”"
A four-outfielder setup makes perfect sense, especially at a place like The K. With so much ground to cover in the outfield, having a fourth man would lead to fewer doubles and triples. With that said, Dayton Moore has done a tremendous job putting good athletes in the outfield in recent years. That’s no different in 2020.
Alex Gordon, although not what he used to be, is still a plus defender. Whit Merrifield should be able to hold his own in center field for the next couple of seasons at the very least. Hunter Dozier‘s transition from third base to right field should be much smoother than most expect. When one or two of the aforementioned players isn’t on the field, both Brett Phillips and Bubba Starling will serve as terrific defensive replacements. From a personnel standpoint, the Royals are set when it comes to range in the outfield.
Until players either learn or choose to hit against the shift, we’ll continue to see more and more teams implement things similar to a four-outfielder layout. Had the Royals not been such a promising and rangy defensive team in all three outfield spots, perhaps we’d be having a different conversation. Mike Matheny may be a bit more willing to give into analytics and defensive shifts than Ned Yost was, but a full 180 is highly unlikely.
How would you feel about the KC Royals using a four-man outfield every once in a while? Yay or nay? Let us know in the comments below.