SAN FRANCISCO -- Giants first baseman Brandon Belt has been shifted in more than 1,000 plate appearances over the past three seasons, but the alignment he saw from Tampa Bay on Friday afternoon was a new one.
The Rays might be the most innovative organization in baseball, and they tried to find an edge on Belt by moving third baseman Yandy Diaz to left field as Belt faced a four-outfielder shift.
"That's the first time I've seen that one on me," he said after a 5-2 loss by the Giants. "I think we did it in spring training against (Joey) Gallo, but I've never seen that on me. But I don't blame them."
Per Baseball Savant, Belt has been shifted in 68 percent of his at-bats since MLB started tracking the data in 2016. He regularly sees three infielders to the right of second base because he hits the ball the other way just 27.8 percent of the time. The Rays, looking at Belt's 25 percent ground ball rate, took it a step further and bet that if he hit the ball on the ground he would pull it, but that he was much more likely to hit it in the air.
They moved Diaz to left, had left fielder Tommy Pham and center fielder Kevin Kiermaier play the gaps in left and right center, and put right fielder Austin Meadows a few feet in front of the track in deep right.
The gamble didn't necessarily pay off.
Belt flew out to deep right-center in the first, but the ball was hit high enough that Kiermaier would have gotten there regardless of any shifting. In the third, Belt hit one in front of the plate that catcher Michael Perez took care of. In the sixth, however, Belt took advantage.
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He jumped on a first-pitch curveball from Tyler Glasnow and bounced it up the middle for a single. The ball was hit exactly where teams usually station their shortstop when they shift Belt, but the Rays had nobody there because an infielder was in left. Belt later grounded out to short and struck out.
"I didn't really know it was going on until somebody mentioned it to me," Belt said of the strange look. "I'm not surprised by it. I hit line drives and I hit the ball in the air a lot. I tried to hit the ball on the ground today and the guy was playing right there on one of them and I got a hit on another, so it worked out."