Seeing a 5 man infield in today's game was rather interesting. Very few holes exist on the infield when you have 5 guys diving around. Of course, the outfield suffers greatly. The potential for doubles and triples increases, and routine pop ups would fall in for hits much more often. Considering the situation we were in however, it made sense to use a 5 man infield. Anything in the outfield would have scored a run and the game would have been over. My question is, are there other situations that a 5 man infield is appropriate?
Unfortunately, we aren't privy to the wonderful world of Field F/X, so we are unable to analyze this as much as I'd like to. I would however, like to look at this to my best of my abilities.
Our current roster isn't set up for this type of defensive arrangement. We would ideally need two plus plus out fielders, which could be possible in the near future with both Gose and Marisnick in the system. We would also need an OF/IF swing man, someone like Jose Bautista, who can play a corner position in the outfield and the infield.
In a perfect world, our roster would be able to do this in a few years time.
C: Travis d'Arnaud
1B/OF: Jose Bautista
2B/1B: Kelly Johnson (Just since he is on the roster for now, but he can be replaced by whoever can handle second really)
MI/2B: Adeiny Hechavarria
SS: Yunel Escobar
3B: Brett Lawrie
LF: Jake Marisnick
RF: Anthony Gose
With this lineup, we have our two plus outfielders, and our swing man, and the regular infield otherwise, with Johnson moving to 1B for normal alignment, and Hechavarria moving to 2B. Groundball pitchers gets a huge value boost. A pitcher like Morrow is still roster-able, but we would use the traditional alignment, with Bautista playing strictly in the outfield.
Infield hits would decrease heavily. A large portion of infield hits come from the fielder moving to his right to get the ball, and throwing back towards first base. The remaining come from weakly hit balls and bunts hit down the line. While there's no guarantee the numbers of weakly hit balls turned into infield hits would be reduced unless the fielders move in, there will be a significant drop in the infield hits allowed.
While Gose and Marisnick are great fielders, line drives to the corners would still be detrimental, especially in parks with large outfields and foul territories. In the Rogers Centre, it might not be quite as bad as say, Oakland Coliseum, but it's still an issue. The number of triples would increase dramatically, so with men on base early in the game, a 5 man infield isn't something beneficial, unless the runner on first is Bengie Molina.
The number of flaws with this are numerous, and without proper field F/X data, I can't exactly determine the benefits, so this idea might be insanely absurd.
Generally, with men on base, we would use the traditional alignment. With a man on third however, and the other bases empty, we would run a 5 man infield. The majority of ground balls would prevent the runner on third from scoring, and any ball in the OF would result in a run, regardless of having 2 or 3 outfielders, assuming the man on third is an average runner.
With the bases empty, and a ground ball pitcher on the mound, 5 man infield. With 50%+ balls hit on the infield, the odds of preventing a hit are much higher then a 4 more infield and 3 man outfield. The opportunity cost of course comes with allowing a weak liner which would normally be a single, which now becomes a double. However, this could very well be offset by the drop in on base percentage that would come from preventing ground ball hits. It is well documented that cutting the on base percentage is more valuable then cutting the slugging percentage by an equal amount. I am just unable to properly tell you how much of an impact it would have.
You could tailor the 5 man infield to each batter. A right handed hitter is more likely to hit the ball hard to the left side, so Hechavarria would slide over to the left side of the infield, along with Escobar and Lawrie. A ball hit to the right side is less likely to be struck well (at least from the eye test, Hit F/X could confirm this), so the two infielders on that side would be fine. It would be the opposite for a left handed hitter. You could also tailor the system to individual batted ball profiles. Playing against someone like Yunel who pounds the ball into the ground makes for an easy decisions. Ian Kinsler who hits a lot of fly balls might not be the guy to run a 5 man infield against. Again, more research using stats I don't have access to would tell us more.
In conclusion, I just wasted a lot of your time if you actually read all this, since I didn't give any concrete answers, or actually figure out anything we don't know. I have no idea if any of this would actually work, or if it is totally insane, but I definitely think it could be, and probably has been figured out by the front office staff. It would require a ton of scouting, and it would take Maddonball to a whole new level, but it's just something to think about.