MLB Shift Ban: How It’s Changing the Game

Discover how the defensive shift in MLB has changed the game, affecting both offense and defense. Explore the strategies behind the shift and its statistical impact on the league-wide batting average on balls in play.

The game of baseball continually evolves, and the MLB is no exception, introducing a significant change to its fielding strategies in 2023.

The concept of the defensive shift, where infielders are strategically reallocated to areas of the field based on hitter tendencies, frequently made it tough for certain batters to find open space to land a hit.

This practice, often seen as an analytical approach to outsmart the offense, led to a noticeable drop in base hits, sparking debates about tradition versus strategy in baseball.

In an effort to bring some equilibrium between offense and defense, the MLB Joint Competition Committee, backed by Commissioner Rob Manfred, implemented new measures.

Starting the 2023 season, teams must have at least two infielders on either side of second base at the start of each pitch, all of them positioned on the infield dirt.

This rule adjustment aims to strike a balance by restricting overt defensive shifts, thereby allowing for more traditional gameplay and potentially boosting the number of base hits.

The regulation change has been a talking point for players, managers, and fans alike.

It’s seen as a move to increase action on the field and address pace-of-play concerns, suggesting a shift back to the game’s roots.

Defenders must now adapt to these new restrictions, and hitters could experience a welcomed relief at the plate, fostering a landscape where the iconic ‘hit ’em where they ain’t’ mantra regains prominence in baseball lore.

Evolution and Impact of the MLB Shift

As Major League Baseball evolves, so do its strategies, with the MLB shift shaping the outcome of many plays.

Its impact on both defense and offense has been notable, affecting traditional outcomes and player approaches.

Understanding the Shift

The shift in baseball is a strategic adjustment made by the defensive team to reposition fielders based on the tendencies of the batter.

When a team shifts, infielders and outfielders move to locations they are not traditionally positioned in. Left-handed hitters often find more infielders on the right side of second base, sometimes even on the infield dirt usually occupied by outfielders.

This realignment is designed to increase the chances of turning batted balls, especially ground balls, into outs.

Strategies Behind the Shift

The primary goal behind the shift is straightforward: position your best defender where the batter is most likely to hit the ball.

Depending on the situation, this can mean anywhere from a slight adjustment, where a player is just shaded towards a particular side, to extreme four-outfielder alignments.

Teams analyze historical data, often using tools like Statcast from Baseball Savant, to predict the result of the play considering the batter’s tendencies, which include batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and the likelihood of hitting singles or ground balls.

Shift Statistics and Analysis

Shift usage has expanded radically over the years.

In recent seasons, more than once in every five plate appearances, a shift is employed.

Defensive shifts have resulted in a league-wide drop in batting average on balls in play among the most-shifted players.

Moreover, teams like the Royals have been recognized for their extensive use of defensive shifts, significantly more than other teams.

These shifts have not only become a staple in strategic defense but also shaped how batters, especially left-handed hitters, approach their at-bats, sometimes even affecting their hitting techniques to counteract the shift’s impact.

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SuchBaseball Staff