By Gavin Potter

Photo credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

On Friday, 9/9, Major League Baseball announced they’d formally approved a rule restricting shifts that starts in 2023. The rule prevents teams from positioning infielders in the outfield, or playing 3+ players on each side of 2B.

Shifts have certainly grown in popularity recently:

The “traditional” shift involves teams putting 3 (or more) fielders on the same side of the infield to combat pull-heavy hitters. Interestingly, you see the “traditional” shift far more against LHH (14.3% of pitches since 2015) than RHH (6.9% of pitches since 2015). MLB has this article explaining the difference between the three infield alignments.

The 2022 Guardians aren’t particularly pull-heavy, only having a 38.3% pull-rate (4th-lowest in baseball). However, their ground ball rate (44.8%) is 11th-highest in baseball. Up-the-middle balls in play can fall victim to the shift too, and Cleveland hits the 5th-most those.

Generally, the shift is associated with pull-heavy power hitters – something not at all associated with Cleveland’s oppo-happy, speedy, contact-driven approach. Per Baseball Savant, they’re actually #2 in baseball in pulled/up-the-middle, ground balls/line drives. 

Since 2015, pulled/up-the-middle grounders and line drives have a .348 wOBA vs. non-shifted defenses. With the shift? The wOBA drops to .324. Clearly, banning the shift will be good for Cleveland’s offense.

But, who in particular would benefit most?

PlayerGround Ball RatePull RateUp-the-Middle RateLine Drive Rate
Jose Ramirez32.4%47.5%32.8%16.6%
Austin Hedges37.2%45%34.2%19.4%
Oscar Gonzalez49.8%45.6%34.1%20.7%
Josh Naylor49.4%44.5%34.3%17.6%
Andres Gimenez44.3%40.9%36.2%21.3%
Luke Maile34.8%39.3%37.5%20.5%
Owen Miller43.5%36.8%38.7%23.2%
Richie Palacios45.5%36%35.6%21.3%
Amed Rosario53%35.7%38.5%19.7%
Steven Kwan44.2%40.5%36.1%21.3%
Myles Straw 47.9%24.9%38.4%18.8%
Tyler Freeman47.2%18.9%39.6%20.8%

These numbers are interesting, but hardly definitive. Jose Ramirez hits in the right direction a lot, but hits fewer ground balls/line drives than his teammates. Oscar Gonzalez’s line drive rate is low. Tyler Freeman doesn’t pull the ball enough. 

Using Baseball Savant, you can be more decisive. Amed Rosario, Josh Naylor, and Oscar Gonzalez, in that order, have the highest percentage of pitches resulting in pulled/up-the-middle, ground balls/line drives on the team.

Naylor does probably stand to gain the most because 1) He’s already #2 on the list 2) Rosario could have a different role or be on new team in 2023 3) It’s plausible Gonzalez hits fewer ground balls in the future 4) Naylor, being slower, doesn’t ever “beat the shift” with his legs and 5) As a LHH, Naylor is more likely to see the shift.

While generally, Cleveland isn’t too bothered by the shift, removing it will definitely help some of their hitters. You could argue the shift has become part of the game. Not having it – at least initially – will feel odd.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.