Baseball will look different in 2023. The MLB implemented various changes, including the size of bases and a pitch clock, but none will be as impactful as the shift ban, which has eliminated more than 2,000 hits and devalued rangy defenders.
According to Sports Illustrated, the league batting average should increase from .243 (5th worst ever) to .255 (highest since 2011). Ground balls should go up and strikeouts should go down, even if it is slight. The use of shifts has grown substantially over the years. According to The Analyst, the percentage of plate appearances that have included an infield shift rose from 4.1 in 2013 to 32.5 in 2022, prompting a change from Rob Manfred.
“Let’s just say you regulated the shift by requiring two infielders each side of second base,” Manfred said last year. “What does that do? It makes the game look like what it looked like when I was 12 years old. It’s not change. It’s kind of restoration, right? That’s why people are in favor of it. And they do believe, I think front offices in general believe it would have a positive effect on the play of the game.”
So, how will it affect the Atlanta Braves?
First and foremost, defensively, it should benefit Ozzie Albies and potentially hamper the team’s shortstop position. Albies is one of the best second basemen in the league, posting four outs above average in 2022, an excellent mark in just 64 games. His defensive ability will be invaluable if the Braves roll with Vaughn Grissom as the team’s starting shortstop. Grissom wasn’t a great defender during his brief stint with the Braves. It is the primary concern — not his offense — about him being an everyday shortstop for a team with championship aspirations. Replacing a Gold Glove winner in Dansby Swanson without the shift could negatively affect Grissom. Losing Swanson could hurt in more ways than one.
As far as pitching, Logan Webb, Luis Castillo, and Brad Keller have had the most hits prevented by the shift and are expected to see some regression because of their groundball percentage. Unfortunately, the Braves had two of the top ten pitchers with the highest groundball rate in 2022. Kyle Wright (3rd with 55.5%) and Max Fried (6th with 51.2%) should both regress a bit as pitchers with better swing-and-miss stuff — i.e., Charlie Morton and Spencer Strider — shouldn’t be affected as much.
Moving on to offense, Matt Olson’s 47 hits lost to the shift since 2020 ranks 3rd in the league, which would have improved his average to .288 from .250 — a dramatic difference. As a team, the Braves’ 188 hits lost to the shift since 2020 ranks fifth in the league. If those hits were given back, the team’s batting average would’ve been .267.
As an offense, the Atlanta Braves are at the top of the league in home run rate and bottom in groundball percentage, so the lineup shouldn’t be as affected as much as some other small ball lineups (*cough* Mets *cough*). The shift should result in more offense, which I — and most other fans — prefer. However, I wouldn’t expect any team to be dramatically influenced, one way or the other. The differences should be slight.
Photographer: Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire