There will be some rules changes coming to Major League Baseball in 2023 and among them is essentially the elimination of infield shifts. Starting next year, two infielders must be on each side of second base and they have to be no deeper than the back-edge of the infield which touches the outfield. Also, teams cannot switch defenders and for instance move a shortstop to the second base spot on the right side against a pull lefty batter.
This change should add some offense and some defense to the game.
The shift takes hits away from batters that are pull happy with groundballs and mostly unable to hit against the shift. Had they been able to do that, they would see fewer shifts. But we know how that turns out.
I went back and looked at the MLB number for Batting Average of Balls in Play (BABIP) every year since 2010. For most of the seasons between 2010 and 2019, the final BABIP was between .297 and .300. But teams kept shifting more and more and that number dropped to .292 in the shortened 2020 season and in 2021. The BABIP was .290 last season.
Now that lefty batters won’t face a seeming picket fence on defense on the right side moving forward, some hits will be added to their up-to-now sinking batting averages. That could create more scoring in the game in general and more scoring chances. More runners can mean more pressure on pitchers, who then make more mistakes in some of those spots and more runs are scored.
But the spreading out of the defense could bring some athletic defensive play back to the game. Plays where range is needed, and some great defense turns balls that look like hits off the bat into outs. That should be fun to watch as well. We should see more great plays by middle infielders especially.
I never thought I would see myself backing any rule that legislated defense and where it can and can’t play. But here we are, and I see it as a good thing. A large number of hitters just could not adjust to the shifts and now they won’t have to.
I don’t see this as giving in to hitters who failed to react better under the previous rules as much as just opening the game back up a bit. The range we will now see on defense we will realize has been missing from the game. A few extra points on batting averages will not necessarily be a bad thing. Last year just four AL teams hit over .250 and none higher than Toronto at .264.
We may see teams more willing to hit and run now to get those infielders on the move. But whether that happens or not we will see more balls make it through the infield. But also see some that look like sure hits and then turn into spectacular outs. It could be very good for the game long-term.
Bryce Harper may be the current day Mr. October: He has two MVPs and one Rookie of the Year award. He is still looking for his first World Series ring, but Bryce Harper practically carried the Phillies on his back into the WS where they will face the Houston Astros starting Friday.
Harper never hit in the postseason with the Nationals like this. And the Nats didn't win the World Series until he was gone. But what a postseason he is having now and what an at-bat in the eighth inning Sunday. He fouled off several tough pitches, took a very close changeup and then hit a two-run homer to left. It was a game-winning blast and three times in four NL Championship Series wins over San Diego, it was Harper delivering the game-winning RBI.
He went 8-for-20 and was named NLCS MVP for the Phillies, hitting two doubles and three homers versus the Padres. This was after he went 8-for-16 with two homers in the NL Division Series against Atlanta.
This postseason, in 11 games, he has seven multi-hit efforts and a 1.351 OPS.
By the way Harper produced a .900 OPS in seven seasons with Washington and has a .940 OPS in four years with Philadelphia.
But Houston is favored: The Phillies are probably delighted to be the WS underdog against the 106-win Astros. Houston is in the World Series for the fourth time in six years. Yes, their 2017 WS title is surely tainted forever and now they seek a second title during this run.
It is interesting that the current Orioles sort of model themselves after these Astros in many respects and for some obvious reasons. But the current Astros have now achieved something the Orioles of yesteryear did - make the WS four times in a six-year span.
The Orioles did that from 1966 to 1971, playing in four WS and winning in 1966 and 1970. Should they beat the Phillies, the Astros, like those great O's teams, will have two championships in a six-season span.