The shift ban. It’s dominated the offseason discussion across MLB and fantasy baseball alike. There’s a good reason for that too. It’s a huge rule change in favor of hitters and one that fans have wanted for a while now. If you want to see the other rule changes that are happening in 2023, there’s a draft guide article for that too. For this one, we’re strictly talking about what the shift ban is and who are some of the hitters we should be targeting in fantasy drafts who could see better seasons with the banning of the shift. There might be some surprising names on this list as well so make sure to read all the way through.
What is the shift ban in MLB?
Simply put, it’s a rule change that will disallow fielders from shifting too far one way or the other. Over the past several years we’ve seen an increase, a large one, in how many shifts have been deployed over the course of the season. The new shift ban is aiming to help the batters put balls into play more often than we’ve seen them do in seasons past and thus improve the product on the field. Just what is the actual rule though? In plain terms, the shift ban means that all four infielders need to have their feet in the dirt or the infield grass with no more than two players on either side of second base prior to the pitch being thrown. The hope is that this keeps teams from moving their fielders into positions that give essentially no place for hitters to successfully get a hit. For fantasy baseball players though this rule change might have a big effect on certain hitters over others. Just who are those hitters and who should be targeting for a better season in 2023 than they had in the past year or two? Let’s dive in.
Which hitters benefit the most from the shift ban?
Let’s start answering this question by seeing who the batters were that were shifted against the most last year. The table below shows some of the players that were shifted the most against last year. Four guys that stand out on the list were shifted against 90 percent of the time or more last year. There were more guys who were shifted against over 90 percent of the time however they’re either more role players or retired heading into this year or were actually better against the shift like Kyle Schwarber.
All stats from here on out are from Baseball Savant’s search section.
|Player Name||Shift %||No Shift %||BA Diff||wOBA Diff|
|Jazz Chisholm Jr.||76.9||17.5||0.081||0.087|
|LaMonte Wade Jr.||64||27.1||0.096||0.111|
|Bryan De La Cruz||13.2||78.8||0.143||0.083|
|Bobby Witt Jr.||4.3||90.8||0.121||0.157|
As we can see, there are quite a few hitters who were shifted on a lot last year. Whether it be because they’re left-handed or they simply pull the ball a lot teams tried to limit those hitters' production as much as possible. However, now that teams won’t be able to shift against those same hitters this year, we should see some improvement in their stats from last year, all else being equal. Just how much of a difference? Well, let’s look at what some of those hitters did against and not-against the shift shall we?
Looking at the table above, let’s focus on some of the bigger differences between facing the shift and not facing the shift in 2022.
Who are the MLB hitters affected the most by the shift ban?
Corey Seager, SS Texas Rangers
It’s hard not to start with the guy on the top of the list in both percentages facing the shift and difference in stats. The table shows that he had a difference of .229 in batting average between hitting against the shift and not facing the shift. That’s not a typo. He hit .238 against the shift but a whopping .467 against the standard defense. His jump in wOBA was basically the same as that at a .225 improvement. He’s perhaps the starkest difference this year and why he’s still a value at his ADP as his xBA (expected batting average) was .287 even when hitting against the shift last year.
Kyle Tucker, OF Houston Astros
As good as Tucker has been in the past few years it could easy to forget that he’s been one of the more shifted on hitters. In 2022, 91.3 percent of the pitches he faced were against the shift. Even though he posted 30 homers and 25 steals last year after posting 30 homers and 14 steals in 2021, he was still less productive than he could’ve been. Against the shift, Tucker was held to just a .242 average and .336 wOBA. When not having to face the shift though, the lefty-hitting outfielder hit .308 with a wOBA of .375. Is it possible that Tucker could be even better in 2023 now that his average and some run-production ability won’t be sapped by the shift? It’s certainly possible.
Jazz Chisholm Jr., SS/OF Miami Marlins
There’s been a lot of discussion surrounding Chisholm this offseason, and frankly for a lot of last year too. He’s switching positions to centerfield now and while he hasn’t hit left-handed pitching well previously, it may have been the shift that had a bit more to do with lower than anticipated stats. While facing the shift on nearly 77 percent of pitches last year, he hit just .235 with an xBA lower than that but in the 17.5-percent of the time not facing the shift, Chisholm hit .316 with a very good .436 wOBA. Not having Don Mattingly as a manager should help him as well as not dealing with the shift either. Now if only he could stay healthy.
Cody Bellinger, OF Chicago Cubs
There’s been a lot of talk about what’s been wrong with Bellinger over the last few seasons. Is it a swing issue? Did he need a change of scenery? Was he not clicking with his hitting coach? We’ll get answers to a few of those this year with him now in Chicago but perhaps part of the issue has been the shift. He was shifted against 90.6 percent of the time and it kept him to a woeful .206 average and .283 wOBA. However, in the 7.7 percent of the time he wasn’t shifted against, he hit .308 with a .341 wOBA mark. Clearly, not everything wrong with Bellinger’s swing and plate approach are predicated on the shift, but there’s enough there to be hopeful that a change of scenery and no more shift to deal whit should improve his stat line for 2023.
Brandon Lowe, 3B Tampa Bay Rays
The power-hitting middle infielder for Tampa did miss a bunch of time with injuries last year playing just 65 games. In that span though, he was shifted on quite a lot — a rate of 84.5 percent which drastically reduced his production. He hit .206 against the shift but .313 without the shift in place. That change was evident in the wOBA marks too going from .297 vs. the shift and .394, not against the shift. We all know that he’s got perhaps the most power among second basemen in the game but now we might see an uptick in his average as well without the shift coming into play…as long as he stays on the field.
Byron Buxton, OF Minnesota Twins
Oh Mr. Buxton. What to say about him that hasn’t already been said. Well, how about how he dealt with the shift? It was nearly an 80-20 split for him facing the shift in 2022 based on a number of pitches. In that span, he hit for a .203 average against the shift and .302 in non-shift situations. The change in wOBA was even more drastic going from .312 to .517 or a difference of 205 points. When he’s been on the field he’s been quite productive in his stats but now without the shift he could be even more of a value in fantasy baseball for 2023.
Salvador Perez and MJ Melendez, C/OF Kansas City Royals
It was a tale of two seasons for the dueling Kansas City backstops. On one hand, Perez didn’t exactly live up to expectations including missing time due to injury while on the other hand, Melendez came up and immediately was a spark for fantasy baseball and the Royals alike. However, both suffered the same fates when it came to the shift. If there was a player that saw a bigger improvement between shift and non-shift stats than Corey Seager is was Melendez. Facing the shift 79.7 percent of the time his average was just .173 but in the 16.2 percent of non-shift pitches, he hit .405. His wOBA went from .278 to .457 too. As for Perez, it wasn’t quite as big of gain but they were still noticeable. Hit hit .237 with a wOBA of .308 against the shift and .341 with a .426 wOBA in non-shift situations with nearly an equal split as Melendez between shift and non-shift percentages. With both of these potent bats set to be in the lineup for KC all year this year, there should be improved run production from the Royals’ starting nine.
Mitch Haniger, OF San Francisco Giants
There’s been some discussion about what to expect from Haniger as he’s heading to San Francisco for the next three years. My first thoughts on the signing were that going from Seattle to San Fran should not really change his outlook based on park factors being similar between the two parks. However, what should change his outlook is the shift ban. In 2022, Haniger hit .215 when the shift was deployed but .296 when it wasn’t, and was vastly more effective as a complete hitter when it wasn’t deployed as well. His wOBA went from .260 when facing the shift to .420 when not. Now that he’s in a park with big power alleys in it, he should have less trouble reaching them with fewer shifts in his way in 2023.
Oswaldo Cabrera, OF New York Yankees
One of the rookies that came up for the Yankees last year, Cabrera had an impressive showing. Though it could’ve been better when factoring in the shifts he faced. Cabrera saw teams shift against him nearly 62 percent of pitches in his rookie campaign. In those situations, he posted a batting average of .188 which clearly isn’t great, however, in non-shift chances he stroked .373. The difference was even greater when talking about his wOBA as it went from .255 to .472 between shift and non-shift at-bats. That could be why he’s looking at a bigger role with the Yankees this year.
Cavan Biggio, 2B/3B Toronto Blue Jays
How about a guy coming off a “down” year? Biggio was the bane of a lot of fantasy baseball owners in 2022 but perhaps it was just the shift that was causing the distress and not the actual performance. Teams decided to shift against Biggio on 82 percent of the pitches he saw in 2022 and that resulted in a .195 batting average in those spots. When not facing the shift, the Blue Jays middle infielder hit .323 with a wOBA that was .374, or 73 points higher than his wOBA facing the shift. Whether he reaches his ceiling in 2023 is yet to be determined but it will certainly help him to not have to face the shift again.
Jesús Sánchez, OF Miami Marlins
Sanchez was about the most even split between shift and non-shift chances at 45.7-percent shift and 43.9-percent no-shift. Even with the evenness of the chances, there was still a pretty big difference in his average and wOBA marks between the two fielder setups. Sanchez hit .179 into the shift but .282 when against a standard defense and saw an 86-point jump in wOBA from .269 to .355. The Marlins will need him to show more of the non-shift offensive upside this year if they’re going to take a step forward.
JJ Bleday, OF Oakland Athletics
The newest Oakland A after the offseason trade, is an intriguing case as well. While it’s easy to write him off because he only played part of a season and did so in Miami, a notoriously pitcher-friendly park while striking out too much. The shift didn’t help him either. He saw a 100-point jump in average and a 90-point jump in wOBA when going from a shift situation to a non-shift setup. That could be encouraging for 2023 as he’s likely to get some more areas to land the ball in Oakland as compared to Miami.
What does the shift ban mean for fantasy baseball in 2023?
While the players highlighted here aren’t all of the cases of hitters seeing improvement when not facing the shift, they are certainly interesting targets in fantasy baseball drafts. Several of these guys can be taken late in drafts as fliers were given their previous track records. Even the ones that aren’t late-round fliers should have enough upside to exceed current draft positions. Is the shift ban a cure-all for hitters? No, not in and of itself. These hitters still have to face pitchers with impressive arsenals and still have to avoid the fielders who are still allowed to move some before the pitch is thrown. Most of these guys had pretty good years even with the shift in place so expecting big jumps in performance in 2023 is not likely to happen. However, that doesn’t mean we won’t see higher batting averages or OBP from them as they all were robbed of plenty of hits with the shift in place. So all-in-all the shift ban should raise batting averages a tad and we should see an overall better product on the field but not huge upswings in fantasy baseball values.
Related Fantasy Baseball Links:
- 2023 Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide
- 2023 Fantasy Baseball MLB Preseason Projections
- 2023 MLB Fantasy Baseball Rankings