Baseball is not a set of rules. Never has been. Baseball is the way players and teams pursue wins inside (and sometimes decidedly outside) the lines drawn by the book and on the field. So when the 2023 MLB season rolls around, there will be some exceedingly interesting baseball to watch.
The new rules announced earlier this month will force players and teams to adjust in several aspects of the game. The pitch clock and its related limitations on pickoffs introduces a totally new element to the major-league game, but we’re here to talk about the shift — or the shift in how teams will shift — and the ways it could visually and strategically alter the game.
MLB’s new rule seeks to walk back an age-old strategy that has evolved into a near ubiquitous and perhaps too-efficient hit eraser. Starting in 2023, the defending team must have two infielders on each side of second base, all of them in front of the outfield grass, when each pitch is delivered.
That will effectively prohibit the three most eye-catching — and announcer-baiting — forms of the infield shift: The one where there are three fielders loaded up on one side of second base, the one where the second baseman is essentially playing shallow right field, and the one where there are just four outfielders.
In place of those alignments, new (or newly prevalent) arrangements and tactics will emerge. The same minds that have been printing out those little cards players have in their hats will be devising ways snuff out as many hits as possible within the added limitations.
What will that look like when it hits the field next April? Well, we can’t totally know yet, but we have a few guesses.
Middle infielders living on the edges
The most predictable outcome of the new boundaries will be infielders lining up as close as they can to the forbidden territory. Mostly, that will mean shortstops getting as close to the imaginary line running through second base as they possibly can when left-handed hitters are batting.
Lefties get shifted far more often, and far more effectively, than right-handed batters. Improving defensive tactics have driven left-handed hitters’ batting average on balls in play (BABIP) down to .282 this season, a level not seen since 1972 — a defensive slog that led to the…