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Fantasy Baseball Hitters That Could Benefit Most From the Shift Ban

corey seager fantasy baseball rankings draft sleepers MLB injury news

Major League Baseball is making some big changes ahead of the 2023 season. One of the most significant is the banning of the shift. You can read more about that here, but here's a quick summary from that article:

"With all four infielders needing to be on the dirt, the days of the four-outfielder setup will be over. Even more pertinent, shifting an infielder to play short right field, or simply overshifting three infielders to the right side of the second-base bag, will no longer be legal."

As with all rules changes, we have to be sure to not get ahead of ourselves here. We can feel confident that this will make some difference in the fantasy season, but anybody who is telling you that they know exactly what kind of difference it will make is not to be trusted. We do have some data on this already, as baseball has been testing this out in the minors. Baseball America has a piece up about what differences some of the test rules had, you can read that here. What they found was only a slight difference, as BABIP went up less than five points overall.

And if you look at the data without knowing which levels had added shift restrictions, you wouldn’t be able to easily tell which levels adopted shift restrictions and which did not. Typically, these changes make a smaller difference in reality than people speculate about, so I want to say again that we should not be drastically changing our rankings based on these changes. That said, it certainly will affect certain types of hitters more than others, so that's what I'm here to explore.


Theoretical Talk

When approaching these things, I first like to just think about everything logically before doing anything else. We can derive a few truths just from rational thought:

  • This will impact left-handed hitters much more than right-handed hitters.
  • This will impact ground ball hitters at least a little bit more than fly ball hitters.

Left-handers were shifted 55% of the time overall, while right-handers were at just 19%. Here's a matrix of shift rates based on the handedness matchup:

RHB 19% 20%
LHB 57% 45%

So, the matchups most affected in 2023 should be the right-handed pitcher against the left-handed batter. That makes logical sense as it's easier for a left-handed pitcher to stop a left-handed hitter from pulling the ball since they can get movement away from the batter. If we're getting into the weeds of "what pitchers will be affected," you would probably lean towards right-handed ground-ball pitchers being affected the most – but since the slight minority of hitters are left-handed and pitchers can just change their approaches in certain situations, I wouldn't even factor that into rankings or anything on the pitching side.

As evidence for the ground ball theory, I have put together a good old-fashioned matrix. Here you see league-wide, situational batting averages.

What you see here are the breakdowns of batter hand, shift, and batted ball type (ground balls, line drives, and fly balls). There is a lot here, but here are the key takeaways:

  • Right-handed batters lost six points of batting average when shifted on as compared to not being shifted on.
  • Left-handed batters lost 31 points of batting average when shifted on as compared to not being shifted on.
  • Line drives were affected very little, a line drive still went for a hit more than 62% of the time regardless of shift.
  • Righties benefited from the shift when hitting a fly ball, lefties suffered from it.
  • The shift took away significantly from the batting averages of all ground balls, but it really crushed lefties as they hit just .207 when hitting a ground ball while a shift was on (note that this isn't necessarily hitting the ground ball INTO the shift, it's looking at all ground balls while a shift was on).

So the numbers back up the theory, left-handed hitters are much more affected by this. More specifically, left-handed ground ball hitters are most affected as evidenced by the .207 batting average on shifted ground balls.


Which Hitters Benefit Most

Let me say it again, we have to be very careful not to go too far here. We cannot know what effect this will have until we see plenty of data on the matter. I would say it will be a couple of months into the 2023 season before we have any real feel for what's happening. We are going to be looking into which hitters got shifted on the most, and which left-handed batters hit the most ground balls while being shifted on, but it's not a sure thing that these guys will see their batting average come up.

Maybe they won't hit as many ground balls next year, or maybe teams will figure out a way to still shift on them (moving fielders after the pitcher's wind-up starts, stuff like that), there's just a lot we don't know. I'm not going to move any hitters up more than 5-10 spots in my rankings due to this stuff, but let's get into it.

What you will find below is a table of data that shows three things:

  • The number of ground balls each hitter hit when an infield shift was on. Note that these aren't necessarily ground balls that were hit into a shift, it's just overall ground balls (but it's fair to say that most would have been hit into the shift since defenses would only be shifting on hitters who pull the ball a lot).
  • The number of hits each hitter racked up on those ground balls.
  • The batting average for that situation (so Corey Seager hit just .137 when hitting a ground ball when an infield shift was on).

The big standouts here would be the guys near the top of the list that had very bad batting averages. These names seem to be primed to benefit MOST from the rule change, and I would feel pretty good about predicting a higher batting average for them next year:

A list of hitters that will benefit, but less so than the names above (because of a smaller GB% or a batting average last year that wasn't all that bad on those batted balls):

Here's a scatter plot showing all of the GB% and Shift% for hitters with 300 or more plate appearances in 2022. You can hover over each dot to see which hitter it represents.

From that data, I searched for hitters that:

  • Shifted on at or above 40% of the time
  • GB% at or above 45% (league average was 44%)

It's a pretty short list:

Player PA GB% Shift%
Max Kepler 445 46.6% 89.7%
Ji-Man Choi 416 46.6% 83.9%
Josh Naylor 494 49.5% 77.1%
Jared Walsh 450 46.3% 72.2%
Trent Grisham 523 46.1% 64.2%
Jackie Bradley Jr. 370 51.3% 63.8%
Juan Soto 658 47.4% 59.1%
Ronald Acuna Jr. 529 47.7% 58.4%
Tucker Barnhart 308 54.3% 57.8%
Oneil Cruz 360 49.5% 53.3%
Lars Nootbaar 346 46.0% 52.9%
Ian Happ 637 47.4% 50.1%
Jesus Sanchez 343 46.8% 49.9%
A.J. Pollock 527 45.3% 49.1%
Cristian Pache 260 58.0% 47.7%
Alek Thomas 411 57.7% 45.5%
Luis Rengifo 511 48.2% 44.6%
Josh Bell 643 50.5% 44.0%
Andres Gimenez 553 48.2% 42.5%

One last thing, let's take an example and make some educated guesses about how many points of batting average we could be talking about here. We will use our cover boy, Corey Seager.

In 2022, Seager had 145 hits in 593 at-bats for a .245 batting average. He hit 182 ground balls while an infield shift was on, and just 25 of them found a way to go for a hit. 25 divided by 182 gives us that .137 batting average we saw above.

For the sake of it, let's imagine that Seager once again gets 593 at-bats and hits the same number of total ground balls (199), but this time hits the league average batting average on his ground balls (.241). 24.1% of 199 is 48. So now, he gets 48 hits on ground balls instead of 29. That is an additional 19 hits, which would raise his batting average from that .245 the whole way to .277, a huge 32-point gain.

Now, please note that I took an extreme, extreme example here. Seager would almost surely hit higher than the .137 mark on ground-balls next year even if the shift was left in place. There is natural regression to the mean built into this equation. A more reasonable expectation would probably be something like 15-20 points in batting average for the players that are most affected by the rule change.

Still, that is a pretty significant difference and it does justify moving some of these hitters we see above up in the ranks a bit because of it. Not only does the batting average help your fantasy team, but hits also give more opportunities for runs, steals, and RBI.



I suppose I have already stated it, but in conclusion – there are certain hitters in the league that we should project for significantly higher batting averages next year because of the change in the rules. A higher projection, of course, is very far from a guarantee, plenty of other things can happen to make that not become the case. However, it is useful for fantasy players to know which hitters are most likely to benefit, and I think I have done that for you here today.

Thanks for reading, reach out to me on Twitter @JonPGH any time with questions!

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