Let's take an in-depth look at the MLB rule changes now that the St. Louis Cardinals have gotten some experience with them
By now you are probably familiar with the rule changes that have gone into effect for the 2023 season. Will these rule changes have a significant impact on the St. Louis Cardinals' season, and if so, will that impact be positive or negative?
The Shift Ban
Defensive shifts have been all but eliminated, as two infielders must be positioned on either side of second base when a pitch is released. All four infielders must also have both of their feet within the infield when the pitcher is on the rubber. Will these changes be good or bad for the Cardinals this year?
Offensively, some hitters will benefit more from these new rules than others. The following shift statistics were taken from Baseball Savant, specifically its 2022 Hits Spray Charts and related performance statistics for players against the shift.
Based on his 2022 Hits Spray Chart, Paul Goldschmidt tends to hit the ball to all fields. Therefore, the new rule will probably neither help nor hurt his production.
On the other hand, the Hits Spray Chart of his teammate Nolan Arenado shows a higher tendency for him to pull the ball. Arenado’s wOBA against the shift was .334, compared to .389 when he hit without facing a shift, although he only faced the shift in 12.1 % of his plate appearances.
New Cardinal Willson Contreras only faced a shift in 7.9% of his plate appearances. Per Baseball Savant, the Cardinal who faced the highest percentage of shifts last year was Nolan Gorman at 71.2% of his plate appearances. Strangely, his wOBA against the shift was .327 but was only .289 without the shift, albeit in a rather small sample size. It is probably true that he will end up benefiting from the elimination of the shift over an entire season.
In terms of defense, it stands to reason that the teams with poorer infield defense will likely suffer more from the shift ban. The Cardinals are solid in the infield, with the exception of questions at second base with Gorman and Brendan Donovan manning the position. Consequently, while the Cards will almost certainly give up more runs in 2023 than in 2022, I expect their runs given-up differential compared to last year to be lower than most teams in the league.
In general, eliminating the shift will no doubt lead to more hits and more runs across baseball. Personally, I never liked exaggerated shifts. Few things to me were more frustrating than seeing a hitter smash a baseball only to watch it bounce or fly into the glove of a perfectly positioned (but out of place) fielder. I like this new rule, as I enjoy station-to-station baseball as much if not more than I enjoy home runs.