We know the rules will be different next season. We don’t know which players will be hurt or helped the most, though.

There will be a pitch clock, set at 15 seconds with nobody on base. The bases will be bigger. To combat excessive shifting, infielders will have to be on the infield dirt, two on each side of second. As Jayson Stark said, “stuff will happen.” There will be winners and losers as baseball tries to reshape the game into one that displays more athleticism and action.

But until they actually play under the new rules, we’ll be left guessing about the real impact, and about which players will shine the most in the new version of the sport — if it truly even is a new version of the sport. But educated guessing is what we do. So here goes.

 

The shift

If you refer to the new rules regarding the shift as “banning the shift,” it seems like such a huge deal. Now you start wondering about how high the batting averages can go for those lefty pull hitters, and start adding 20, 30 points of batting average. They’re banning it!

But they’re not quite banning the shift, are they? The defenders can still move around on the infield and play in different places, they just have to be on the infield dirt and two to a side. How different is that, actually, than what they’ve been doing? 

As you can see, the (orange) second baseman has to take a few steps in, and the (red) shortstop has to stay behind second, and can’t move over to the first base side. Let’s focus on the second baseman for a second, because he can still cover the same angles (25 to 30 degrees on that illustration), he just can’t stand as far back. One coach thought these steps in might actually cut the second baseman’s range in half on balls struck over 100 mph, because of reaction times.

The list of lefties that hit ground balls and line drives over 100 mph in that 20-30 degree band is just as obvious as you think: Corey Seager, Seth Brown, Max Muncy, and Kyle Schwarber are all in the top 15. Seager hit 31 balls in that direction into the shift … but still hit .387 on those balls. The league hit .462 into the shift on those balls. With no shift on, though, they hit .670 (!!). As a group, if the top 20 in pulled line drives hit that same number of balls in the same directions next year, they’d average an extra three hits next season.