Out of the new rules that will take effect during the 2023 Major League Baseball season, arguably the most welcome is the ban on defensive shifts.
Though, to be sure, it depends on who you ask.
The new regulations will require teams to have all four infielders within the outer boundary of the infield, with at least two on either side of second base. This outlaws four-man outfields and, crucially, the typical shift on left-handed batters that came to be used more than half the time between 2020 and 2022. Heck, even shifts on right-handed batters were 16 times more frequent last year than they were in 2015.
As far as which players do and don't figure to benefit from these changes, we've compiled a list of guys who are worth talking about at some length. And just to clarify right off the bat, they're not all lefty hitters with heavy pull tendencies. Those are obviously a big part of the discussion, but we sought to honor the nuance of the situation through variety.
For instance, we want to start off by talking about a handful of prominent pitchers.
RHP Sandy Alcantara, Miami Marlins
More so than in 2022, Marlins infielders are going to have to work harder for outs when playing behind reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Sandy Alcantara in 2023.
At 44.0 percent, the Marlins ranked sixth in the rate at which they shifted their infielders in 2022. They also ranked fifth with 330 outs made by shortstops and second basemen in shifted formations, and Alcantara was the primary beneficiary in leading MLB in such outs.
It should go without saying that there was good fortune involved there, but it's worth pointing out examples anyway: this hard liner up the middle, this soft liner up the middle and this hard grounder into what might have been a hole between first and second without the shift.
And yet Alcantara almost certainly isn't due for a fall from grace even though he won't be able to rely on the shift for as many outs this season.
A major reason why he got the most outs from shifted middle infielders in 2022 was that he worked a lot, facing 886 batters and pitching 228.2 innings. He also wasn't so much lucky as really good at inducing contact on the ground. As long as he keeps both things up, he won't necessarily need precision positioning to lead MLB in groundouts for a second year in a row.
RHP Tony Gonsolin and LHP Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
It's really all incumbent Dodgers pitchers who are in for a system shock without the shift. The team shifted its infielders a league-high 53.1 percent last season, meaning Dodgers hurlers pitched in front of altered defenses more often than not in 2022.
Yet as high as that figure is, it's actually on the low side relative to the standards for Tony Gonsolin and Clayton Kershaw.
Last year saw the Dodgers employ defensive shifts behind Gonsolin and Kershaw 66.7 and 65.4 percent of the time, respectively. Those were the highest such marks among all hurlers who chucked at least 1,500 pitches, and by a good bit of distance over the 60.5 percent clip that put Toronto Blue Jays right-hander José Berríos in the third spot.
To be sure, the Dodgers' addition of defensive-wiz shortstop Miguel Rojas will help both pitchers. And just as Alcántara and López aren't necessarily in the same boat with their post-shift concerns, the same holds true of Gonsolin and Kershaw.
Whereas opposing teams stacked left-handed batters against the right-handed Gonsolin, they naturally didn't do so against the lefty-throwing Kershaw. As exemplified here, here and here, the former will thus have to get used to the kind of hits that the typical shift on lefties was meant to prevent.