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Shifting opinions on defensive restrictions

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Miami Marlins v. Boston Red Sox Photo by Adam Glanzman/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Among the major league rule changes adopted for 2023, the one that seems to garner the most debate is the limit on defensive shifting, with two infielders required to be on both sides of second base and all four infielders no deeper than the outer boundary of the infield dirt.

I enjoyed this sort of point/counterpoint regarding the shift. First from Guardians manager Terry Francona, in The Athletic’s roundup of reactions to the rules changes:

“Like are you rewarding guys that just pull the ball instead of trying to get back to using the whole field? Like I keep hearing people say, ‘Guys are tired of hitting into the shift.’ Then hit the ball the other way. There are solutions other than just lift and separate.”

On Monday at FanGraphs, Michael Baumann noted that hitting is hard enough that the most shifted against players have mostly decided the best path to success is trying to hit the ball hard through the shift anyway rather than sacrifice power.

“MLB could goose the league-wide BABIP by moving the mound back, or transitioning to a smooth baseball, or gently electrocuting any pitcher who throws harder than 94 mph. But failing that, it’s time to concede defeat. We’ve waited more than 10 years, and the spray hitting/drag bunting revolution just hasn’t come, and probably never will. Treating the symptoms isn’t as good as curing the disease, but it’s better than not treating the symptoms at all.”

Robert Arthur at Baseball Prospects says the shift ban won’t work.

Jim Alexander at the Orange County Register summarized all the new changes, with some perspective:

“A response was necessary. And the heartening thing is that the game no longer seems paralyzed by its heritage. Other sports respond to changing conditions. Why shouldn’t this one?”