It was announced back in September that Major League Baseball would be implementing some new rules for the 2023 season. One such change will be the limiting of defensive shifts, with teams required to have two infielders on each side of second base and all four on the near side of the outfield grass at the time the pitch is released.
The exact ramifications of these changes will be discovered as the 2023 season progresses, but the hope is that some routine grounders turn into hits instead. Those players who have been shifted the most could stand to reap the most benefit from the new environment. The prototypical example of the hitter that is the most harmed by the shifts has been a plodding and pull-happy left-hander who can be neutralized by having an infielder in deep right field. However, each player is unique and will have been attacked in different ways, so let’s look at the data, with a minimum of 100 plate appearances required to be considered here. Which free agents were shifted the most in 2022? (Quick note that Stephen Vogt has been excluded since he previously announced 2022 would be his last season.)
1. Rougned Odor – 93.8%
2. Kole Calhoun – 93.4%
3. Zack Collins – 88.9%
4. Brett Phillips – 88%
5. Brandon Belt – 85.2%
6. Mike Ford – 84.6%
7. Jed Lowrie (as a lefty) – 83.5%
8. Robbie Grossman (as a lefty) – 82.6%
9. Michael Perez – 81.8%
10. Mike Moustakas* – 81%
11. Tommy La Stella* – 80.5%
12. Josh VanMeter – 79.7%
13. Luke Voit – 76.9%
14. Colin Moran – 75%
15. Adam Duvall – 71.7%
16. Gary Sánchez – 70.5%
17. Dominic Smith – 70.4%
18. Jackie Bradley Jr. – 64%
19. Jurickson Profar (as a lefty) – 63.8%
20. Didi Gregorius – 60.3%
(* – Moustakas and La Stella technically aren’t free agents right now. However, they were both recently designated for assignment and are likely to be released given their onerous contracts.)
Odor has been quite awful at the plate recently, with his batting average finishing at .207 or below in each of the past four years. However, his batting average on balls in play has been at .244 or below in each of those seasons, well below his earlier career marks and the .290 league average in 2022. Perhaps the shift bans could get him closer to his earlier career number when he hit between .259 and .271.
Belt hit .285/.393/.595 over 2020 and 2021, good enough for a wRC+ of 162 which trailed only Juan Soto and Bryce Harper among all MLB hitters in that time. He was actually shifted more in those two seasons than he was in 2022. Injuries limited him to just 78 games and tepid production this year, but perhaps better health and some more open space on the field could help him return to being one of the best hitters in the league.
As for the rest, some of these guys are role players or aging veterans, but a few of them could be sneaky value pickups in the latter half of the offseason. Like Belt, many of them are coming off disappointing and/or injury-marred years and will be looking to bounce back in 2023. Grossman posted a 118 wRC+ over 2020 and 2021 but just an 82 this year. Voit had a 153 wRC+ in the shortened 2020 season but dipped to 112 and 102 in the past two campaigns. Duvall had a 108 wRC+ over 2019-2021 but an 87 here in 2022. Sánchez recorded a 143 wRC+ in his first two seasons but just a 96 in the following five years, including an 89 in the most recent campaign. Smith posted a huge 150 wRC+ over 2019 and 2020 but has slid to just 82 since. Profar is coming off a decent campaign and is arguably the best free agent still unsigned.