The use of the defensive shift has been one of the hottest debates in Major League Baseball since its inception.
While analytically it may work in terms of limiting offensive prowess, aesthetically and action wise it has been the bane to many a traditionalist and average fan who want to see more baserunners.
It’s been especially cruel to left handed hitters who are prone to pulling the ball since most pitchers are right handed and their pitches cut in on lefties forcing them to pull.
Banning the shift is a huge advantage to the Astros offense.
While the Houston Astros have grown more and more analytically driven over the past decade, being one of the teams to utilize the shift most often, the banning of the shift will be extremely beneficial to them.
Offense has been the calling card of the Houston Astros during their five year run of dominance stretching from 2017-2022. Even in 2019 when they had the number one and two vote getters for the Cy Young Award in Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, their offense was historically good.
The 2019 Astros offense had the second best Weighted Runs Created Plus of all-time at 124. (wRC+ quantifies run creation and normalizes it in order to compare players who play in different ball parks and eras.) They trail only the 1927 New York Yankees (126), arguably the greatest offense of all-time.
A lot of those players remain on the team to this day. Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Michael Brantley, Yuli Gurriel and Yordan Alvarez were all key contributors to that lineup. While the Astros no longer have George Springer, Kyle Tucker has stepped up in a big way to fill that void.
The one significant difference between Tucker and Springer is that Tucker is a lefty. The Astros offense has the most balance it has ever had with its current lineup and an elimination of the shift is a huge boost to lefty hitters who can now get pull-happy all they want without an extra defender looming in right field to take away base hits.
The Astros also put the ball in play more than any other team and with teams not being able to adjust to where players generally hit the ball on a regular basis, the hitters now have more freedom at the plate without consideration for where the defense is playing them.
Alex Bregman should go hog wild this coming season as he has consistently changed his batting style from 2016 when he came in the league with a balanced approach hitting to all fields (25% pull, 53% centered, 22% opposite field according to Baseball-Reference) to consistently pulling the ball more and more each season as a way to tap into his power and take advantage of the Crawford Boxes.
In 2021 he was 37% pull, 53% centered and 10% opposite field. Hence the shifts we saw on him where there were two defenders on the left side of the infield and one right up the middle.
I’m sure there will be plenty of times this year a hit drops into right field where Altuve would have been playing, and we will hem and haw about how that wouldn’t have been a hit last year.
But for a talented offense full of guys who make hard contact, don’t strike out a lot, and have multiple pull-hitters, the elimination of the shift is going to give the Astros a big boost offensively.