The Shift, The Dirt, and Getting It Right

How the Coming Rule Will Affect the Game … and Groundskeepers

The Major League Baseball rule that will go into affect beginning in 2023 has gotten a lot of attention. And rightly so. But which rule? The MLB has four new rules that were announced on Sept. 9: the pitch clock, the pickoff rule, bigger bases, and the shift rule. That’s the one we’re focusing on, The Shift.

Each of these rules have been in place at the minor league level for a few seasons. But now that MLB will be implementing them, the spotlight will intensify.

The Shift Rule

The Shift diagram“The Shift” has become more and more common in the last 10 years. The new MLB rule means you will no longer see teams shift an infielder to the other side of second base. Most often that’s the shortshop moving over making it three infielders on the first base side of the infield. In addition, the 3rd baseman moves over to the shortstop’s spot, with both playing deeper — often a few feet into the outfield grass — with the 2nd baseman even deeper into short right.

According to Major League Baseball, the shift rule will mean at the release of the pitch there must be a minimum of four defenders (excluding pitcher-catcher) with both feet on the infield dirt. And, there must also be two infielders on each side of second base, which the team has to designate, meaning they can’t switch their best infielder from one side of the infield to the other, depending upon the tendencies of the batter. Players can move as soon as the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand.

At the minor league level where this rule has been in effect at various levels, they are seeing the batting averages of left-handed hitters increase on average by about 8 points. MLB’s goal with this rule is to improve batting averages, which league-wide is down to .243 this year, the lowest since 1968.

Bob Gibson photo by NYPostThat season was dubbed “The Year of the Pitcher” as dominating hurlers posted some incredible stats — like Cardinals ace Bob Gibson (right, AP photo) and his ERA of 1.12. Denny McLain of the Tigers was MLB’s last 30-game winner, going 31-6 in ’68. Those two would meet in the World Series with Gibson striking out 17 batters in Game 1 (a record that still stands), although Detroit would ultimately take the Series in seven. Major League Baseball is hoping to reverse the recent trends that are beginning to resemble The Year of the Pitcher.

Among those trends is that the last four MLB seasons have seen a decline in singles, including this year’s rate of 5.35 per team. Of course, left-handed pull hitters will love this new rule preventing extreme shifts. But opponents of the rule say simply, “adjust.” They argue that pull-hitters should just learn to hit to the opposite field, away from the extreme shift. As Hall of Famer Wee Willie Keeler used to say, “hit ’em where they ain’t.”

So, what’s all of this have to do with groundskeepers? Well, potentially a lot. As writer Jayson Stark of The Athletic notes, all infields — even MLB infields — are not created equally. That’s because some measurements of the infield are absolute and some are not. Among those that are not is the Infield Arc Radius.


About the Dirt

The Athletic - Jayson Stark 9/15/22In his Sept. 15 post, Stark points out that with the Shift Rule, “dirt dictates where infielders can stand.” He also correctly points out that there is no concrete rule about where that inner edge of the arc should be, dubbing it a “dirty little secret” and that “in some major-league parks, the infield dirt extends deeper than in other parks.” He writes in amazement that this indeed varies from ballpark to ballpark.

The rule book does suggest the infield dirt extend no more than 95 feet, with the exact measurement at the discretion of the groundskeeper. Whether MLB will enforce that as an absolute rather than a variable measurement remains to be seen. But where Stark goes astray is exactly where that measurement extends from, asserting that it extends from “the center of the pitching mound.”

Why this matters to you is the misconception that this measurement extends from the center of the mound as Stark and others assume. It does not. But, all you need to do is reference “the groundskeeper’s bible”, as it is affectionately known, Beacon’s Ballfield Dimensions Guide. On page 9 of the guide, we define each of the measurements around the field, including the Infield Arc Radius, which is stated to be:

“From the center of the front edge of the pitching rubber extending toward the outfield grass to the distance recommended.”

Adding to the confusion, many wrongly think the pitching rubber is in the center of the mound, but it is not. How to build your mound and set the pitching rubber are also covered in the Ballfield Dimensions Guide, but we’ll stick to the Infield Arc Radius for now.

Stark wonders if MLB groundskeepers will err on the extended side of the infield arc recommendation, maybe going 96 feet rather than 95 to give infielders a little more depth while still staying within the rules with both feet on the dirt. As one American League executive he talked to said, “why wouldn’t they?”

The necessity of the rule itself, as well as the recognition that there’s currently variation in infield depths and how, or even if, the recommended measurement will be enforced makes this all a very interesting debate. If strict enforcement of a uniform 95′ depth becomes part of the Shift Rule, we’ll be watching closely to see if accuracy comes along with it. Ever since the mid-1800s when the first professional teams were born, the discretionary nature of this infield arc measurement has largely gone unnoticed. Groundskeepers could adjust that depth to accommodate their particular ballfields and its overall dimensions. But if uniformity becomes part of the rule, that will no longer be the case.

The bottom line is this: If your league’s governing body decides to follow the lead of Major League Baseball (and the minor leagues before them), they may require that the infield arc be consistent from ballpark to ballpark. That’s when it will become critical to get it right. And that means complying with the correct Infield Arc Radius, measured from the correct spot — the center of the front edge of the pitching rubber.

To make sure you get it right, reference our online Ballfield Dimensions Guide on, or you can buy a copy of the printed 48-page “bible” from our online store. There’s also a digital flip-book of the printed copy available here.

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