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” 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.
That 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.