The rules, they are a changing. This 2023 season brings with it a whole new set of changes for players to navigate and fantasy managers to predict. Maybe it is pickoff limits and larger bases leading to more stolen bases. Maybe the pitch clock will reward pitchers that like to play mind games. However, this week we will spend some time looking at players that have the most to gain front the elimination of the shift. Teams will adapt and find ways to flex the rules (looking at you Tampa Bay) and gain a slight advantage. Will you?
A resurgent 2022 cut short by injury delivered 15 longballs in only 47 games thanks to an insane 30% HR/FB rate. Going into 2023, the Padres have rolled the dice to see if Carpenter can continue to find the fountain of youth while looking to carve out a role beyond a DH share with Nelson Cruz. Looking at the shift, Carpenter has been one of the most shifted against players in recent memory with roughly a 90% shift rate over the past four years.
For good reason, teams have recognized that Carpenter is a heavy pull hitter. Over the past two years, Carpenter has had an improvement in wOBA between .066 and .182 when the switch was not utilized. In 2022, part of his success was simply ignoring the shift and pulling the ball with hard contact in the air (career high pull % at 58%). Carp is on the downhill of his career, but on draft day he is basically free and could be one of the biggest surprise winners with the shift ban.
I have written about Brandon Lowe a few times over the years as a believer in his skillset despite the injury struggles he has had the last few years. The 150-game career average of 32 homers, 84 runs, 90 RBI with a .249 average is not too shabby. From a shift perspective, Lowe pulls about 40% of batted balls and in 2022 saw a wOBA without the shift of .362 compared to .297 against.
Lowe is going in the 13th round as the 10th second baseman off the board. Coming off a year in which his BABIP and HR/FB rates were well below his career marks, I would argue he should be going before players like Max Muncy, Gleyber Torres and Jorge Polanco. Add in the opportunities with the lack of a shift and the 28-year old will be on many of my teams this spring.
Carpenter and Lowe are two examples of players that may benefit from the elimination of the shift. There were over 60 players during 2022 that saw more then 80% of at bats targeted with the shift. Guys like Corey Seager, Kyle Schwarber and Jose Ramirez all will see a significant difference when they walk to the plate this year. It remains to be seen how many hitters will shift their approaches to take advantage, but this rule change will be fun to watch in 2023.