MLB’s Shift Ban: Pitchers Hurt Most (2023 Fantasy Baseball)
While all pitchers will be hurt by the shift ban, some will be affected more than others. To put it simply, ground-ball pitchers who allow a heavy dose of pulled balls, especially to lefties, will likely take the brunt of the damage. To be even more precise, additional data such as pitch selection, exit velocity, the caliber of defense behind them, and hit trajectory should be considered. And while I’ll touch on those in this article, I’ll mainly be concentrating on pitchers who lead the league last year in pulled ground balls.
Production against the shift versus no shift isn’t a bad stat to analyze either, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. This is mainly because the batters teams generally shift against are the league’s most productive power hitters. Someone like Mike Trout didn’t face the shift last year only 26 times and actually faired much better against it (although 26 times don’t really count for anything). So while it’s a nice stat to look at, it’s not something to completely hang your hat on.
We also have to keep in mind that these few pitchers about to be highlighted can and probably will make adjustments. Maybe it’s pitching higher in the zone or working away more, but whatever the case, nothing’s set in stone. That said, basing our projections on past performances and tendencies is the best predictor we have to go on, so consider downgrading these next few on draft day.
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Fantasy Baseball Pitchers Hurt Most by MLB’s Shift Ban
No pitcher came close to inducing as many ground balls as Valdez did last year. Leading the league with a whopping 66.5 GB%, Valdez was a worm-burning machine. Unfortunately for him, only 20% of contact allowed went to the opposite field while 30.1% was of the hard contact variety (over 95 MPH), and 53.7% was struck for medium contact. His splits between no shift versus the shift were not surprisingly drastic with a batting average difference of nearly 100 points. Without the shift, last season Valdez surrendered an unsightly .341 batting average.
Valdez is still a fantastic pitcher as he limits line drives and extra-base hits but you have to believe that his .285 BABIP isn’t going to stay where it is. If his stock doesn’t come down by draft day, I’d take a hard pass on the Astros ace.
Wright was near the top in ground-ball rate last season, placing third in all of baseball. He finished the year with an impressive 55.6% rate which helped lead to 21 wins and a 3.19 ERA. The issue for the Braves righty under the new rule change is that he not only gets a lot of ground balls but he also nearly led the league in pulled balls at 44.5%. Furthermore, over 30% of the balls hit left with an exit velocity of over 95 miles per hour. With so many hard ground balls being pulled, you have to believe banning the shift will hurt his overall numbers.
Ozzie Albies has some decent range at second base but he’s gonna have a tough time stopping nearly half the balls put in play by lefties without much help. Also, Dansby Swanson, the Gold Glove-winning shortstop, signed with the Cubs, leaving Vaughn Grissom and his much-scrutinized defense as his likely replacement. Grissom’s defense has been called into question all off-season and if Ron Washington can’t turn him into at least an average defender, it’ll be an issue.
With the shift banned and a major downgrade on defense, expect Wright’s .270 BABIP to increase heavily this year. He’ll still be an above-average pitcher but with everything working against him, expect more in the neighborhood of a 3.75 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP.
Webb’s metrics also paint a sour picture without the shift. Against lefties, Webb managed to get 68% of pulled balls to be outs last year. That won’t be the case without that extra defender roaming in the shallow grass anymore. His BABIP is surely to rise back above the .300 mark with so many pulled ground balls. With his K’s dwindling to 7.63/9 (below league average) as well, you have to believe Webb will have a tough time replicating his low ERA and WHIP from the last two years. Hitters don’t make consistent hard contact though so he’s still a good option, but at his current ADP, the juice just isn’t worth the squeeze.
Pablo Lopez has always been a heavy ground ball pitcher averaging nearly 50% throughout his career. He also surrenders a heavy dose of pulled balls at 44.1 percent, good for the sixth highest in all of baseball last year. His exit velocity average is better than Kyle Wright‘s, but it still isn’t great for someone trying to get outs on ground balls without the shift. His strikeouts also regressed last year dropping from 10.08/9 in 2021 to 8.70/9.
Leaving Miami for Minnesota won’t make a big impact in terms of park factor but he should be offered more run support and slightly better defense. Lopez is still worth a mid-round selection, but don’t expect an improvement on last year’s numbers other than maybe wins.
Wainwright’s production fell off the table late last year finishing with a 7.22 ERA in September and October. Whether it was due to some nagging injuries or possibly just age-related wear and tear, the Cardinals stalwart likely won’t find much better results this year. His line drive rate was high at 23.9% for the season and his pull rate was tied for sixth in the MLB at 44.1%. With Waino counting on the ground balls to get outs (he only K’d 6.71/9), Wainwright could be in for a long farewell season.
Not that Gonzales was high on any draft boards this winter, but he will likely be worse this season. With a 42% ground ball rate and a league-leading 46.5% pull rate, the crafty southpaw in Seattle is in for some regression. More than a handful of those balls are going to squeak through this year resulting in worse numbers across the board for Gonzales.
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Austin Lowell is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Austin, check out his archive.