Of all the MLB rule changes that will impact fantasy leagues this year, the limitations on defensive shifts might be the toughest to predict. This is a rule change that will impact each player differently, as some batters faced extreme shifts more often than others in recent years. Additionally, some batters might try to alter their batted-ball profile in response to new defensive alignments, while others will keep things the way they were and hope their batted balls find holes with greater regularity.
Never one to back down from a challenge, here are my best guesses as to which players will see their batting averages rise as a result of the shift limitations.
NOTE: You’ll notice that every name on this list is that of a left-handed hitter, as those who batted from the left side and pulled plenty of balls were greatly impacted by the opposition’s ability to load up on the first-base side of the diamond.
Among players who faced more than 1,000 pitches last year, no one encountered the shift more than Pasquantino (93.8%). Despite facing overloaded defenses, the lefty slugger hit .295 in 2022 on the strength of an outstanding 11.4% strikeout rate. Managers don’t need much imagination to see how he could lead the majors in batting average this year.
Corey Seager (SS, Texas Rangers)
The good news: Seager hit a career-high 33 homers last year. The bad news: His .245 average was more than 20 points lower than his mark in any previous season. Seager’s strikeout rate remained consistent last year, and his .283 xBA showed that he deserved better luck. Better fortune and limitations on shifts could lead to a year-over-year average bump of 50-plus points.
Kyle Tucker (OF, Houston Astros)
Among players who faced 2,000 pitches, only Seager encountered shifts more often than Tucker. The 26-year-old is part of one of baseball’s best lineups, smacked 30 homers in two straight seasons and posted a career-high 25 steals last year, which means he is a batting-average bump away from being a top-five fantasy asset.
Max Kepler (OF, Minnesota Twins)
Kepler was a fantasy star during the juiced-ball season in 2019 (36 HRs, .252 BA) but has shown just middling power (37 HRs in 284 games) while batting below .230 the past three years. The lefty slugger consistently faced extreme shifts in that stretch, and his xBA in each of those three seasons was above .250. A late-round afterthought this year, Kepler could soon be back on the shallow-league radar.
Coming off a 46-homer, 194-R+RBI season, Schwarber could take his game to even greater heights now that defensive shifts have been limited. There is a scenario in which Schwarber collects more base knocks and becomes the equivalent of Mets slugger Pete Alonso, who is being drafted in the second round this year.
Yordan Alvarez (OF, Houston Astros)
Already in the discussion about the best hitter in baseball, Alvarez could be even better now that teams can’t deploy heavy shifts against him. The left-handed masher placed seventh in baseball with a .306 average last year, but Statcast believes he should have been even more productive, assigning him a .329 xBA. There is a chance we are talking about Alvarez as the No. 1 overall fantasy option in 2024.
Those who wish to give Kelenic another chance will be happy to know that in each of his two disappointing MLB seasons, he faced plenty of shifts and logged an xBA that was more than 30 points higher than his actual mark. The bad news is his xBA stats were still awful. Even so, the 23-year-old once carried a lofty prospect status and could reward those who grab him at the end of their drafts.
Brandon Lowe (2B, Tampa Bay Rays)
For Lowe, the biggest factor in his 2023 fantasy production will be moving past the back woes that limited him to 65 games last year. And those who wish to bet on his improved health will be happy to know that the limitations on shifts should propel Lowe toward the .258 average he logged from 2019 to 21.
Max Muncy (2B/3B, Los Angeles Dodgers)
When he isn’t ruining your batting average, Muncy is a valuable power hitter who owns an elite walk rate and collects both runs and RBIs in bunches. Unfortunately, the 32-year-old has hit under .200 in two of the past three seasons while consistently facing heavy defensive shifts. Muncy will be a fantasy star in 2023 simply by becoming only a slight batting-average drain.
Joey Gallo (OF, Minnesota Twins)
Although I am unlikely to draft Gallo, I felt the need to include him in this article. The career .199 hitter faced plenty of shifts in recent years and likely still has 40-homer power (he homered just 19 times in 2022), but he will need to make major batting-average gains to become a fantasy asset.
A career .271 hitter heading into 2020, Rizzo batted .234 while facing plenty of extreme shifts the past three seasons. The 33-year-old went deep 32 times last year and could be very valuable from the heart of the Yankees' lineup if the limitations on shifts help to push his average back toward his lifetime .265 mark.
Matt Olson (1B, Atlanta Braves)
Olson is yet another player in this article who is a high batting average away from being an elite fantasy asset. He collected 73 homers and 214 RBIs the past two seasons, and his .255 average during that two-year stretch is not an embarrassing mark. After facing plenty of shifts in those campaigns, Olson now has the potential to collect even more counting stats by virtue of providing more base knocks.
Tellez is one of my favorite sleepers in the second half of Yahoo drafts, as the .219 average he recorded in his breakout 2022 campaign was far short of his solid .252 xBA. I’m excited about the counting stats Tellez could accumulate by hitting .250 while repeating his 35 long balls from a year ago.