The early returns on Major League Baseball’s decision to restrict shifts are promising.
Runs and batting average were both up through the first wave of games compared to spring training a year ago. Players were hitting .272 through Feb. 28, with an average of 11.9 runs scored. That’s up from a batting average of .259 and 10.6 runs through the same period in 2022.
The uptick in offense does not appear to be affecting pace of play, thanks in large part to the introduction of the pitch clock. The average game time through Feb. 28 was 2 hours, 39 minutes. That’s down from 3:01 over the same stretch last spring training.
Umpires remain aggressive in enforcing timing rules. Cleveland shortstop Jose Tena was called out for not engaging the pitcher until there were less than eight seconds left on the clock.
MLB’s decision to ban shifts was made in September as left-handed batters hit .237 last season to .247 for right-handers.
Two infielders are now required to be on either side of second base and all infielders to be within the outer boundary of the infield when the pitcher is on the rubber. Infielders may not switch sides unless there is a substitution, but five-man infields will still be allowed.
The average was the same from both sides of the plate as recently as 2018′s .248, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, but shifts on batted balls in play increased from 34,669 in 2018 to 70,853 last season, according to revised data from Sports Info Solutions.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.