Hoornstra: MLB’s anti-shift rules are already taking effect

Longtime fans of “The Simpsons” can close their eyes and hear the mid-south accent of Ned Flanders, the church-going, dad joke-cracking neighbor who gets under Homer Simpson’s skin by exuding friendliness. In one classic episode, Flanders opens a store for left-handed people called The Leftorium, “A one-stop shop for southpaws: everything from left-handed apple peelers to left-handed scissors.”

If Ned Flanders were the commissioner of baseball, I’m convinced he would ban infield shifts.

It’s no secret that shifts became wildly popular over the last decade, so much so that Rob Manfred, the actual commissioner, restricted their use beginning next season. When a pitch is thrown in 2023, there must be two infielders on either side of second base, and none on the outfield grass.

It’s also no secret that left-handed hitters were disproportionately harmed by the popularity of shifts. Both right-handed and left-handed hitters have seen their batting averages gradually decrease over the last decade, but that’s because there are fewer balls in play now than ever.

On the few occasions when a right-handed hitter does put the ball in play, his batting average has remained fairly steady from season to season, from .299 in 2015 (the first year for which Statcast shift data is publicly available) to .295 in 2022. When a left-handed hitter puts the ball in play, and the infielders are not shifted, the data is similar: a .302 batting average on balls in play in 2015,…

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