Players union agreed to allow MLB to ban shifts, implement a pitch clock and make bases larger in 2023, subject to those agreements fitting into a total deal. Union also rejected Robo umps for ‘22/‘23. MLB goal: to be able to streamline the process and add excitement ti the game.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) March 6, 2022
As the lockout has dragged on, we have heard about a few rule changes likely coming soon to a ballpark near you: DH in the NL, and now this tweet. While there has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth over the prospective shift ban, one Twin stands to gain from it.
There have been many words spilled about Max Kepler’s struggles with batting average on balls in play. The MLB average for BABIP hovers around .300 — Kepler’s career .248 mark is among the 10 lowest in all of baseball for all hitters with 2500+ plate appearances since 1990. He has good strikeout numbers, but his batting averages have always lagged (his career high is .252) due to his struggle to post even a slightly below-average BABIP. It’s easy to write off one or two bad BABIP years as bad luck, but after six full seasons of low BABIP, we could no longer count on positive regression for Max.
That is, unless the shift is banned.
The advanced metrics paint a picture of a batter who would typically have a high batting average. Hits the ball harder than average, walks more than average, has a fairly optimal average launch angle, and strikes out less than average. However, Kepler’s weakness is in spraying the ball to all fields — he pulls the ball or goes up the middle on 77.6% of his batted balls, and as a left-handed hitter, that makes him especially susceptible to being shifted against. The numbers back this up as well. Kepler was shifted on 91.4% of his plate appearances in 2021, 5th most in MLB out of players with 250+ PAs. It was even higher in 2020, at 95.9%.
So, here’s what we know: Max Kepler has the profile of an average-to-high batting average player. Astoundingly low BABIP’s have prevented him from posting good batting averages, despite good batted-ball metrics. He’s very pull-happy, and is one of the most-shifted-on batters in MLB. This is simplifying everything, but it follows that Kepler stands to gain greatly from the extra space on the right side of the infield where his hard-hit line drives and ground balls can sneak through instead of becoming outs at shifted infielders.
If I’m right, hopefully he’s still a Twin by the time the ban kicks in in 2023.
Editor’s Note: Let’s hear your thoughts.
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