Defensive Shift Limits (2023 rule change)

Definition

In September 2022, Major League Baseball announced three rule changes that were approved by the league’s Competition committee. The rules were adopted after extensive testing at the Minor League level over a several-year period and with feedback from MLB player and umpire representatives.

With the new rule changes, defensive teams will be required to have a minimum of four players on the infield, with at least two infielders completely on either side of second base. These restrictions are intended to increase the batting average on balls in play, to allow infielders to better showcase their athleticism and to restore more traditional outcomes on batted balls. The league-wide batting average on balls in play of .290 in 2022 was six points lower than in 2012 and 10 points lower than in 2006.

The rule change stipulates the following:

The four infielders must be within the boundary of the infield when the pitcher is on the rubber.

Infielders may not switch sides. In other words, a team cannot reposition its best defender on the side of the infield the batter is more likely to hit the ball.

If the infielders are not aligned properly at the time of the pitch, the offense can choose an automatic ball or the result of the play.

This rule does not preclude a team from positioning an outfielder in the infield or in the shallow outfield grass in certain situations. But it does prohibit four-outfielder alignments.