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The second baseman was the face of an evolving game. Will MLB’s MLB Shifting Limits Turn the Situation Again?

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If we stop calling second base the cornerstone—or simply want to add a new nickname for the field position between first base and shortstop—perhaps we should consider the leading factor. Given the vast oppression that drives players into the center, second base has become a beacon we can follow as forces in the game pulling teams’ priorities this way and that.

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The 2023 MLB season is set to usher in a new and exciting era in second baseman history, thanks to… He blew the limitations of the MLB turnaround. The area of ​​the field that is more cluttered and crowded and studied by modern defensive tactics will (mostly) be pushed back into its traditional alignment with referee power. Players who manage this position will encounter new (or old) responsibilities and demands, and completely different people may find themselves in the role due to these changes.

While most of the attention in the new shifting restrictions has understandably been directed toward understanding how batters might benefit—how many extra hits might accrue under the new rules—there will also be career-altering intrigue in the field. Who’s fit to walk the rope of second base without a forgiving pink net? Who will find the balance between his latest offensive prowess and his traditional defensive flair?

To understand the divergent paths that could emerge, it is helpful to understand how the idea of ​​a second primary man morphed into its current form.

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The Padres will likely need the suave, glove-friendly Ha-Seong Kim at second base in 2023, while the Dodgers may not want at-bat-focused Max Muncy there.  (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
the parents They will likely need the sweet Ha-Seong Kim, the first glove at second base in 2023, while the Dodgers You may not want to play bat Max Muncie there. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

position restrictions

Maybe you have a visual template for a second baseman: touch hit, shortstop, quick. There is a good reason for that. The two best OPS+ second-base hitters since the merger are Joe Morgan and Jose Altuve, all-around marvels under 5-foot-9. A handful of major league underachievers—from the game’s early years to now—also fit this mental mold, one way or another. with another, without extreme prestige or distinction. It’s not because being short is a good thing. This is just one prominence of putting second base as the wild card, backup plan, forgotten on the defensive spectrum.

Perhaps you also have a second baseman’s scouting form: “Not enough arm for shortstop.” There’s a good reason for that, too. Athletes with suitable hands and agility to claim the quarterback duties moved to second base if they could not make it that taller at first. or if the bat does not cut it completely from third base. Or if a superior player rapes her.

Maybe you have an inconspicuous archetype of what a second baseman used to be. The past 15 years have seen less easily rated stars float in and out of where Chase Utley and Dustin Pedroia stood every day, varying the ranks of Altuve, Robinson Cano and Ian Kinsler with superstar players who don’t exactly enjoy second base. But the closest thing to it.

Ben Zobrist became the poster boy for cornerstone-centric diversity treats, and eventually that model went viral. Jeff McNeilAnd DJ LimahieuAnd Marty kettle Since then others have taken up this mantle without the novelty.

The second rule is, in a way, the position of limitations. But at its best, it is where gamers of all shapes and sizes free themselves from their chains.

Throw lightly and carry a big stick

Second base did not evolve from Pesky Slap Hitter Central into Haven For Diverse Hitters on its own. The prevalence of pitching shifting, combined with more subtle advances in defensive positioning, has helped broaden the potential second basemen—in more ways than one.

More accurate and more dramatic positioning allowed the slower-footed second baseman to retain his place in the field. As a result, more useful hitters who might have been relegated to first base, left field, or even a designated hitter have found at least part-time roles in the top-center position, in one of the ten row slots that, in theory, requires weight fielding ability and offensive ability.

As teams became more confident in their spells, in the small cards in each player’s back pocket, they began to choose more and more of the second baseman for their bats rather than their gloves. It’s not that the typical second base was suddenly replaced by batters, but that the place of the hurling list that might have gone to a mid-range defensive specialist is starting instead to go to the option to bat first who can manage at second (Wilmer FloresMarwen Gonzalez Brandon Drury).

Based on this reality, some players who might have been taken to another path because of their body type or height have built up fps (Daniel Murphy, Matt Carpenter). Others took on mid-career roles that included an important and sometimes turbulent time in the cornerstone; Mike Moustakas turned the Milwaukee experience into a lucrative deal with the Reds. Perhaps the aesthetic culmination of this transformation came in Game 6 of the 2018 NLCS, When dodgers f righteousness The fat duo of Max Muncie and Travis Shaw started second.

Meanwhile, younger players with stellar batters and questionable fielding range have appeared in full-time roles as either starting second basemen or utility types with frequent stops there, Brandon Lowe And Louis Araz between them. Arraez who th Minnesota Twins traded to Miami Marlins On Friday, he could switch teams because his limited fielding abilities are no longer suited to the Twins Carlos CorreaAnd Jorge Polanco and possibility Royce Lewis They are all locked in or competing for playtime.

The result, along with MLB’s growing preference for defensive flexibility, is an upward trend of better-than-average hitters playing at least some second base.

Data via Baseball Reference.  Except for the shortened seasons.Data via Baseball Reference.  Except for the shortened seasons.

Data via Baseball Reference. Except for the shortened seasons.

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In general, second basemen (and shortstops, catchers, and center fielders) historically don’t hit as well as the rest of the lineup because their hitting ability is a smaller part of the rationale behind their roster scores. This is the basis of positional adjustment in the war and a truism that you can glean by looking at MLB draft results or remembering where the most talented kids on your Little League team played.

Recently, though, the gap between second baseman and MLB average hitter has been shrinking.

Data via Baseball Reference.  Except for the shortened seasons.Data via Baseball Reference.  Except for the shortened seasons.

Data via Baseball Reference. Except for the shortened seasons.

Aligning with the new hitting philosophies and changes in baseball that have created huge heights in home runs—and made unspectacular and minor second basemen between 2015 and 2021—the new format has pulled personnel into second base near and sometimes above it. The MLB average hitter bar, an amazing source of offense and value for teams that have struck the right balance.

Will the changing restrictions reverse the trend?

This balancing act is about to get even more complicated. MLB shift restrictions going into effect in 2023 outlaw or severely jeopardize key ways teams have relieved defensive pressure on second base. There are a lot of nuances in positioning behind thisbut in general, it’s easier to field second if you a) stand farther back, on the outside turf and b) shade heavily to one side while relying on another player, usually a short stop, to cover the rest.

One common shift, posted here by the Toronto Blue Jays, dramatically reduces the amount of fielding experience required from second base.  MLB rules will prohibit this formation starting in 2023. (Image via MLB.com)One common shift, posted here by the Toronto Blue Jays, dramatically reduces the amount of fielding experience required from second base.  MLB rules will prohibit this formation starting in 2023. (Image via MLB.com)
One shared shift, posted here by Toronto Blue Jays, greatly reduces the amount of fielding experience required from second baseman. MLB rules will prohibit this formation starting in 2023. (Image via MLB.com)

With two players required to start each step on the dirt and an extreme shift that led to a shortstop across second now prohibited, second base will undoubtedly have more ground to cover.

Teams that hire a second baseman that they rotate defensively will now be faced with the challenge of changing their rosters to move those players from second base or determining the best way to cover them within the new bases. Take Rice and Lowe. They have a stock of medium players, most of whom are much better defenders than Lowe, but they could really use the whack at his bat And That DH is in the lineup after finishing 25th in the MLB in home runs last year. The Dodgers, on the other hand, could try to use their roster to push Muncy out of second place even further.

At first glance, it looks like the second base offense, which has long been on the rise, is about to falter. But the ultimate fate of trend lines is not destiny. It is a product of choices.

Same thought processes that turned into tuff and 5-foot-8 Ozzy Albies To 30-homer mashers it has pushed plenty of movement off the ground and into the air. The league’s average ground ball, which was 45.1% a decade ago, has been down from 43% in each of the past four seasons. That may not sound like much, but it works out to the roughly 2,734 grounders lifted into the air — or about 91 balls per team per season that are likely to fall on outfielders.

Given the relative reliability of projection offensive performers and the possibility that they can find new ways to break the defensive code, there is an opportunity for teams to beat these hitters. There’s also the opportunity for them to try to adapt and realize they have to get back to more agile fielders, and so, the position is facing a late offensive decline.

Whatever happens, the condition of the second baseman will tell us something about the direction the game is headed. However, this would not be something new.

Follow Yahoo Sports’ Zach Crizer on Twitter @zcrizer.

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