One of MLB's many rule changes this season has been widely called a ban of the defensive shift, but that's not entirely accurate, as new Minnesota Twins outfielder Joey Gallo learned Friday.
Gallo, a dead pull hitter and one of the players most victimized by the shift, found himself once again hitting with a defender in the shallow outfield between first and second base in a spring training game against the Boston Red Sox.
In this shift, the Red Sox kept their infielders near their usual positions but moved left fielder Raimel Tapia to center field and center fielder Adam Duvall to the usual shift spot:
Defensive shifts have not been banned.
Defensive shifts have been restricted.
Check it out. 👇 pic.twitter.com/w99NA7q0po
— Codify (@CodifyBaseball) March 3, 2023
Why could the Red Sox do that? Well, the MLB rule aimed to get rid of the shift by requiring all infielders to stay in the infield and station two on either side of second base at all times. The rules, however, say nothing about what teams can and cannot do with outfielders.
If a team such as the Red Sox is more worried about a line drive single to shallow right than a potential extra-base hit to an empty left field, it's still its prerogative to move the outfielders as it pleases. Teams are also allowed to bring an outfielder in to form a five-man infield in a situation in which defending groundballs is pivotal.
As a result, Gallo could still struggle to get the non-homer hits that have eluded him in his career.
Among players with at least 1,200 plate appearances the past three years, Gallo's .236 batting average on balls in play ranks third-lowest in MLB, per Fangraphs. He hits the ball hard, isn't slow running the bases, had a fly-ball rate higher than Aaron Judge's and a line-drive rate higher than Juan Soto's last year, per Baseball Savant, but he also hit into the shift in 90% of his plate appearances.
Combine that with a ghastly 39.8% strikeout rate, and you can turn an All-Star into a journeyman who hit .160/.280/.357 between the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers last season.