FORT MYERS, Fla. -- No hitter in the National League last season faced a defensive shift more often than Kyle Schwarber.
With the bases empty, teams shifted against Schwarber in 90.5 percent of his plate appearances.
He hit .218, his lowest batting average in a full season since 2017. Striking out 200 times was a large reason for the low batting average but so was the way teams defended him. Schwarber's batting average on balls in play was just .240 compared to his career mark of .268 and the standard league average that hovers around .300.
Teams can't overshift against Schwarber or anyone else moving forward. Beginning this season, teams must position two infielders on either side of second base with both feet on the infield dirt.
No more three guys on the right side. No more second baseman playing short right field.
It could lead to a completely different sort of season for Schwarber and many other pull-happy left-handed hitters. Imagine how Ryan Howard feels right about now ...
"It's going to be a game of contact now without the shift," Schwarber said Tuesday. "You're going to get rewarded. You're not looking over at the right side and seeing four guys. That's a good thing, it's going to promote contact. And I need to improve on the strikeouts. Last year's strikeouts, that was way too many. It's something that I'm consciously trying to do."
Despite the high strikeouts and low batting average, 2022 was still a very productive year for Schwarber. He hit 46 home runs in the regular season, three in the NLCS and three in the World Series. He spent most of the year in the leadoff spot and scored 100 runs, a benchmark any leadoff hitter will tell you he values.
The elimination of the shift should result in more singles for Schwarber. Now just imagine if he reduces his 2023 strikeout total to the range of his previous career-high of 156.
"He's trying to," manager Rob Thomson said. "That's one of his things, put the ball in play. He doesn't want to eliminate home runs per se but he does want to make more contact and by the time we're out of spring training, I think he will."
Here is an example of the giant holes Schwarber will be working with this season. Trea Turner led off Tuesday's game with a single, and he's obviously such a base-stealing threat that he has to be held on closely. Look at all this room for Schwarber.
"When you can have that hole there and a guy like Trea who's pretty much an automatic first-to-third, that's always a good thing," Schwarber said.
Beyond Turner's ideal skill set at lead off, those holes on the right side of the infield are reason enough to bat Schwarber second behind him, which it looks like will be the case to start the season.