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Banning the Shift and Some Other Interesting Notes

MLB: Houston Astros at Oakland Athletics D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

As a blogger, there are times when I fall into a rut about what to write about next. For as good as these Astros are, that consistent level of success doesn’t necessarily produce intriguing storylines every single day of the season. Occasionally, a promising idea evaporates as I come across another piece of information disproving my original notion. This is frustrating when you’re already in a rut. Much like the actual baseball season, it is a grind at times.

Plus, this team is so good at winning that it leads to more instances such as this than one would first believe. There are only a finite number of instances where one can write about the lack of direction in center field, player payroll, or Yordan Alvarez’s hands before it becomes a tired topic. To be clear, I am not complaining about the club’s performance in recent seasons, but, again, it is a grind.

For every idea I post, I probably have about two-to-three items of interest in my notes that I haven’t had time to research properly or run into some dead end. Some are likely more of an offseason project, to be honest. That said, there are still nuggets of information worth passing along. So, in essence, this is more of a note-dumping post, but one I hope that you, the reader, can glean some insight from.

Note #1: Banning the Shift

If you follow baseball closely enough, you’ve probably heard about the rule changes coming to Major League Baseball next season. A pitch clock, for one, to help speed up the game. Another is larger bases. Perhaps the most controversial of the three rule changes is the “banning” of the shift as we know it today. Regardless if it is good for the game or not, it could prove detrimental for the Astros, who have the third-highest shift total in baseball at 50.1 percent.

By Outs Above Average (OAA), only one club (Diamondbacks, plus-32) has posted a higher value than the Astros at plus-24. While all of those outs are not necessarily a byproduct of the infield shift, there is some potential to lose value here when the ban takes effect next season. The question for next year is what degree?

Note #2: Will Smith’s Resurgence?

I may write more about Will Smith in the next week or two once there are additional results to digest, but I’d figure it is worth pointing out today that the left-hander reliever has looked serviceable for the Astros in his 14 23 innings of work (2.45 ERA/3.46 FIP). In particular, Smith has only walked three opposing hitters since his trade to Houston; in 37 innings with the Braves this season, he unintentionally walked 21 opposing hitters. That is enough of a change, even in a short sample, to explore further, especially if that trend holds in his next few appearances. Do I trust him in high-leverage situations? No. Has he pitched himself into the postseason roster discussion? Probably.

Note #3: It Needs More Four-Seam Fastball(s)

Consider this more of a sneak preview of an article that I’ve been meaning to write for the past two months: The resurgent four-seam fastball. As you may have already noticed, the Astros throw the most four-seam fastballs in the AL at 42.6 percent. Only the Dodgers at 44.1 percent have a higher rate in the majors.

Considering how the league-average rate for four-seam fastballs is roughly 33 percent and the rate of increase for both Houston and Los Angeles, I wonder if they are zigging while everyone is zagging. After all, the league average four-seam rate has fallen by slightly over two percent from last season. Considering the reputation of these two clubs and their respective front offices, there is something there worth exploring further.