With new rules in place that will limit shifting in 2023, Pittsburgh Pirates designated hitter Ji-Man Choi should be a huge benefactor
Early in the offseason, general manager Ben Cherington swung a trade to improve the Pittsburgh Pirates lineup. This trade saw Cherington send relief pitching prospect Jack Hartman to the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for Ji-Man Choi.
The left-handed hitting Choi was originally viewed as the likely first baseman for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2023. However, after the team also signed veteran Carlos Santana to a one-year deal, it now appears likely that Santana will be the primary first baseman, due to being the stronger defender of the two, while Choi serves as the team's primary designated hitter.
Choi is coming off a strong season with the Rays. The 31-year-old Choi hit for a .233/.341/.388 slash line to go with a 116 wRC+ and an OPS+ of 114 last season. Looking ahead to 2023, Choi could find himself in line for offensive improvement.
Why is it that Choi could be in line for an offensive improvement in 2023? Well, that is due to baseball banning the extreme shifts that have become so common across the sport in recent seasons. Based on his career hitting patterns, Choi is should benefit greatly from less shifting.
As is often the case with left-handed hitters, Choi has been a big pull hitter throughout his MLB career. Last season Choi pulled the ball at a 41.5% clip. During his seven-year career he has pulled the ball at a 40.9% rate.
Choi also puts the ball on the ground at a higher rate than you would like to see. In 2023 he had a ground ball rate of 45.1%, which was actually higher than his career ground ball rate of 43.0%. While a high ground ball rate is often times problematic, due to how had Choi hits the ball it is not as big of an issue for him. Last season he owned a 47.5% hard hit rate, 11.9% barrel rate, and an average exit velocity of 92.2 MPH. All of these were well above the league averages of 35.8%, 6.7%, and 88.4 MPH.
Hitting the ball hard and barreling it up is nothing new to Choi. For his career, he owns a 43.9% hard hit rate, 10.0% barrel rate, and an average exit velocity of 91.0 MPH. Once again, each of these numbers are well above league average.
The batters who will benefit most from the lack of extreme shifting in baseball will be pull-heavy hitters who hit the ball hard. Especially pull-heavy hitters who hit the ball hard with a high amount of ground balls. It would not be a surprise to see an uptick in Choi's offensive production this season.