A year ago I wrote an article pontificating about the new rules in baseball. One of the main items I focused in on was the larger bases as well as the two pickoff rule. My hypothesis was that with the two of them combined, stolen bases would skyrocket.
I predicted we’d see a number of 30/30 players, and I predicted Ronald Acuna Jr would be a 40/40 man…I was wrong, he was a 40/70 man. But he wasn’t the only player to run like his pants were on fire. Oakland’s Esteury Ruiz stole 67 bases, while Corbin Carroll stole 54. And three others had over 40 SBs.
And, in total, 18 players stole 30 or more bases. There were 19, 20/20 guys; of which seven had 25/25 seasons. And aside from Acuna’s eye popping stats, there were three other 30/30 players. Bobby Witt Jr. missed a 30/50, by one stolen base. Julio Rodriguez had 32 HRs and 37 SBs and Francisco Lindor had a 31/31 year. Kyle Tucker missed having a 30/30 season by one home run.
Needless to say I feel gratified by my prediction…granted my take wasn’t exactly a revelation, but it’s still nice to reach the right conclusion based on the evidence at hand. There was a whopping 3,503 stolen bases last year, which was the most since 1987, and the second most in a century. In fact, there were 1,000 more successful steals last year than 2022.
As amazing as those numbers were, this year will be even more outrageous. There are a few reasons for this. Baseball, like all sports, is a copycat league. If something works, teams will continue to exploit it until the defenses, or the league changes the rules to counter it. Teams will continue to shape their rosters with faster and more athletic players. And this trend won’t be just for the speed demons, it will be seen throughout the league. The players who normally steal 10-12 bases will see their production increase to 15-20 steals. Teams will be more aggressive because it now pays to be more aggressive. The success rate last season was over 80%.
The main problem with this is that for leagues who employ SB as a category, the increase in volume diminishes the value of drafting a speedy player. Instead of going after a Ruiz in your draft, you may find it better to target three or four players who are capable of snagging 20 bases under the new rules.
If you decide to take this route, here are a handful of players who should make a run at 20 or more steals this season:
- OF Cedric Mullins, Baltimore Orioles: Mullins was a 30/30 player, and he had back to back 30-plus stolen base seasons in 2021 and 2022. When he plays, he posts. Last season was marred by injuries, holding him to only 404 ABs. He still stole 19 bases. A healthy season will surely lead to another 20 SB season, with a chance to get back into the 30/30 club.
- 2B Zack Gelof, Oakland Athletics: With only 270 ABs last season, Gelof managed 14 SBs. With regular playing time and a minimum of 400 ABs, 20 SBs should be a formality
- 2B Jose Altuve, Houston Astros: From 2012 to 2017, Altuve had six consecutive seasons with over 30 SBs. He hasn’t reached 20 since then, however, last season, in only 360 ABs and 90 games played, he managed 14 SBs. With a full and healthy season, Altuve should surpass 20 SBs
- IF/OF Josh Rojas, Seattle Mariners: In 2022, Rojas stole 23 bases. Last season, with 20 fewer games played and 129 fewer ABs, he stole about half, only swiping 12 bags.
- IF Jon Berti, Miami Marlins: Berti is the most peculiar case. In 2022, only playing in 102 games, he swiped 41 bases. With the new rules, speculation was that 50 would be a foregone conclusion and 60+ wouldn’t be out of the question. But Berti regressed. Last season playing 31 more games and getting 30 more ABs, he only stole 16 bases. And it’s not like his OBP was down…it was actually up 20 points. I have to believe last year was a fluke, and he’ll at least get back up over 20 SBs
Now, for this year’s hot take:
Major League Baseball will have its fifth player to steal 100 bases!
Rickey Henderson is of course the king of the stolen base. He stole over 100 bases three times in his career. Maury Wills did it in 1962 and Lou Brock did it in 1974. Vince Coleman is the only player other than Henderson to do it more than once, matching Henderson’s three 100 SB seasons.
This season, Arizona Diamondbacks OF Corbin Carroll will hit this milestone. Last season, in his rookie campaign, he stole an impressive 54 bases. This season he knows the league better and should produce even better numbers across the board. He posted a very solid .361 OBP, but there is still room to grow.
With a few more walks above the 57 he had last season, and a little improvement above his .285 AVG, he’ll be on base more and have more opportunities to run. He’s at the top of a very solid lineup, who wants him in scoring position. He scored 116 runs last year. The only number that works against him is his combined extra base hits. Last season he hit an amazing 65 extra base hits (30 doubles, 10 triples and 25 HRs).
Although there are other players who could possibly get to this lofty number, Carroll has the unique skill set to reach it. Ruiz has the speed, but not the ability to get on base enough, with only a career .301 OBP. And at some point, Acuna will realize he’s too valuable to risk an injury stealing so much. Carroll has the whole package, fantastic bat to ball skills and the ability to get on base.