The bases being used by Major League Baseball this year have been embiggened, and now the amount of terrain needing to be safely covered by would-be base stealers has been reduced by some 4.5 inches. Safety, therefore, is more easily attainable than ever, and that’s before you factor in the new reductions on the number of times pitchers can throw over to hold runners on-base.
The early results in spring training have been exactly what many of us hoped - players are trying to swipe bags more often, and they’re having a hell of a good time doing so. Codify Baseball recently compared where this spring’s swiping sat next to last year’s, and the results are pretty staggering.
2022 spring training:— Codify (@CodifyBaseball) March 15, 2023
268 games, 300 stolen bases, 111 caught stealing
2023 spring training:
264 games, 492 stolen bases, 120 caught stealing
Yeah, that's right.
192 more steals but only 9 more times caught.
There were many statistical categories in which the Cincinnati Reds ranked miserably during the 2022 season, so it’s easy to absolve you of failing to notice that they didn’t do much running. The 58 steals they stole collectively was the 25th most in the game, yet the 33 times they were caught stealing somehow managed to be tied for the 6th most. In other words, they seldom ran and when they did, they were terrible at it.
It was a similar story to their 2021 efforts, as that season saw them steal fewer bags as a team (36) than any other team in the game - and they still managed to get throw out 24 times. Stealing bases under the current regime has been neither priority nor polished.
Will that change with the new rules, however? Will the overhaul from a squad built on the backs of lumbering sluggers to versatile 20-somethings portend a return to havoc on the bases? The way the roster is currently shaping up, there should be a good number of players who, if it became their M.O., could swipe some serious baggage.
TJ Friedl swiped 30 bags during the 2018 minor league season, and has long looked like he could be pretty prolific there at the big league level if ever given the kind of playing time he might see in 2023. Jake Fraley, meanwhile, once swiped 39 bags in a 40 game season for Perth in the Aussie League, and a full, healthy season from him could produce ample swipage. Prior to his hamstring issues a year ago, Jonathan India had the look of a perennial 20/20 leadoff man, and healthy legs could bring that back out in him.
Hell, Wil Myers once stole 28 bags in a single season at the big league level while Joey Votto is (/checks notes) only 20 more steals away from 100 in his career!
Only four players across the entirety of spring ball have swiped more than the 5 bags stolen by Will Benson so far as he continues to show how his speed could make him an asset to his new club. Then there’s Elly De La Cruz fresh off a 48 steal campaign across the minors in 2022, and you can rest assured that the moment he makes it to the big league level he’ll be flying around the bases as soon as he touches 1B the first time.
Who ends up leading the group might well be the player who ends up playing most often, a qualifying statement that is why I’ve not yet mentioned Nick Senzel, a player who should be defined a bit by his speed should he ever be around to show it off. 600+ PA from any of these guys might well ink them into the team lead, but the overriding point here is that all of them, when given the chance to play, should be running more this year than ever.
They’ll hardly be unique in capitalizing on those new rules, but at least the way they’ve constructed their roster suggests they’re giving it more priority than just adapting to the new rules. The result is that these Reds will be running, and running often.