How Many More Stolen Bases Under the New MLB Rules?

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Just How Much Could Stolen Bases Jump This Year?

Chicago Cubs

The Cubs have made a handful of higher-profile free agent additions this offseason (Dansby Swanson, Trey Mancini, Jameson Taillon, etc.). But one under-the-radar signing, a minor league deal for speedy outfielder Ben DeLuzio, has me thinking: What are the Cubs — or all of MLB, for that matter — thinking is about to happen to the stolen base game?

As you know, the 2023 MLB season has a bunch of different on-field rules coming, which will impact the game on a daily basis. Among those rules, you’ll find a limitation on pickoff attempts and bigger bases around the diamond. And although MLB is certainly hoping those changes will impact pace-of-play (pickoff limitations) and player safety (bigger bases), there are likely to be some other potential effects. Like, for example, more stolen bases?

This is not a new idea, and increasing stolen base attempts is almost explicitly part of the idea here. But what hasn’t necessarily been discussed is JUST HOW MUCH those attempts could increase in MLB under the new rules.

We have a pretty good data set to start the examination: Minor League Baseball.

These changes were introduced at the lower levels of MiLB beginning in 2021, and were standardized across the minors last season. So I decided to take a look at raw stolen base and caught stealing totals, and you can see the changes:

Stolen Bases

2018: 21,888
2019: 22,368
2021: 20,117
2022: 24,917

Caught Stealing

2018: 10,246
2019: 10,275
2021: 7,111
2022: 7,956

Minor leaguers stole nearly 25K bases last season, compared to just 20-22K from 2018-2021. That is a HUGE increase (from 2021 to 2022, it was a 25% increase). And as you can see, the amount of times players were caught stealing dropped dramatically, from about 10K per season to 7-8K. And that’s just in one season! There hasn’t even been enough time for big picture changes (like player acquisition and strategy) to take effect, likely causing an even bigger spike in the years ahead.

Here’s another way to look at the change, and it’s even more eye-popping:

That is just incredible. An absolutely enormous jump pretty much across the board. Put simply, the new rules seem to have had a dramatic impact on the number of stolen bases in Minor League Baseball, both league-wide and on an individual player basis.

I don’t necessarily think we’ll see quite as significant a jump in Major League Baseball, where the stakes are higher, the defense is better, and the batteries are more experienced, but still. If this is even close to a signal of what’s to come, this game might look a whole lot different than it did last season. And for the last decade, even.

Which brings me back to DeLuzio, and some of the Cubs other additions this offseason:

In 2022, DeLuzio stole 30 bases in the minor leagues in just 94 games. He’s fast. And I think he might quickly become a big part of the Cubs’ MLB strategy, if he were to secure a bench spot. But he’s not the only one who might be sent differently/more often under the new 2023 rules.

Dansby Swanson (18), Nico Hoerner (20), Cody Bellinger (14), and Christopher Morel (10) all had double-digit steals last season. Meanwhile, Ian Happ and Seiya Suzuki (9 each) are theoretical stolen base threats. All six of those players figure to play prominently on the 2023 Cubs. And I think they’re going to run (and be successful) a lot more than we’re used to seeing. And with a general lack of power on the team, that may prove crucial to their success this season.


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Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami