Among the new rules for the 2023 MLB season, the league introduced bigger bases that are now three inches bigger on each side. Additionally, the league is now limiting the number of pickoff attempts during each plate appearance. These rules are designed to increase stolen bases, but are the Atlanta Braves a team that's equipped to run?
The newer bases were used in AAA last season, and steals increased by over 1500 steals from 2019, with fewer caught stealings overall. For teams that can run, the benefits can be substantial.
Will bigger bases help the Atlanta Braves?
Last season, the Braves finished 15th in the league in stolen bases with 87. This was two behind the Pittsburgh Pirates and four ahead of both the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners.
The bulk of these steals came from just three players, however. Ronald Acuña Jr. led the team with 29 steals, Michael Harris II finished second on the team with 20, and Dansby Swanson finished the third with 18.
If you take away these three players steals, the rest of the Braves only had 20 stolen bases. Vaughn Grissom finished with the fourth-most steals with five.
With Swanson leaving for Chicago, this offseason, it might appear at first glance that the Braves only have two legitimate base stealers on the club. If you were to look at the team's sprint speed chart, this looks to be the case.
Of the top-10 fastest Braves in 2022, only Michael Harris II (the fastest at 29.4 ft/sec), Ronald Acuña Jr. (the second-fastest at 28.5 ft/sec), Austin Riley (eighth-fastest at 27.8 ft/sec), and Eddie Rosario (10th-fastest at 27.6 ft/sec) remain on the team.
While Rosario has had a history of running in his career, with 53 career stolen bases, Austin Riley just stole his first career base last season and only had two total last year.
Newcomer Eli White is also a great base stealer with 98th-percentile sprint speed. Last season with the Rangers, the outfielder stole 12 bases in 13 attempts. However, his struggles with the bat (67 wRC+) make him far from a guarantee to make the Opening Day roster.
Sam Hilliard, another offseason acquisition who's fighting for a roster spot, has 85th-percentile speed, has stolen 15 bases in his career, and has only been caught once.
Of course, you might notice that I haven't mentioned one Brave who is a proficient base stealer. 2022 was an off-year for Ozzie Albies, and base running was one area where he wasn't at his usual standard.
After being no lower than the 80th percentile in speed since he first broke into the bigs, Ozzie Albies' 27.5 ft/sec speed was only in the 54th percentile, good for the 11th fastest on the Braves. Additionally, after stealing 20 bases in 24 chances in 2021 (83.3% success rate), Albies only stole three bags in eight chances (37.5% success rate).
At first glance, it like Albies had a steep decline in speed last season. However, it might be more of a reflection in how sprint speed is calculated.
Sprint speed is calculated by taking the best 67.7% of runs to first base. The data throws out the bottom 33.3% of runs because it tries to eliminate instances where runners are not going at full speed.
This, of course, isn't perfect, and Albies had a pull rate that was eight percentage points higher than average. So, despite having a groundball rate that was over five points lower than the league average, Albies had a bunch of these (okay, maybe not a bunch of balls deflecting off the 1B), but a bunch of right side groundball):
Albies still had 3 bolts, which is any run that's above 30 ft/sec. It was the fourth most on the team, behind Harris, Acuña, and Swanson (no one else on the team had a single bolt). With the new base rules and a healthy season, Albies will certainly benefit after a disappointing 2022.
For Acuña, Harris, and Albies – the players on the team who already run – bigger bases and pickoffs limited to two per plate appearance will certainly incentive them to run even more. It'd be shocking if the team had fewer steals in 2023 than in 2022. Acuña himself has already stated he plans on running more in a recent article in the Athletic.
""Definitely with the rule change, it’s something to take into consideration. But we’ve got to get there first.”"- Ronald Acuña Jr.
Despite his slower-than-average speed, Vaughn Grissom had a 71% success rate on steals, and might be one of the bigger beneficiaries of bigger bases.
If Hilliard and White make the team, bigger bases will likely encourage them to run more than their career norms (Hilliard only averages 11 steals per 162 games and White averages 21 steals per 162 games).
However, for the rest of the team, don't expect fewer pickoffs and bigger bases to turn players like Orlando Arcia and Sean Murphy into and Tony Womack and Jason Kendall. They didn't steal before, and they won't be stealing this year.