It's a game of inches for basestealers this season

It is reasonable to wonder how many more stolen bases we will see in the majors this coming season with the new rules in place. Those who can run may get more chances than in previous seasons. It’s fair to wonder what that could mean for the team with the two top basestealers in the American League last year: the Orioles.

Shortstop Jorge Mateo stole 35 bases on 44 attempts to lead the AL in 2022, and his teammate Cedric Mullins was second, just one base behind, getting 34-of-44. Tampa Bay’s Randy Arozarena stole 32 bases, and then came Bobby Witt Jr. of Kansas City with 30.

By leading the AL, Mateo became the third Oriole (fourth occurrence) to lead the league in steals, joining Brian Roberts (2007) and Luis Aparicio (1963 and 1964). He is the sixth O's player (eighth time) since 2000 with at least 35 stolen bases.

As a team, the Orioles stole 95 bases (with Mateo and Mullins producing nearly 73 percent of that) to rank tied for fifth in the AL and tied for 11th in the majors. It was a big jump from Baltimore’s 54 steals in 2021, which was tied for 12th-most in the AL.

So they return two of the top basestealers at a time when stealing bases could become easier. Or it sure appears they could.

The bigger bases (going from 15 to 18 square inches) mean that the distance between first and second base and between second and third base is now 4.5 inches shorter. How many bang-bang plays do we see, and how many replays do we get of very close plays on steal attempts at second? Those 4.5 inches could mean more successful steals on some of those attempts.

Add to this the rule change that now limits a pitcher to just two disengagements per plate appearance. A disengagement is a pickoff attempt and/or when the pitcher steps off the rubber. Pitchers can make a third pickoff throw, but if they don’t get the runner out, a balk is called and the runner is awarded the next base. So that would not technically be a steal, being safe on a third throw over, but it would gain a team 90 feet.

It will be interesting to track if leads become bigger and by how much after the second pickoff attempt. How much real estate can a basestealer gain and still be safe if the pitcher throws over? Guess we are going to find out.

There are also those who believe the pitch clock can help basestealers get jumps when the clock is about to run out.

All of this is to be determined, and it will all be a learning experience as the new rules play out for players, coaches, fans and media alike.

I have seen some estimate that we will see 25 percent more steals and steal attempts.

So this season, will we see some teams win games with the running game? And will the Orioles be one of those clubs?

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