Stolen Bases in 2023: Notable Thievery

The focus on stolen bases seems to have taken a back seat to other statistics in Major League Baseball in the last few years. Subsequently, steals and the players that achieve them are not as frequently discussed unless they are in high numbers. In the dead-ball era, stealing was a much bigger part of the game. With a drastic lack of home runs, players that had speed, baserunning intelligence, or both were much more coveted than today. In the modern game, these traits are not necessarily overlooked, but the focus seems to have shifted more towards home runs and power. Despite the differences in today’s game versus the game of yesteryear, the stolen base is making a comeback and, with the help of this year’s rule changes, has especially become more prevalent in 2023.

Stolen Bases in 2023: Notable Thievery

Stolen Base Opportunities or SBO

Players who successfully steal bases create higher scoring chances for their team. Consequently, there are clear downsides to stealing, mainly risking a crucial out. A good benchmark for an excellent stolen base percentage is around 85%. All on-base opportunities allow a player to swipe a bag. A stolen base opportunity, or SBO, occurs when a runner is on base with the next bag open. The percentage of steal attempts in these opportunities, regardless of success, can show just how aggressive a potential thief is.

2023 vs. 2022 League Statistics

There have been 2,841 steals this year compared to just 2,486 in all of 2022. Accordingly, the attempt rate is up as well from 5% in 2022 to 6% currently. However, the increase in steals is not necessarily reflected in the uptick in attempts, but rather an increase in successful stolen base percentage. This number has jumped from 75% in 2022 to 80% in the current season. The rise in steals and success rate may have something to do with the new pitching rules implemented for 2023. Below are some players and teams worth noting.

Notable Thieves

Ronald Acuna Jr. leads all of baseball in steals with 61 and owns an 85% stolen base percentage. However, just because the Atlanta Braves slugger and NL MVP candidate is leading in steals does not necessarily mean he is the most aggressive potential thief in baseball. In 280 opportunities, Acuna has only attempted a steal 72 times. This means that given the chance to swipe a bag, Acuna tries to do so 26% of the time.

Esteury Ruiz is statistically the most aggressive base stealer in all of baseball. Ruiz leads the AL in stolen bases with 53 and owns an 85% success rate, having been caught nine times. The statistic to look at is his stolen base attempt percentage. Ruiz has only had 114 steal opportunities. After the math is done, the Oakland A’s speedster attempts to snag the next base 53% of the time. His success rate is pretty good as well, showing Ruiz is making the most of his baserunning situations.

Feats Worth Mentioning

Willi Castro of the Minnesota Twins is worth a glimpse. It’s not because of his 29 steals and 88% success rate, which are solid numbers, but because he has stolen home three times this year. Most steals are of second or third, but stealing home is much less common and much more exciting. 18 players have stolen home this year, and Castro is the only one to have done it multiple times. He has a long way to go if he wants to tie or set the single-season record of stealing home of 8, held by none other than Ty Cobb.

Trea Turner has been known for his wheels since he broke into the Major Leagues. Although his stolen bases numbers are not league-leading, Turner has 23 steals on the year for the Philadelphia Phillies. The most impressive part is his 100% stolen base percentage. He is not the only player with a perfect record, but Turner is the only player with 20 or more stolen bases and a 100% success rate. His 11% attempt rate is lower than in years past, but the Philly speedster has been smart about picking his spots.

Some Teams Steal, Some Don’t

The Cincinnati Reds lead all of baseball as a team with a total of 157 steals on the year. The team owns an 81% success rate and generally attempts to steal 10% of the time, also making them the most aggressive team. TJ Friedl and Elly De La Cruz lead the way with 24 and 23 respectively. The least amount of steals by a team goes to the San Francisco Giants with 47. To further the frustration, the Giants own a 78% stolen base percentage ranking in the bottom third of the league. Thairo Estrada is by far the team leader with 19 steals followed by Michael Conforto with 4.

Main photo credits:

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports