How Rule Changes Affect Stolen Bases for Fantasy Baseball

by Dap Scout
How Rule Changes Affect Stolen Bases for Fantasy Baseball

There are rule changes coming in 2023, but you need the answers for how rule changes affect stolen bases for Fantasy Baseball. Well we got you covered.

Waiting for the right time to pick a stolen base artist (a player with sub .250 average, less than 15 home runs, but can deliver 25+ stolen bases), has become more of a matter of roster pain tolerance than skill the past few years. Have you added enough high-average players to offset the stolen base specialist's hole in your lineup?

In 2023 this is all supposed to change. Joey Gallo will steal 40 bases! Jon Berti will go from 41 stolen bases to 100! Everyone is going to get a puppy! All this excitement is based on a few rule changes that were tested in the minors already. We have the data, so let's take a deeper dive.

How Rule Changes Affect Stolen Bases for Fantasy Baseball

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I have done several mock drafts at this point and I am starting to see a trend: stolen bases do not carry the value they did in the past. Should that be the case?

The MLB rule changes that will affect stolen bases

In 2023 there will be several rule changes that will go into effect. The main ones we should look at that will affect stolen bases are the following (from MLB.com):

  • Pitchers are limited to two disengagements (pickoff attempts or step-offs) per plate appearance. However, this limit is reset if a runner or runners advance during the plate appearance.
  • The four infielders must be within the outer boundary of the infield when the pitcher is on the rubber.
  • Infielders may not switch sides. In other words, a team cannot reposition its best defender on the side of the infield the batter is more likely to hit the ball.
  • The bases, which traditionally have been 15 inches square, will instead be 18 inches square.

To review, pitchers cannot keep a runner close to the bag by constantly throwing over to first. The second and third rules focus on the extreme infield shifts we have been seeing that have destroyed batting averages. The last rule is supposed to help reduce oversliding.

I don't buy how 4 1/2 inches will stop oversliding but if it stops runners from being tagged out after they already got to second base because they have to do a small hop or stumble step, then I am all for it.

A preview of what is to come?

J.J. Cooper wrote an excellent article "What the Minor League Data Says About New MLB Rules Changes", summarizing the rule changes in the minors and what effects they seem to have on players.

Here are a few highlights from the article:

  • "In 2021, in the first half with smaller bases, Pacific Coast League teams stole .66 bases per game at a 75% success rate.
  • In the second half of the season, with the larger bases, they stole .61 bases per game at a 75% success rate.
  • The International League saw steals go up from .76 stolen bases per game with smaller bases to .83 bases with the larger bases, but the success rate dipped from 77% with smaller bases to 76% with larger bases."

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Why didn't the success rate increase?

We all expected the steal attempts to go up, but why did the success rate go down (or in the case of the PCL the rate stayed the same)?

I was out of my depth so I reached out to Professor Emeritus Dr. David Kagan at California State University at Chico, who wrote Stolen Base Physics.

I asked him what he thought if the base size rule change would have much of an effect next year, Dr. Kagan said, "As I said in the paper, the real key is the speed of the runner. That is why only the fastest players even attempt a stolen base. The extra 4.5 inches will increase the success rate of the fastest runners. In addition, slightly slower runners will be able to attempt stolen bases. The idea, as you know, is to add more excitement and offense to the game."

The bottom line is more players are attempting to steal bases that shouldn't attempt a stolen base (Think Daniel Vogelbach) which is driving the overall success rate down. However, the success rate of the top base stealers is going to go up.

Who should you target with this information?

The top 10 players with the most caught stealing are:

  1. Randy Arozarena (12)
  2. Ronald Acuna Jr. (11)
  3. Cedric Mullins (10)
  4. Starling Marte (9)
  5. Jorge Mateo (9)
  6. Shohei Ohtani (8)
  7. Bo Bichette (8)
  8. Dylan Moore (8)
  9. Marcus Semien (7)
  10. Christopher Morel (7)
  11. Rafael Ortega (7)
  12. Jose Ramirez (7)
  13. Dansby Swanson (7)

What jumps out immediately is, WOW, Randy Arozarena got caught stealing 12 times! With the 69th fastest sprint speed (28.8), maybe the rule change will help him. Or he may just need to be smarter on the base paths.

The second thing? Most of these players are already being drafted in the first three rounds. I would bump up Dylan Moore an extra round but nothing is really changing my draft grades on any of these players from this information.

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Final Verdict

2023 should mark the end of having to draft a player like Jorge Mateo who will destroy your batting average, just for his stolen base numbers. There will be plenty of stolen bases to go around and I expect you should be able to find enough 10-15 stolen base players to build a balanced roster.


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2 comments

rick December 20, 2022 - 6:30 am

when combining the rule changes you mentioned with the time adjustments for the pitchers, it would seem the time clock could play a larger role in SB success than the base size.

Reply
Dap Scout December 20, 2022 - 9:42 am

Rick, that is a great point. My internal debate went something like this: A pitcher could feel locked into getting the ball delivered before the time clock expires. Which means less focus on the runner. But a pitcher can also reset the clock by throwing to first. So they might be more inclined to hold the ball till the last second. I wasn’t sure which way to go for the article. Looking forward to see how it plays out this season.

Reply

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