PHOENIX - Among a series of radical rule changes for the 2023 season in Major League Baseball is a more subtle switch: the bases got bigger.
The most simple reason for the change -- from 15 inches squared to 18 inches -- stems from the fact that players' feet are much bigger than they were back when the former base size was established. Going a step further, more room on the base for larger feet means less injury risk for runners and defenders both. But the change also has a chance to alter the scorecard too. Logic tells us that less distance between the bases -- even fractionally so -- means more chance for stolen bases.
Here's where we'll also also note that pitchers are now only allowed to "disengage" from the rubber twice per plate appearance. He doesn't even have to throw to the base in a pickoff attempt. Just simply stepping off the rubber is a disengagement. If he steps off a third time, the pickoff must be successful or the move will be called a balk and the runner advances anyway.
In speaking with dozens of players in a week at spring training in Arizona, nearly everyone believes stolen bases are going to have a huge 2023 season.
"I really like (the new bases), honestly. They give you a little more room when you're turning double plays and they give you room at first base to not run into the first baseman," said one player. "The extra inches on every side is great.
"With the pitch clock and the step-off rule, it's gonna be a big year for stolen bases."
One player called 2023 "the year of the stolen base."
Some players who haven't run much talked about wanting to get back into it. Among them? Cubs first baseman Trey Mancini, who has two career stolen bases and none since 2019.
"I don't know all the advanced metrics, but one thing that I do know is that stolen bases are gonna go up for sure," he said.
"I might try at least to pick and choose," he continued. "I haven't had a bag in five years, but I know I'm capable of doing it. That's something we're big on here and we're gonna try to take advantage of it. It's something I'd like to bring back into my game."
"With the bases and the rule," said another player, "it definitely gives you more confidence in taking the base with split seconds determining things."
"Baseball is a game of milliseconds," pointed out a catcher.
"I'm sure the bang-bang plays as we go we'll notice they are safe more than it normally has been," noted a veteran catcher.
"With the rule changes in general, it should probably promote more steals," said an infielder.
"I would imagine there will be more stolen bases," said another. "Whether it's due to the pickoffs/disengagement rule from the pitcher or the bigger bases, it's a big difference. I would imagine there will be quite a few more stolen base attempts. I think in general that I'd wanna be looking to run regardless, but this certainly helps."
Just a few weeks into camp, the players had already gotten used to the bigger bags. "I'm so used to it by now," Mancini said. "At first I was like, 'oh my gosh, that's massive.' It was like 'wow that looks ridiculous' but now I don't think twice about it."
It would be fun to see a big increase in steals. The MLB average in successful stolen bases has been about 0.5 per game from 2015-22. Back in the 1980s, it was routinely in the 0.7s and topped out at 0.85 in 1987. I'm not sure it's possible to get that those kind of heights, but getting back to something like 0.73 per game (1995) would be great. Stolen bases in Triple-A did spike with the bigger bases when experimented and the players who have shuttled back and forth between Triple-A and the majors recently noted that baserunning was definitely easier with the larger bases.
The opinions were not unanimously positive, however. Two of baseball's biggest names had negative thoughts.
"I'm not a really big fan of the bigger bases," said Fernando Tatis, Jr. "I don't know, you don't get the same push that you used to. It's taller and I feel like there's gonna be more turning ankles this year."
"The ones we used in the first couple days here, I hated it" Juan Soto said. "They were soft and they were turning everybody's ankles. They need to make sure it's hard enough that we can step on it and then, I'd have no problem with it."
Hopefully Padres camp got a bad batch early in camp.
In general, though, it seems like we're going to see a lot more chances taken on the bases this season. Oh, and there is one more thing.
"Just notice that now if you miss the base you're a complete idiot," quipped a veteran player.