3,000 stolen bases recorded for 1st time since 2012

11 crazy facts about this year's rush of steals

September 9th, 2023

Catchers, look away. With Phillies second baseman Bryson Stott's steal in the fourth inning at Citizens Bank Park on Friday, Major League Baseball recorded its 3,000th stolen base of the season, and reaching that mark is a notable milestone.

While not a first in and of itself, it's been a while since we've seen anything quite like this. MLB players last collectively stole 3,000 or more bases in 2012. That doesn't seem so long ago, until we put it like this -- although the still-active Mike Trout led baseball with 49 steals that year, the top five (six, technically) was rounded out by Rajai Davis (46), Everth Cabrera (44), Michael Bourn (42), José Reyes and Ben Revere (40).

The "why," primarily, comes down to the rule changes passed for the 2023 season, in particular the addition of the pitch timer, which gives pitchers just 20 seconds to deliver a pitch with a runner on base. Along with that came the limit of two disengagements per plate appearance, eliminating the threat of repeated pickoff attempts. The intent was to encourage more activity on the basepaths, and, at this point, it's probably safe to call the effort a rousing success.

That being said, the rampant running isn't just remarkable within the context of the sharp decline in stolen base rates in the 2010s, but also on a much broader scale -- think the entire Live Ball Era, which goes back to 1920. Because even with over three weeks of regular-season baseball left on the schedule, the 2023 season has already broken a few records.

That, of course, is why we're here. Without further ado, and in honor of the 3,000th stolen base of 2023, here are 11 interesting notes to know about this year's rush of steals, with some help from Statcast, powered by Google Cloud.

Numbers below are through Thursday’s games.

  1. At the start of play on Friday, the league-wide stolen base rate was 0.71 per team game. That, over the course of a 162-game season, would project for 3,457 steals. If MLB reaches that total, it would be the second highest of the Live Ball Era (since 1920), trailing only 1987 (when there were still just 26 MLB teams).

Most SB in a season, Live Ball Era
1. 1987: 3,585
2. 1999: 3,421
3. 1983: 3,325
4. 1986: 3,312
5. 1997: 3,308

  1. If it's been at all jarring watching baserunners take off at the slightest provocation in 2023, there's a good reason for that. In 2022, Major Leaguers stole 2,486 bases. So, should they maintain their current pace in 2023, we'd see nearly 1,000 more stolen bases than we saw last year. An increase of 971 would represent the largest spike between consecutive full seasons in the Live Ball Era.
  1. League-wide counting stats are heavily influenced by a number of factors, though, and 0.71 stolen bases per team game doesn't sound like a whole lot. But that figure is up from 0.51 steals per team game in 2022, the largest single-season jump since 1920. The corresponding 21-point increase in attempts per game is also the largest in that span.
  1. On a micro level, 23 teams have already surpassed their 2022 stolen base totals, with more than three weeks to go. The big winners here are the Reds, who are already up 105 from their 2022 total of 58. Impressive, yes, but hardly surprising, given the youth movement taking over Cincinnati, led by Elly De La Cruz, who has swiped 26 bases in only 80 games and currently holds the fastest average sprint speed in MLB (30.5 ft/sec), per Statcast.
  1. Speaking of sprint speed, Statcast has calculated those since 2015. In that time, there is a pool of 270 team seasons to compare. Incredibly, 11 teams from 2023 had broken into the top 30 as of Friday, with four -- the Reds (28.0 ft/sec), Pirates (28.0), Guardians (27.9) and Phillies (27.9) -- entering the top 10.
  1. No player has become the face of the stolen base bonanza quite like Ronald Acuña Jr., who has dashed and slugged his way to the first 30-60 campaign in history. Acuña leads the Majors with 63 steals -- only A’s rookie Esteury Ruiz (58) is close -- and has the first 70-steal season since 2009 (Jacoby Ellsury) well within his sights.
  1. But this goes far beyond the amazing feats of one player. There are already seven players with 36-plus steals in 2023, and if all of them reach 40, that would be the most since there were eight in 2013. Just one year ago, Miami’s Jon Berti was the lone 40-steal player. A number of standouts are running significantly more than they did in 2022.

Biggest increases in SB, 2022 to ‘23
Min. 400 PA in ‘22
1. Ronald Acuña Jr. (ATL): +34 (29 to 63)
2. Ha-Seong Kim (SD): +19 (12 to 31)
3. Nico Hoerner (CHC): +16 (20 to 36)
4. Bryson Stott (PHI): +15 (12 to 27)
5. Taylor Walls (TB): +12 (10 to 22)

  1. As stolen base rates fell over the last decade, success rates ticked up -- a natural product of only the best baserunners having the green light. And yet, the current league-wide 80.0% success rate is by far the highest in the Live Ball Era, set to shatter the previous record of 75.7% set in 2021. (Notably, the only four seasons in the Live Ball Era with an MLB-wide success rate of at least 75 percent are the past four seasons.) The gap of 4.3 percentage points between 2023 and 2021 is the same as the gap between 2021 and the 17th-best season on the list (2006, 71.4%).
  1. To look at that success another way, consider this: While MLB’s 3,457 projected steals would rank second in the Live Ball Era, as previously mentioned, its 864 projected times caught stealing would be only the 65th most during that 104-year stretch.
  1. Don’t take all of these numbers as an indictment of modern batteries, who are of course contending with the new runner-friendly rules. Far from it, in fact. Potential base-stealers are taking their chances with a group of catchers that is in line to set new Statcast Era records for pop time (1.96 seconds), exchange time (0.67 seconds) and average arm strength (79.4 mph).
  1. That said, for every stolen base, there is someone on the other side. So who has felt the uptick in the running game most acutely in 2023? The White Sox lead the Majors in stolen bases allowed as a team, with 149. Noah Syndergaard, recently released by Cleveland after pitching for the Dodgers and Guardians this year, has the most steals allowed by a pitcher (34), with just one CS. And the Nationals’ Keibert Ruiz has been behind the plate for the most thefts, with runners going 98-for-114 (86.0%) against him and his pitchers.