Bigger (More Stolen) Bases!!
I can really only focus my attention on the TMZ end of the White Sox saga for a limited amount of time. I just don’t have the emotional levers that allow me to be outraged for so long. At some point, my analytical brain takes over again (especially when I fuel it properly) and I gotta dig into a problem.
The most recent MLB happening that is interesting to me is the NEW RULES that are going to be a part of the 2023 season. Most importantly, the BIG BASES!
The MLB just doesn’t steal bases like they did in the 1980s. Part of that is the change in composition of the player pool. Another part is the stat heads quantified the value of stealing a base versus getting caught. On average, about 75% efficiency is considered to be breakeven for stolen base attempts. Although, there is a wide band across players and situations, so YMMV, but for this blog, we’ll use 75% as a line in the sand for the discussion.
So, between the BIG BASES, which will reduce the base paths by 4.5 inches and the new (and fairly ambiguous) pick off rules, the league is attempting to add a little bit of an edge to the would be base stealer. I’m very interested in how a team like the White Sox can capitalize on this new opportunity.
Stolen Base Theory
Last year, during the White Sox nightmare season of 2022, I blogged that the team should steal more bases. They were on an all-time pace for efficiency at the time, with an almost 89% success rate (they finished the season at 85.3%, still outstanding). However, mere moments after I pressed “publish” on that blog, Tim Anderson got hurt and so did Luis Robert, the team’s two primary threats.
The theory here is one that I would also assign to bluffing in poker. If you NEVER get caught bluffing in poker, you just aren’t bluffing enough. By not bluffing enough, you are leaving money on the table. The same goes for being super efficient at base stealing. If you are soooo efficient at stealing bases, like the 2022 White Sox were. You are actually being inefficient with the amount of volume. You are costing yourself runs by not attempting MORE STEALS! Let’s figure out who should help out with that in 2023.
Tim Anderson and Luis Robert
The two main cogs in a White Sox stolen base festival are still Tim Anderson and Luis Robert. I boldly stated at 108 day (at Reggie’s LIVE) that I thought Tim Anderson would steal 40 bases in 2023. With the amount of money being given to blue chip shortstops in free agency these days I feel Tim is basically one monster year away from being mentioned in those conversations.
Tim’s career stolen base success rate is 80.6%, he bats at the top of the order and gets on base a ton. If anyone should have the opportunity to harvest large gains on MLB’s new rules, it is he.
Luis Robert has also been pretty much unstoppable on the base paths, logging an 81.3% career stolen base success rate. His situation is a bit different in that being a head first slider, he’s already injured his wrist in an impactful way in 2022. Robert also suffers from likely hitting in the middle of the order, possibly in front of Eloy Jimenez or Andrew Vaughn. That potentially chokes off his opportunities as it is much less profitable to steal bases in front of a home run threat.
Regardless, Robert’s prodigiousness in stealing in the old world of base paths should lead to a monster opportunity here. YOLO kids. The White Sox are projected to be a .500 or less team, take every edge given to you, even if there is injury risk included.
Nobody is getting more pub from the White Sox front office / PR machine for as little actual accomplishments in the infancy stages of the 2023 season than Romy. Jim Margalus even dedicated an entire post to this phenomenon. Romy hasn’t really run in the majors, probably because he hasn’t been on base much. However, given his sprint speed, as well as his high success rate in the minors, 50 stolen bases in 62 attempts for 80.6 percent success rate, Romy seems like a prime candidate to take advantage of the additional edge provided by the bigger bases.
I know you have feelings about Leury Legend. I know he had a terrible year last year. You blame his mere presence on Tony LaRussa and you simultaneously blame his pittance of an annual salary as to why the White Sox can’t do more with the roster. But just for a minute, stfu. Leury is still on this team. He’s likely your utility man when the boys head to Houston for the lid-lifter in late March. And, contrary to popular belief (and some hilarious evidence), he’s still a very good base runner.
Legend had very strong sprint speed numbers in 2022 (see the table in the Romy Gonzalez section of this blog). He’s also a very good base stealer. Leury’s career base stealing success rate is 79%, but since 2018, he’s 35 out of 43 for a shade above 81%. He should be weaponized aggressively, anytime he’s drawing a start or even when he’s sent in to run for some of our more languid pacers.
Of course Billy Hamilton fits this bill if / when he becomes part of the White Sox roster. His lack of on-base abilities would limit his chances theoretically. Jake Marisnick too, might benefit from the rule changes and push his 73.1% career success rate above the threshold of profitability. The White Sox are a team hanging around in projected mediocrity so taking some leveraged gambles seems appropriate. Hopefully, Pedro Grifol will be open to all edges that present themselves. That’s at least the way he’s presenting in the early portions of his tenure.