When Major League Baseball adopted its new rules, a primary focus was the need to increase in-game action. To encourage base stealing, MLB implemented larger bases (4.5 fewer inches between bases); limited the amount of time allowed to pass between pitches; and curtailed pitchers’ ability to hold runners on base (only two step-offs from the rubber).
So far, it’s working.
According to Baseball Reference, in 2023, stolen base attempts are up, going from 0.69 in 2022 to 0.89 in 2023. In addition, the percentage of bases stolen successfully has also increased — 0.51 to 0.71, respectively. (The number runners caught stealing has only increased slightly: 0.17 in 2022 and 0.18 in 2023).
Stealing bases has provided a strategy for teams to improve their offense, a point especially well-illustrated by the Pittsburgh Pirates who lead MLB with 41 stolen bases. They are followed by the Cleveland Guardians with 35. The Pirates currently are atop the NL Central, and although stolen bases aren’t the only reason, they have clearly helped.
Then there are the Rockies who are ranked 29th with six stolen bases. Three of those belong to Brenton Doyle, who has been with the Rockies for only a week. Having Doyle has made the Rockies a better team on the base paths, a point Bud Black acknowledged last week:
“To have that element of speed — he brings the power element, too — that’s a different type of addition to an offense,” manager Bud Black said. “We needed a little spark, and he was able to provide that with the stolen base. One guy can put pressure on the opponent … it would be nice to have a couple more, but that’s not our roster.”
“That’s not our roster.”
Let’s take a moment to parse that statement.
The Rockies are one of the slowest teams in baseball. Here’s what Baseball Savant shows:
Now consider the sprint speeds of individual Rockies, again, as measured by Baseball Savant.
Only four players have above-average sprint speeds; the rest of the roster is decidedly slow. Three of the Rockies’ free-agent signings are among the slowest players on the team. In short, MLB changed the rules to give teams that emphasized contact and speed an advantage. The Rockies chose not to build a team to exploit that opportunity.
The best explanation, then, is that the Rockies worked under the assumption that they were building a team for power, not speed. After all, who needs stolen bases when a team is hitting home runs?
Unfortunately, that strategy has not worked, either.
Currently, the Rockies are 25th in terms of home runs with 22. Tampa Bay leads MLB with 61 followed by the Dodgers with 47. Interestingly enough, the Dodgers have not been especially good at stealing bases. They have stolen 17, which is the 22nd-most in baseball (but still more almost three times the Rockies’ total). However, the Dodgers are making up for that offensive lack by hitting home runs and scoring runs (146, which is eighth in MLB). Incidentally, the Pirates are fourth with 156 runs, a totally surely increased via the stolen base.
Clearly, this could change for the Rockies. After all, they doubled their stolen base total in a week by promoting Brenton Doyle — and Doyle is a clear example of speed’s importance in 2023 baseball.
Whether the Rockies will reconfigure their roster to exploit this new facet of the game remains unclear.
Coors Field Attendance
I’m going to start tracking Coors Field attendance in my Rockpiles because this seems a good an measure of fan dissatisfaction.
Bear two things in mind. First, it’s early, so these trends will change. Second, there are plenty of distractions. School is still in session, and the Avalanche and Nuggets have been playing postseason games, which probably affects the Rockies’ attendance. (Read Kenneth Weber’s analysis here.)
According to ESPN, 332,550 have attended 13 games at Coors Field in 2023. That number ranks 16th in baseball. The average Coors Field game attendance is 27,712.
As a benchmark, in 2022, the average game attendance at Coors Field was 32,467.
Again, it’s much too soon to draw any conclusions, but so far, attendance is down. (Read Maury Brown for more on early 2023 attendance trends.)
We’ve seen two recent releases of MLB’s City Connect uniforms, this time the Rangers (uh, not good!) and the Mariners (very cool!). Joon Lee has kept an up-to-date ranking of the City Connect uniforms, placing the Mariners fourth (seems about right), and the Rangers ninth (uh, okay…). The Colorado Rockies continue to hold the top spot.
Thomas Harding spoke with Riley Feltner about how he and his older brother, Ryan, study and coordinate pitching analysis. The younger Feltner is a student at Kent State and works as a pitching coach at Walsh Jesuit. (You can read his blog, “Baseball and Data,” here.) The elder Feltner’s improvement has been the result of a number of factors, but Riley has been a big part of it.
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