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More Stolen Bases: Good for Fans and Bad for Pitchers

Updated: Aug 23

by John May @juandemayo

Disengagement limits on pitchers and bigger bases have base runners on the go way more this Major League Baseball season than last year.

This makes the game more fun to watch for fans but makes things stressful for pitchers, and is leading to higher Earned Run Averages.

In previous years, games used to drag on and on with repeated throws to first when a speedy runner got on base. This season, the limit of two throws to first has led to fewer throws to first and more stolen bases. There is the option of a third throw where you must pick the runner off, but that has not been used (at least not very often).

The base stealing numbers at the approximate halfway point in the season (when I did the math, everyone was at just over 81 games) are on pace to obliterate last season’s total. The number of stolen bases halfway through this season is 1,810, and the total number of stolen bases in 2022 was 2,486. I am not a math whiz, but by my calculations, 2023 is significantly outpacing 2022.

A less discussed, but another advantage for runners are the bigger bases, which favor them on close plays at second (which many still are), making the risk of stealing a base more worth the reward.

The fewer throw overs and more runners on the move have made MLB more exciting for fans. The repeated throw overs, especially if someone was loosening up in the bullpen, made the game unwatchable on TV at times.

This season when you turn on a game, you are going to get legit action for a little over two hours, as opposed to over three hours of some action and some put you to sleep tosses to first base. Not to mention pitchers wandering around the mound like strolling through the park (another improvement is the pitch clock).

On the flip side, pitchers are not enjoying themselves with the new base runner rules. Their Earned Run Averages through the halfway point are up compared to last year. This season the average team ERA at the approximate halfway point is 3.83, compared to 3.71 in 2022. The ERA number is only likely to go up with the remainder of the season featuring summer months, where the ball carries more than the cold of April in some parks.

Pitchers also face more stress, with some runners getting what amounts to an automatic stolen base thanks to their speed and some weak throwing catchers. They face pressure to get that next hitter out and can’t rely on a double play like they could in years past.

Ultimately the new rules are great for the game. They have turned baseball into a product for the fans at the stadium and on TV. Pitchers need to adjust in the offseason by developing better pick-off moves or more strikeout-inducing pitches.

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