Larger bases and less pick offs
In an apparent effort to limit injuries, first, second, and third base will all be larger in 2023, going from 15 inches square to 18 inches square. The larger bases were used last year in the minors, and according to MLB.com reduced injury events at or near bases by more than 13%.
Everyone can agree that reducing injuries is good for the game, but there is another potential effect of larger bases than may impact the game. Again per MLB.com, the larger bases mean that the distance between home plate and the first base has been reduced by three inches. The distances from first to second base and from second to the third base have each been decreased by 4.5 inches.
Again, as a fan of “small ball,” I expect this will lead to more stolen bases, especially considering the new rules limiting the number of pick-off attempts and step-offs available to pitchers per batter. Under the new rules, a pitcher is only allowed two pick-off attempts or two steps off the rubber per batter. According to MLB.com, stolen base attempts were up 26% last year in the minors after these rules were implemented.
The reduced distance between bases may also lead to more bunts and hit-and-runs, and more aggressive base running, which are all good for the game. Frankly, I am tired of hitters always swinging for the fences and striking out over 30% of the time. What Cardinal fan who is old enough to remember the 1982 team, as I am, did not love watching that team manufacture runs on its way to beating the Brewers in the World Series?
As for the 2023 Cardinals, they do have some team speed and I expect them to benefit from this rule change. Tyler O’Neill’s sprint speed, per Baseball Savant, is the 97th percentile in baseball. If he can stay on the field, he may swipe twenty bags or more. Tommy Edman stole 32 bases last year and could steal as many as 40 or more this year.
No one can predict how many additional bases the Cardinals will steal in 2023, or when or if those steals or more aggressive baserunning will decide close games. I can tell you that the Cardinals, and baseball as a whole, should be more enjoyable to watch.