2023 Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep: Get ready for stolen base chaos amid rule changes

Welcome to pre-draft season, the time of year when I’m expected to answer every question.

And I’m happy to play along, for the most part. I’ll offer my best guess on how Oneil Cruz will perform, what the Yankees intend to do as a shortstop, and who is best suited for the AL Rookie of the Year. What about fantasy baseball? Damn, I’ll tell you who to draft every round if you want.

Just don’t ask me how many stolen bases anyone will have. It is too far.

Oh, do you think it’s within my capacity that I should be able to look at what has already been and develop reasonable expectations about what should be? Most of the time, I would agree with you, but this year MLB is introducing a rule change that threatens to make all past donations moot. I’m talking about something so transformative that the data heads just aren’t ready for it.

By now, you’ve probably heard some rumors about it, but you may not have seen how all the dots are connected. First, a little background…

Baseball is undergoing a transformation that is quite deliberate, very ambitious and, dare I say, very belated. The goal is to make it more watchable, and while the methods to achieve this are new, the end result should be familiar, i.e. a game defined not so much by home runs and strikeouts as by sports play on the field and on the base paths.

What I call Phase 1 of this transformation happened in the last two years when there was a crackdown on sticky substances (once again accent this year) to curb total runaway strikeouts and baseball skimming to normalize runaway home run totals. What I call Phase 2 starts this year with a whole host of additional changes.

At the beginning of this spring, the news headlines were dominated by filing hours in particular. This is the most global change that both players and viewers will have to get used to. But it’s actually the subsection of the same rule that will have the most impact on a fantasy game.

The working word is “disengagement”. Pitchers are allowed two per batter. Disconnects cover all sorts of reasons for getting out of the rubber, but the main one is attempts to grab the ball. Two chances. That’s all the pitcher gets.

Now you might think that this is all he needs. It’s not often that we see a pitcher get into a rut, throwing to first base over and over again with the same batter on the plate—sometimes, yes, but not so much that we miss it. However, if you think that behavior will not change in the light of this rule, then you do not understand the inner workings of competing people.

Now the runner stimulus toss the pitcher twice, because after the second one appears, it will go to the races, more or less. Jug Maybe throw a third time again, but he won’t unless he’s sure he can pin the runner. Because if he doesn’t nail the runner, it’s going to be a bulk.

So you can expect to see more targeted leads. even more leads taken for the purpose of, well, taking off.

Don’t believe me? That’s how it played out in the juveniles. In 2019, the last full year with no pick limit, there were 2.23 stolen base attempts per game. Last year there were 2.83. What’s more, the success rate for stolen bases has gone up from 68 percent to 77 percent.

MLB knows players will run more in light of this rule change. This is a feature, not a bug. Their own research shows that an increase at the major league level, commensurate with the growth of the minors, will return the league to the stolen base numbers of the early 2000s.

So let’s look back at the very beginning of the 2000s, the same year 2000. Then Luis Castillono Another) led the majors with 62 stolen bases while two other players had at least 50. Last year, John Bertie led the majors with 41 stolen bases and no other player even had 40. Meanwhile, 42 players stole 20 or more bases in the year 2000. compared to 24 last year.

And here’s the thing: I think the rise in the Majors could go beyond even the rise of the Minors, bringing us back to levels we haven’t seen since…hell, who knows when? The *Moneyball* era emphasized efficiency, which led to the fact that stolen bases fell out of favor, at least in large companies. Of course, all big players are focused on winning, and in the name of winning, calculating the risk of stealing a base was generally considered impractical. Minors are more like an individual showcase where players push the boundaries for the sake of development. This includes stealing more bases, even if the risk of getting caught is higher. Comparatively speaking, the minor leagues were already wild.

Simply put, there is more room for improvement in major league totals when they were initially suppressed. Do you know how I said minor league success went from 68 percent to 77 percent with these rule changes? Well, the success rate in the big leagues was already 75 percent last year, which is less about how better major league players are than about how much more carefully they are. What if these rule changes increase that to 80 percent or more? Of course, the risk calculation would change then. If the stolen bases go from being a risky proposition to a profitable one, then phew, I don’t think we can even imagine the amount of the stock increase.

So what does this mean for a fantasy game? First, let me point out that in leagues using a traditional 5×5 scoring system (such as the Rotisserie), where stolen bases are their own important category, it means much more than scoring where stolen bases are valuable but not significant. In those 5v5 leagues where stolen bases matter the most, I can see that attitudes towards them haven’t changed at all. It’s no secret that there will soon be more of them—everyone in the pundit class lip service to it—but not everyone accounts for it properly, or at all.

Deprogramming is required and I would say that was true even before these rule changes were announced. What defined the past era even more than the stolen base deficit was household surplus. The disparate availability of these two starts meant that stolen bases were huge in drafts, so you were expected to draft any stolen bases until they were all gone, all other considerations were secondary. Judging by the ADP, this is still a pending.

But it shouldn’t be. Phase 1 of the MLB plan, dehydrating the baseball and cutting back on home runs, cuts half the incentive to sell to steal. Home runs aren’t as plentiful anymore, which means there aren’t that many stolen bases. Here is the ratio of stolen bases for every home run up to 2000:

Stolen bases for every home run by year

















































A couple of things stand out here. One is that the early 2000s are as good as the early 2010s when it comes to the prevalence of stolen bases. How quickly we forget everything. Secondly, the three-year period leading up to last year is a clear exception to the stolen base shortage, and it seems to me that this is still the period we are most used to. Last year was a big step in a different direction, and it is clear that this year we will take an even bigger step.

So what would the ratio be if we combined the stolen bases of 2000 with the home runs of 2022? Try 56.1, which compares to some of the highest numbers in the last 23 years. And again, I think this increase could push us even into that 2000 range.

“That’s all well and good,” you might be thinking, “but if the drafters’ behavior doesn’t change to reflect this new reality, then am I stuck doing the same thing? after all, from stolen bases.” Of course, but it all depends on how this stolen base increase manifests itself. I don’t think it will be just an amplifier for the few who are already good at it. The expected increase is too great to be distributed among so few. This will most likely make the stolen bases available to a group that previously didn’t count.

Just as the juice era has democratized home runs, I expect stolen bases to democratize. We’ll see players who weren’t a factor before all of a sudden put in 12, 15 or even 20+ points, making that early-stage steal investment less profitable. By the way, this is why I feel uncomfortable predicting anyone’s stolen base for 2023. It is impossible to say where these new sources will come from. I can make an educated guess based on factors like sprint speed, but the correlation between speed and performance at that speed has never been particularly strong.

So what am I asking you to do with this information? In short, don’t get so hung up on stolen bases in 5v5 checkers. If you can get a solid base stealer that doesn’t require you to make big sacrifices in other areas – and of course in the first round it’s possible – then great. Have it. The bigger, the better. But if you make it your primary goal just because that’s how you’re used to handling stolen bases, then by the time the final count comes up, you may end up with too much of that and not enough of everything else. That’s why I prefer Kyle Schwarber over Randy Arozarena and Corey Seeger over Cedric Mullins.

Plus, as I wrote elsewherethe end of the juice ball era has also brought a return…


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