Caught in the Act? You're No Trea Turner.

In the 2023 season, the Phillies’ shortstop, Trea Turner, has achieved a perfect 30-for-30 in stolen base attempts, a remarkable feat attributed to the new rules in baseball. With the playoffs underway, it’s evident that Major League Baseball’s sweeping rule changes have significantly impacted the game: games are nearly 25 minutes shorter, batting averages have risen, and Turner has emerged as the fastest player on the field.

Turner, the star shortstop who secured a $300 million free-agent contract with the Philadelphia Phillies in December, has etched his name into the record books for speedsters. He’s successfully stolen 30 bases this season without being caught once, a feat no player had accomplished before. The previous record, held by Chase Utley in 2009, stood at 23-for-23.

Teammate Bryce Harper, a superstar in his own right, lauded Turner’s achievement, calling it an “unbelievable feat.” Turner himself expressed surprise at the news, saying, “I don’t know why—I would have thought that it would have been higher.”

Regardless, Turner’s pursuit of perfection exemplifies the renaissance of base stealing across the league. In the 2023 season, players have stolen nearly 3,500 bases, the highest since 1987. More notably, the success rate of prospective base stealers has exceeded 80%, an all-time high.

This surge in stolen bases is a boon for MLB, which aimed to infuse more action and athleticism into the sport. In 2023, attendance has risen by 9% from the previous year, and it’s about 3% higher than in 2019, the last year before the pandemic shutdown.

Baseball sought to create an environment conducive to stolen bases, though interestingly, none of the rule changes implemented were primarily focused on increasing base stealing. Yet, nothing has had a more significant impact on the game than this boom in stolen bases, influencing how baseball is played on the field and potentially determining the next World Series champion.

When MLB introduced its new rules in September, the pitch clock and the ban on dramatic infield shifts garnered most of the attention, having been extensively discussed and debated by fans. However, two other adjustments, less heralded but crucial in MLB’s eyes, could potentially pave the way for a new generation of players in the mold of Rickey Henderson.

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Major League Baseball (MLB) implemented several key changes to reinvigorate the game, and one of the first adjustments involved increasing the size of the bases from 15 to 18 inches. This move was primarily aimed at enhancing player safety by reducing collisions around the bag. Though initially met with humor and internet memes comparing them to pizza boxes, the significance lies in the fact that second base is now 4 ½ inches closer to first base. While this may seem incremental, it can make a substantial difference in steal attempts, where success often hinges on fractions of seconds.

Simultaneously, MLB introduced restrictions on how frequently pitchers could attempt pickoff throws for the first time. This decision was primarily influenced by the pitch clock. In prior minor-league trials without the “disengagement” rule, MLB observed that pitchers could repeatedly step off the rubber to reset the timer, exploiting a loophole.

By capping pickoff throws, MLB not only addressed this issue but also granted a considerable advantage to base-stealers. With pitchers limited in their ability to throw over, runners gained the confidence to take more significant leads. MLB’s research indicates that the disengagement rule has had an even more substantial impact on steals than the introduction of larger bases.

Philadelphia Phillies’ Trea Turner, a standout player, remarked, “Under the old rules they could pickoff 100 times and there were so many dive-backs, and it was a lot harder to steal. Now with the limited pickoffs, I think that’s helped a lot of people run more.”

Collectively, these changes have successfully achieved MLB’s objective of resurrecting the stolen base, a once pivotal aspect of the game that appeared to have faded into obscurity, much like stirrups and Sunday double-headers.

The advent of the data-driven revolution, epitomized by “Moneyball,” led to the understanding that stolen bases were often overvalued and carried more risk than reward. The prevailing wisdom was to keep runners in place and wait for a batter to deliver a home run. Consequently, there were nearly 1,500 fewer stolen-base attempts in 2022 compared to 1982, reflecting the shift in strategic emphasis.That might have been the smart approach, but it definitely wasn’t the most exciting.

Credit by Photo: www.wsj.com

In a historic feat, Ronald Acuña Jr. of the Atlanta Braves made waves by stealing his 70th base last week, solidifying his status as the only player to achieve 40 home runs and 70 stolen bases in a single season. This paradigm-shifting performance marks a new era in baseball records. Acuña’s remarkable season continues as he now boasts an astonishing 73 stolen bases, surpassing José Reyes’ 2007 record of 78 for the New York Mets.

With his impressive 41 home runs, Acuña not only stands as the inaugural member of the 40/70 club but also lays claim to the creation of the 40/60 and 40/50 clubs, showcasing an extraordinary level of play. The Atlanta Braves, with the best regular-season record in the majors, enter the postseason as the frontrunners for the World Series title.

Meanwhile, the Arizona Diamondbacks have defied expectations by clinching a wild card spot in the National League playoffs. Much credit goes to Corbin Carroll, whose outstanding rookie year includes 54 stolen bases, making him the first player ever to achieve 25 home runs and 50 stolen bases in their inaugural season. This exceptional performance all but secures him the NL Rookie of the Year award.

Morgan Sword, MLB’s executive vice president of baseball operations, expressed his enthusiasm for players who excel in both power hitting and base stealing, noting that these dual-threat athletes bring an added level of excitement to the game. He emphasized the importance of showcasing more players with such versatile skills.

Not to be overlooked is Trea Turner, a key player for the Phillies aiming to lead his team to a second consecutive World Series appearance. Turner’s incredible streak continues, as he has now stolen 35 bases in a row without being caught, a run that dates back to last season. The all-time record, held by Vince Coleman, stands at an impressive 50 straight steals achieved in 1988 and 1989.

Turner’s pursuit of excellence will have to wait until next year, where he’ll enjoy a 4 ½-inch head start in his quest for further records and accolades.

Reference: https://www.wsj.com/sports/baseball/mlb-stolen-bases-rule-changes-78ebab11

https://theathletic.com/4543274/2023/05/23/trea-turner-phillies-slump/

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