Jorge Matteo couldn’t contain the smile as he sat in the dugout at Rogers Center, thinking how much of a difference 4 1/2 inches might make.
When he sets out to try to steal next season, the biggest rules – one of the A handful of Major League Baseball rule changes Scheduled to come into effect next season – reduce the distance between the bags. As the base size increases from 15″ x 15″ to 18″ x 18″, the space between bags decreases by 4 1/2″.
Mathieu is a hand length closer than he was before, without even taking a step. And considering he’s slipped safely in 30 of his 38 steals this season, he hardly needs help.
“Oh my God, it’s like 20 more rules,” Mathieu said, amused by the thought. “I love him.”
The exact ramifications of the MLB decision to increase base volume remain unclear, but in theory — and in the minds of Matthew and Cedric Mullins, two of baseball’s best base stealers — the prospect should lead to more thefts.
With more restrictions on the number of throws allowed for bowlers, as well as the introduction of the pitch clock, there are many factors introduced that can lead to increased activity on the bases. For Orioles, with players over 30 in Mullins and Mateo, the benefits can be especially noticeable.
“We have an immediate reboot now, the game has always been an inch game, and it looks like there are more complete additions being made to the bases,” Mullins said. “I think it will open the door wide open on that side.”
Larger bases should also be safer, with fewer players clashing at first base. But if it could be an advantage for Mullins – whose 31 steals lead in the MLS – he would take it.
In addition, shooters will be allowed to disengage with the rubber as each plate appears, limiting them to a combination of a sprint or a sprint. If the shooter attempts to shoot for the third time, the runner will advance automatically if the attempt is unsuccessful.
Once you get to two, you get three, you might just get a few more steps to see if they pick,” said Gunnar Henderson, who has tested court clock and kickoff rules in the minor leagues this season.
In 2019, there were 2.23 attempted theft per game at major companies, 68% of which ended in a stolen base. That rose to 2.83 steals per game in 2022, with a success rate of 77%, according to MLB.com. But even with the court clock, Henderson learned the hard way how he couldn’t take for granted that a bowler would throw home.
At Double-A Bowie earlier this season, Henderson took a few extra steps toward second place, anticipating a quick delivery toward the batter as the court clock approached. Instead, with time running out, the pitcher descended and took Henderson off first base.
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But in all likelihood, quitting attempts will be less used than other methods of keeping the runner close. Right-handed Dean Kramer said the focus would expand on changing his timing to the home board, sometimes holding the ball for up to three seconds while at other times sending the ball quickly to the home board with a sliding stride.
“It’s going to force people to come to grips with it,” Kramer said. “Just the general unpredictability makes it difficult for this runner to run.”
Added right-hander Tyler Wells, whose 70 attempts to get off were the ninth most in the AL this year: “Mixing times, make sure they can’t beat as much as you try to be in rhythm too. It’s a constant battle between the two of them, so I think that’s This is why it would be something that would challenge a lot of shooters.”
Wells used Noah Syndergaard of the Philadelphia Phillies as an example, citing his slow delivery to the board as the reason Syndergaard has allowed 30 stolen bases this season, most of them in majors. Without the benefit of many call-ups, Syndergaard would need to improve his timing on the board.
“I think you will really start to see a difference in the style of the shooters,” Wells said. “The lower WHIP pitchers will probably benefit from it. It’s totally speculation, but I’m going to assume they might have fewer runners at the base. So maybe the market valuation will change. It really just depends. I think it’s going to change a lot of things, but I think it will be too.” Really interesting, and I’m intrigued to see these trends.”
So do Mullins and Matthew, who see larger bases and less distance between bags as an invitation to theft – making them even greater threats than they really are.
“It’s like a step less,” Matteo said. “That’s great. That’s great for us.”