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This Is So Stupid

It’s Too Easy To Steal Bases!

A close play on a steal attempt at second base, between the Seattle Mariners and Cleveland Guardians.
Steph Chambers/Getty Images

The bases are bigger: They used to be 15 inches on a side, and now they're 18" by 18". Thus first and second base are four and a half inches closer together than they used to be; when you take a lead off of first base, you're starting a couple inches farther along the basepath than you used to, and when you slide into second, you don't have to slide quite as far.

In addition, pitchers now are limited in how many times per plate appearance they can step off the rubber, to throw to a base or attempt to pick-off a runner: They can do it twice, but if they do it a third time and it doesn't result in an out, they're charged with a balk and any baserunners advance. In combination with the new pitch clock—a pitcher can't just stand there on the rubber peeking over his shoulder for 40 seconds, to disrupt a potential base-stealer's timing or just lull him to sleep or whatever—this makes it somewhat harder for pitchers to prevent base-stealing. And then, as we just discussed one paragraph ago, when a guy does attempt to steal, he doesn't have to go as far as he used to.

So far in this young baseball season, stolen-base attempts are up a whopping 37 percent over last season. Wow! A huge jump! Teams are averaging... almost three-quarters of one stolen base per game. A shocking number. Gigantic. OK, so maybe that number doesn't quite pop. It feels like more if you watched the Orioles steal five bases in each of their first two games, or Anthony Volpe steal three-quarters of his times on base, or Corbin Carroll swipe three on Sunday.

And if base-stealers continue to succeed at the opening weekend's 84-percent rate—that's three points higher than the career figure of Rickey Henderson, the greatest base-stealer of all time—then you can expect the rate of attempts to shoot up: For a reasonably speedy and skilled baserunner, an 84-percent chance at taking away the force-out and getting into scoring position is a pretty sweet deal.

All of this raises the possibility—small sample size and still moderate rate of actual steal attempts notwithstanding—that baseball has overcorrected just a tad in its efforts to re-incorporate base-path action into the big-league game. Another perhaps not mutually exclusive possibility is that today's catchers, having come along in a time when sabermetrics did all the steal-deterring work that used to fall to their fearsome throwing arms, are a bunch of sorry weakling babies unfit to wash Charles Johnson's underwear.

In either case the question then becomes: What is to be done, to re-balance the scales? It's good for base-stealing to be an appealing proposition for the most skilled and swashbuckling of runners, but it's bad for it to be an all-but-totally risk-free proposition for lead-footed goons. With the precedent now established that everything from the rules governing player behavior to the dimensions of the bases (and thus basepaths) is open for tinkering, there's room for subtlety and creativity in seeking solutions. How can they monkey with the rules some more, to find the perfect base-stealing balance?

These were the questions the staff of Defector discussed in Slack back on Friday morning, and then again today: None of us want to see a world in which a single amounts to a double for all but the game's slowest of oaves. Here is a transcript of our brainstorming session, lightly edited to remove, uh, the weekend-long gap in the middle, plus various "LOL" responses and feeble attempts at interjecting to discuss actual work stuff.

Maitreyi
i’ve done the calculations: we must make the bases 10 times bigger BUT a CS is worth two outs

Albert
what if the bases moved around on their own
you go to slide into second and, whoop! it dodged your hand! oh no!!!

Maitreyi
or the bases expand and shrink so that you have to time them like you do timing pitches

Albert
yeah, like some kind of Super Mario type of deal

Chris Thompson
reaching out on a heroic slide only to watch in horror as the base opens up like a bear trap and bites your hand off

Albert
two second bases: one is the real one, and one is a land mine, but they look the same

Maitreyi
ooh yeah

Albert
which will you steal???

Maitreyi
once a game, unannounced in a random inning, second base is lava and if you steal it that’s 3 outs

Albert
what if they make the bases even bigger, but also make the players smaller

Barry Petchesky
make the bases smaller
smaller than they were before

Maitreyi
make the catchers bigger
and the gloves bigger

Barry Petchesky
and the ball faster

dave mckenna
bloop hits should be outs

alex pareene
tiny bases is a great idea

Maitreyi
an infield-only juiced ball

Big Cool Tom
what if we keep first base big but then make second base like 8x11

Barry Petchesky
lower the air pressure in the infield

dave mckenna
pavement infield
like nyc

Barry Petchesky
ooh i have it: make stolen bases a force play

Big Cool Tom
interesting

dave mckenna
you have to report to the ump when you're going to steal and he makes an announcement

Big Cool Tom
also good

Barry Petchesky
make taking a lead illegal

Big Cool Tom
how about baserunners don't get to wear shoes
when you get to first you have to take your cleats off

Barry Petchesky
you have to take your cleats off and put on those big red shoes

dave mckenna
scuba feet
i think barry is onto something. instead of bigger bases, bigger shoes

Maitreyi
you have to crab walk

Big Cool Tom
when you get to first you have to eat a bowl of very hot soup and you're not allowed to lead off or steal until you are done with it

Maitreyi
OR you can steal without eating it but you have to balance it on your head

Big Cool Tom
guy goes to the IL after trying to eat the soup too fast and spilling it all down his chest and suffering burns

alex pareene
when you get to first you get an egg on a spoon

Big Cool Tom
imagine how funny it would be if it's game 7 and it's a one run game in the ninth and trea turner draws a walk to lead off the inning and the camera cuts to him and he's absolutely going fuckin crazy on a big bowl of pho

dave mckenna
local Wawas are closing and blaming it on the increase in steals
i'll work on it
i like where i was headed

alex pareene
pressing a little call button to ask a Walgreens employee to unlock second base

David Roth
Kind of idly booping around on your phone while a Train song plays as you wait for the ump to unlock second base.

Dan
you have to do some sort of novelty dance while going between first and second
alternatively, you may do a classic from of ballroom dance

Albert
ok semi-genuine idea: what if they were sort of like challenge flags in football, where you can attempt some fixed maximum number of them per game, say 3, and if you succeed on all 3 then you can do more
but if you fail on all 3, then no runners on your team can advance more than one base on anything but a home run

Barry Petchesky
decent idea. but what if baserunners had to wear a big heavy backpack

Dan
there's a hurdle in the middle
maybe a water jump like the steeplechase

Albert
keep everything the same, only you’re not safe at second until you have literally stolen second base
if they tag you before you have stolen the base, you go to jail

Barry Petchesky
what if we sprinkle birdseed between first and second, so runners have to run through a big flock of seagulls

Albert
put a yak on the field
but like an angry yak

David Roth
The pitcher should be allowed to throw over more than twice but on every one from the third on up he has to shout out "okay here it comes" before he does it.

dave mckenna
put in kickball rules where the catcher can peg the runner
should be a rule already
in all situations

Barry Petchesky
yeah ball should be lava

Maitreyi
i’m trying to think of what an “ineligible receiver” equivalent could be, maybe only certain positions get to steal

Barry Petchesky
you can’t steal bases if your OBP is over .350

Dan
the catcher gets to put the ball in a pitching machine instead of throwing it to second if he wants to

dave mckenna
catcher can really gun baserunners out
stand your ground rule

Dan
ooh did anyone suggest just banning sliding on steals
at least into second

dave mckenna
dan, i thought pavement would do that

David Roth
That's what McKenna said to Dan when they play "Box Elder" as an encore

Albert
you have to draw a sword and yell “CHARGE!!!” when you steal

alex pareene
you have to solve a crypto puzzle to get to second like mining a bitcoin

David Roth
one of those captcha things
Appealing to the ump re: "Is that a traffic light"

Maitreyi
you need to assemble ocean’s 11

Kelsey McKinney
imo if the catcher throws and doesn’t get you, you should get another base
i love steals

Maitreyi
i hate steals

Barry Petchesky
they should make it so if you steal second you legally have to try to steal third on the next pitch or you’re out

dave mckenna
they should ban baseball

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