Up-to-the-moment updates on how the 2023 rule changes are impacting the game — and you can be sure, nearly all such takes are getting paired with glowing reactions — couldn’t be louder than they have been during this first week of the season. For fantasy baseball managers, it has been difficult to sift through the noise in order to get to the meat.

That’s not to say that the rule changes are bad. Far from it, as the 33-minute reduction in average game time (32, if you only count nine-inning games) compared to last season is a pure joy, even if it means less between-pitches researching time for this particular columnist (a realization I hadn’t anticipated). The league’s batting average is up 19 points compared to through this stage of 2022, BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is up 18 points, and overall run scoring is up 0.35 runs per team per game, meaning offense indeed has been on the rise. That’s good!

Still, extracting actionable nuggets from these numbers that pertain to fantasy isn’t easy, even if only for the simple reason that six days of data represents a precariously small sample size. Additionally, those 19 points of batting average represent an increase of just 1.25 hits per game, and a deeper dive into the specifics shows that right- and left-handed batters alike have benefited, with righties hitting 19 points and lefties 17 points higher through the first six days of 2023 versus 2022.

Even splitting out hard-hit line drives and ground balls pulled by left-handed hitters — the very batted-ball type for which many of us expected to see seismic changes — the league’s BABIP has increased, once again, by only 19 points.

That old saying, “A rising tide raises all boats,” seems applicable, although there will certainly come a point — probably a month or so from now — where shift-restriction data becomes sizable enough to draw important takeaways. That day is not yet today, however.

The rule change that has captured relevant attention is the larger bases, which has had a definitive impact upon stolen base production. Through those same first six days of each of the 2022 and 2023 seasons, the league’s SB success rate has improved by 15.7% (from 67.1 to 82.8%), the attempt rate on all opportunities has risen from 3.8% to 5.4%, and successful steals have risen by 0.55 per game (combining both teams totals per game). That tracks with spring training’s numbers, which showed that successful steals rose by 0.61 per game in 2023 compared to 2022.

Whether those increases are sustainable over the 162-game, and more importantly the 183-day (ignoring the All-Star break) season is a fair question, and regression to the SB success rate, for sure, is bound to decrease. ESPN’s Jeff Passan made the salient point recently that, as teams acknowledge the fact that stolen bases are significantly up, they’ll probably attempt even more of them, resulting in a lower rate of success, regressing the number.

Still, simply more attempts means opportunities that fantasy managers can exploit — though those of you in leagues with net stolen bases or negative points for times caught stealing should temper somewhat the following advice — and it is not necessarily a “rising tides” situation, either. That’s because certain teams, and specifically certain managers, will absorb and react to this information differently, and personnel differs from team to team.

For example, the Baltimore Orioles currently lead the majors in SB attempt rate (the percentage of total chances to run during which the team attempted a steal) at 15.7%, which is a significant development considering manager Brandon Hyde has never given his baserunners the green light more than 5.6% of the time in his previous four seasons at the helm.

To put that into perspective, the last team to have even a 10% SB attempt rate was the 2016 Milwaukee Brewers, who had Jonathan Villar (fifth in Statcast sprint speed among those who met his minimum qualification), Keon Broxton and Hernan Perez. There hasn’t been a team to attempt a 15% stolen-base attempt rate since the 1992 Milwaukee Brewers, whose rookie manager (Phil Garner) had a modern-day record 11 different players — including all of his lineup regulars — steal in double-digits.

In fact, in the past half-century, the only three teams to finish with a higher SB attempt rate for a season than the Orioles’ current number were the 1976 Oakland Athletics (19.7%), who weren’t the Herb Washington model (he played in 1974-75) yet had seven different players (including Garner himself) steal at least 20 bases; the 1985 St. Louis Cardinals (16.8%), led by Vince Coleman’s rookie-record 110 stolen bases but also claimed four other players who swiped 30-plus; and the 1977 Pittsburgh Pirates (15.7%), who also had Garner (32 steals) on their roster.

What’s most puzzling about all this, however, is that Hyde’s Orioles actually stole the fewest bases (14) and attempted the fewest steals (18) during spring training, which might cause some to dismiss this all as small-sample noise. It’s a fair counterpoint, but the Orioles also have a trio of players who had 90th-percentile (or better) sprint speed in 2022, Jorge Mateo (30.1 feet per second, 99th percentile), Ryan McKenna (29.4, 94th) and Gunnar Henderson (29.0, 91st), not to mention a successful base stealer in Cedric Mullins, who has a 79.1% success rate since the beginning of 2021.

Henderson in particular stands out, thanks to his excellent plate discipline — his 17.5% chase rate (the percentage of times he swings at pitches outside the rulebook strike zone) is well beneath the league’s 29.0% mark, and he has a 14.7% walk rate through his first 38 career games. This fuels opportunities for stolen bases, and youthful players generally do absorb a larger share of the SB pie. Players age 24 and younger accounted for 1.5% of the league’s steals since 2010, but only 1.0% of total games played. Be patient through the rookie’s struggles, or scoop him up if his manager becomes impatient.

Other teams that bear watching

Aaron Boone’s New York Yankees warrant attention, considering that their 10.4% SB rate thus far extends what was a more aggressive approach on the basepaths during spring training, the team finishing fourth in both successful steals (35) and opportunities (43) during the exhibition season. Anthony Volpe‘s emergence as the team’s Opening Day shortstop had a lot to do with it, and, like Henderson, he’s a player with whom you should be excessively patient. Volpe’s plate discipline is similarly excellent, his chase rate being far better than average at 23.3%, and he did have a tendency to endure adjustment periods early on at new levels of competition.

Gabe Kapler’s San Francisco Giants are the other unexpected team worthy of mention, as one might have assumed that an analytically oriented franchise wouldn’t be as apt to run wild on the basepaths, pointing back to that old “Moneyball” mindset. The Giants, however, had the most successful steals (43) and attempts (55) during spring training. They’ve attempted a steal on 6.8% of their opportunities, eighth-most thus far. Kapler, by the way, never had a single one of his teams in his first five seasons as a big-league manager attempt a steal more than 4.2% of the time, so he seems to be taking a distinctly different approach under the new rules.

For those of you wondering which other teams are running considerably more through the season’s first six days, compared to in 2022 as a whole, here are the four other squads that have seen their attempt rate rise by at least 3%: Arizona Diamondbacks, Seattle Mariners, Cleveland Guardians, Chicago White Sox.

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