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Cubs New Year’s Resolutions, No. 2: Run more

The Cubs stole a lot of bases in 2023, they may be able to steal even more in 2024

Nico Hoerner steals second base against the White Sox on the South Side
Photo by Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

One of the biggest question marks heading into the 2023 season was how the new rules would impact the game. Among those rules were bigger bases, a pitch clock and limits on a pitcher’s ability to hold runners on base, all of which could impact the number of stolen bases during the season. And they did, as Al observed in this October piece looking at the impact of rule changes on the league:

Scoring (9.2 runs per game in 2023 vs. 8.6 per game in 2022), stolen base attempts (1.8 per game in 2023 vs. 1.4 per game in 2022), stolen bases (1.4 in 2023 vs. 1.0 per game in 2022) and stolen base success rate (an all-time best 80.2 percent in 2023 vs. 75.4 percent in 2022) all are up over the previous season. Players recorded 3,503 stolen bases, the most since 1987 (3,585) and the second-most in the last 100 seasons. That’s also over 1,000 steals more than 2022 (2,486).

The 2023 Cubs took advantage of these rule changes and one of the biggest areas of improvement over the 2022 team came on the basepaths, where the Cubs were successful in swiping bags over 80 percent of the time. For today’s New Year’s Resolution, I took a closer look at those numbers and individual players’ success rates and think there is an even bigger advantage to be carved out for the Cubs in 2024. In other words, the Cubs should join millions of people who are committed to running more in 2024.

MLB team comparisons

To look at this closer I wanted to take a look at how much each team ran in 2023 and how successful they were swiping bags. I adapted a metric that Michael Baumann at FanGraphs introduced last season while looking at individual stolen base rates called “Go-Rate.” You can read more about that metric here, but for our purposes this is what goes into calculating “Go-Rate:”

Baseball Reference is kind enough to count how many times a player reaches base in a given season. This is instructive for Rickey, because while he hit just .267 in his record-setting campaign, he led the majors in walks with 116, giving him an OBP of .398. We’re not just looking at hits, in short. B-Ref has Rickey with 274 times on base, including errors, in 1982. Subtract the 14 home runs and triples and you’re left with 260 of what I’ll call stolen base opportunities. That means Rickey was on base 260 times and attempted to steal almost two-thirds of the time: 66.1%, to be exact. From here on, I’ll be referring to this ratio as “Go Rate,” because I could not in good conscience devote any more time to thinking of a funny backronym like PECOTA or CORSI.

The weakness in go rate, which I’ll address up front, is that it doesn’t account for a number of scenarios in which a batter-runner could be in position to steal, or exclude scenarios in which he’s blocked. For instance, times on base doesn’t include instances of a batter reaching on a fielder’s choice with the base in front of him empty. Nor does it debit instances of the batter reaching, only to find the base in front of him occupied. For Rickey, that wasn’t always a problem, as Tony Phillips and Davey Lopes spent plenty of time at the bottom of Oakland’s lineup in 1982, thus inviting a double steal. But ordinarily, you don’t run if the base ahead already has someone standing on it.

A couple of small notes, first, I determined Team/Player go-rate a similar way but used FanGraphs data rather than Baseball Reference. To determine stolen base opportunities I summed up singles, doubles, walks, intentional walks and HBP. I then looked at the number of successful stolen bases relative to the number of times players were caught stealing and sorted the below table by go-rate then by overall stolen base success rate to get an idea of where the Cubs stood in terms of stolen base success relative to the rest of the league. You can look at that table below:

MLB Teams by go-rate & stolen base success

Team H 1B 2B 3B HR BB IBB SB Opp HBP SB CS SB Attempts Go Rate SB Success
Team H 1B 2B 3B HR BB IBB SB Opp HBP SB CS SB Attempts Go Rate SB Success
CIN 1371 868 268 37 198 556 8 1792 92 190 48 238 13.28% 79.83%
KCR 1325 861 258 43 163 411 12 1613 71 163 47 210 13.02% 77.62%
OAK 1187 770 225 21 171 498 12 1590 85 149 31 180 11.32% 82.78%
TBR 1432 896 282 24 230 514 7 1794 95 160 41 201 11.20% 79.60%
ARI 1359 875 274 44 166 540 11 1758 58 166 26 192 10.92% 86.46%
CLE 1379 932 294 29 124 471 40 1792 55 151 36 187 10.44% 80.75%
CHC 1399 904 269 30 196 570 11 1831 77 140 34 174 9.50% 80.46%
PHI 1417 877 291 29 220 539 22 1798 69 141 26 167 9.29% 84.43%
SDP 1316 824 273 14 205 653 16 1823 57 137 32 169 9.27% 81.07%
PIT 1293 816 287 31 159 556 9 1726 58 117 41 158 9.15% 74.05%
WSN 1401 945 279 26 151 423 6 1731 78 127 29 156 9.01% 81.41%
MIL 1290 852 257 16 165 591 15 1773 58 129 28 157 8.86% 82.17%
ATL 1543 920 293 23 307 538 20 1838 67 132 27 159 8.65% 83.02%
SEA 1332 827 283 12 210 548 14 1783 111 118 30 148 8.30% 79.73%
NYY 1207 752 221 15 219 557 18 1595 47 100 30 130 8.15% 76.92%
NYM 1276 819 221 21 215 525 11 1683 107 118 15 133 7.90% 88.72%
BAL 1399 879 309 28 183 512 14 1759 45 114 24 138 7.85% 82.61%
BOS 1437 897 339 19 182 486 15 1808 71 112 26 138 7.63% 81.16%
HOU 1441 917 280 22 222 550 17 1836 72 107 32 139 7.57% 76.98%
TOR 1423 924 292 19 188 550 14 1849 69 99 34 133 7.19% 74.44%
STL 1376 891 264 12 209 570 17 1812 70 101 29 130 7.17% 77.69%
CHW 1308 860 264 13 171 377 19 1572 52 86 22 108 6.87% 79.63%
LAD 1422 850 303 20 249 644 29 1911 85 105 25 130 6.80% 80.77%
DET 1292 853 245 29 165 508 10 1665 49 85 23 108 6.49% 78.70%
MIA 1423 976 258 23 166 430 23 1737 50 86 21 107 6.16% 80.37%
LAA 1346 841 248 26 231 518 27 1713 79 72 31 103 6.01% 69.90%
COL 1368 869 305 31 163 447 8 1688 59 76 25 101 5.98% 75.25%
MIN 1336 815 264 24 233 594 13 1778 92 86 18 104 5.85% 82.69%
TEX 1470 893 326 18 233 599 17 1888 53 79 19 98 5.19% 80.61%
SFG 1271 828 256 13 174 544 19 1728 81 57 16 73 4.22% 78.08%
Stolen base stats FanGraphs

The Cubs were the seventh-most aggressive team on the basepaths by go-rate in 2023. They ran 9.5 percent of the time when they had the opportunity, and they were exactly middle of the road with their 80.46 percent success rate ranking 15th in baseball.

This is a big improvement over the TOOTBLANs that characterized the 2022 season. But the thing I was most interested in was whether the Cubs could or should try to push the envelope even more in 2024. To determine that, I needed to look at individual player results on the basepaths.

Player results

Nico Hoerner led the Cubs with 43 stolen bases in 50 stolen base attempts, but neither his go-rate, nor his success rate led the team. You can see those leaders below. Two notes, only players with at least one stolen base attempt were included in this table for those of you wondering where Eric Hosmer and Luis Torrens are in the below table. Second, a player can have multiple stolen base opportunities per time on base, so in small sample sizes go-rate may exceed the number of stolen base opportunities (I’m looking at you, Pete Crow-Armstrong):

Cubs stolen base leaders by go-rate and stolen base success

Name PA H 1B 2B 3B HR BB IBB HBP SB Opp SB CS SB Attempt Go Rate SB Success
Name PA H 1B 2B 3B HR BB IBB HBP SB Opp SB CS SB Attempt Go Rate SB Success
Nico Hoerner 688 175 135 27 4 9 49 0 14 225 43 7 50 .222 86.00%
Cody Bellinger 556 153 97 29 1 26 40 3 5 174 20 6 26 .149 76.92%
Ian Happ 691 144 84 35 4 21 99 2 6 226 14 3 17 .075 82.35%
Miles Mastrobuoni 149 32 26 5 0 1 13 0 0 44 13 1 14 .318 92.86%
Nick Madrigal 294 71 52 16 1 2 10 0 9 87 10 2 12 .138 83.33%
Dansby Swanson 638 138 88 25 3 22 66 0 5 184 9 1 10 .054 90.00%
Mike Tauchman 401 85 59 18 0 8 56 1 4 138 7 1 8 .058 87.50%
Christopher Morel 429 96 50 17 3 26 36 0 2 105 6 2 8 .076 75.00%
Seiya Suzuki 583 147 90 31 6 20 59 3 2 185 6 7 13 .070 46.15%
Patrick Wisdom 302 55 23 8 1 23 30 0 2 63 4 2 6 .095 66.67%
Jeimer Candelario 157 32 16 9 1 6 17 0 1 43 2 0 2 .047 100.00%
Jared Young 47 8 3 0 3 2 3 0 1 7 2 0 2 .286 100.00%
Pete Crow-Armstrong 19 0 0 0 0 0 3 0 0 3 2 2 4 1.333 50.00%
Yan Gomes 419 102 70 20 2 10 21 1 9 121 1 0 1 .008 100.00%
Tucker Barnhart 123 22 18 3 0 1 12 0 1 34 1 0 1 .029 100.00%
Select stolen base stats FanGraphs

What this chart reveals is that there are a handful of players who might be solid candidates to run more in 2024. In fact, if I were the Cubs I’d consider broadening the opportunities to run for any player with plus sprint speed and a 2023 success rate greater than 75 percent. Admittedly, that’s an arbitrary line I’ve drawn, but a 75 percent success rate with speed signals to me that a player could improve their stolen base numbers with more opportunities. Below are the current Cubs along with their key stolen base rates and sprint speed potentials according to Statcast:

Cubs stolen base potential

Name PA SB Opp SB CS SB Attempt Go Rate SB Success Sprint Speed %
Name PA SB Opp SB CS SB Attempt Go Rate SB Success Sprint Speed %
Pete Crow-Armstrong 19 3 2 2 4 1.333 50.00% 98
Miles Mastrobuoni 149 44 13 1 14 0.318 92.86% 83
Christopher Morel 429 105 6 2 8 0.076 75.00% 81
Nico Hoerner 688 225 43 7 50 0.222 86.00% 80
Seiya Suzuki 583 185 6 7 13 0.07 46.15% 79
Dansby Swanson 638 184 9 1 10 0.054 90.00% 77
Cody Bellinger 556 174 20 6 26 0.149 76.92% 75
Nick Madrigal 294 87 10 2 12 0.138 83.33% 64
Ian Happ 691 226 14 3 17 0.075 82.35% 61
Patrick Wisdom 302 63 4 2 6 0.095 66.67% 58
Mike Tauchman 401 138 7 1 8 0.058 87.50% 49
Yan Gomes 419 121 1 0 1 0.008 100.00% 22
Select stolen base stats + sprint speed FanGraphs & Baseball Savant

I left the Cubs second most prolific base thief from 2023, Cody Bellinger, on this list because he is still unsigned and could return to the North Side of Chicago. However, even if he doesn’t, Christopher Morel, Dansby Swanson, Miles Mastrobuoni and Pete Crow-Armstrong all look like they have serious stolen base potential beyond what we saw last season. I’d love to see the Cubs tweak their stolen base approach to try and maximize more opportunities for those players next season.