Major League Baseball wasn't exactly feeling the need for speed as stolen bases plummeted in the first 23 seasons of the 21st century, but that's about to change this year courtesy of new rules that will introduce larger bases, a pitch timer and limits on pickoff throws.
Like with the new regulations on defensive shifts, the opinion on whether this is a good thing depends on who you ask.
We're going to look at a handful of players who do and don't stand to benefit from what will be a much more speed-friendly environment in 2023. One might say that's jumping to conclusions, but it's a theory strongly supported by how the same rules caused attempts and successes on stolen bases to substantially increase in the minor leagues in 2022.
Lest anyone think we're only about to talk about speedsters who must be champing at the bit right now, the big picture is more nuanced. After all, certain pitchers and catchers are about to get tested in ways they're probably not going to like.
In fact, it's with them that we're going to begin.
RHP Sandy Alcantara, Miami Marlins
Given that he pitched to a 2.28 ERA over 228.2 innings amid an effort that eventually won him the National League Cy Young Award, it might appear as if nothing went wrong for Sandy Alcantara in 2022.
He did, however, have a little trouble with stolen bases. Opposing runners attempted 28 steals on him and were successful 24 times. Thus did he account for 26.1 percent of the steals against the Marlins even though he only handled 15.9 percent of their innings.
As for why this happened, there are three plausible explanations:
Opponents ran on him out of a lack of other options to score runs
His catcher is a lousy thrower
Alcantara himself isn't great at holding runners
The first thing tracks, as the 27-year-old allowed just a .263 on-base percentage (tied for 12th) and a .324 slugging percentage (10th). Ditto for the second thing, as Alcantara's catcher, Jacob Stallings, had a pop time on throws to second base that was in the 25th percentile. The third thing is harder to quantify, but it seems to track based on how Alcantara nabbed only two runners with a pick-off move that's nothing special even by right-hander standards.
Which is basically to say that Alcantara and the Marlins can expect more of the same and then some in 2023. Considering that the shift ban also has implications for the ace righty, this year figures to be more of a challenge in general.
RHP Noah Syndergaard, Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers typically know what they're doing when they bring a player aboard, but that doesn't mean they automatically get the benefit of the doubt with Noah Syndergaard.
He hasn't been the Syndergaard of old since returning from Tommy John surgery in 2021, specifically to the extent that he's missing about 4 mph off his fastball. And more than Alcantara or anyone else, the new speed-friendly rules figure to be hell on him.
Even though "Thor" was only on the mound for 134.2 innings last season, he still allowed a league-high 30 stolen bases on just 33 attempts. That brings the total against him since 2015 to 169, which is yet another league-leading mark.
That's pretty remarkable, given that the 30-year-old didn't debut until May 2015, subsequently missed time with injuries in 2017 and 2018 and then all of 2020 and most of 2021 recovering from the aforementioned surgery. It's as if the 6'6", 242-pounder with the big leg kick is just plain slow to the plate.
Perhaps the Dodgers can impart some mechanical tweaks that will help Syndergaard get through his delivery in a more timely manner. Failing that, the best thing they can do is have him throw exclusively to Will Smith, whose pop time to second was in the 79th percentile last season.