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Boston Red Sox v Cleveland Guardians

The Red Sox Are (Smartly) Stealing Bases

The Sox aren’t built for speed, but they’re making smart choices

Photo by George Kubas/Diamond Images via Getty Images

In a year when the rules have been changed to encourage more stolen bases, let’s check in on where the Sox stand so far in stealing bases. (That word choice is very specific: stealing bases, not stolen bases, simply because I don’t want to talk about bases swiped against us. Opening Day against the Orioles? Pirates series in early April? Don’t remind me!)

When this article was written, the Sox were #15 in the majors with 25 swipes. That’s firmly middle of the pack, even down a bit from 2022, when they ended the season at #13.

Let’s recall 2022 base running for a moment. To close the 2022 season, the Sox had 53 SB. Also, FanGraphs ranked the Red Sox as next-to-last in the American League in base running in 2022. We can all recall several painful blunders and poor decisions in this area and hardly anyone seemed to be immune (sorry to call you out, Xander, and I still love you).

So just about six weeks into our new season, the Sox are on trend with stealing more bases. They’re already at almost half the total from all of last year. The MLB grand experiment is working in this area.

But I’m most interested in how they’re getting caught stealing…or not getting caught stealing.

In 2022, they were caught stealing 20 times (with 53 SB, remember). They were third in MLB in getting caught.

So far in 2023, they’ve been caught exactly three times. When I began writing this article, they were leading MLB in successful steals compared to how often they’ve been caught stealing. That rate was the best in the league. They now come in second to the White Sox in MLB for fewest number of CS, but they have a few more stolen bases to show for it.

We see that the teams who have been caught stealing a lot so far in 2023 also have a lot of stolen bases. This makes sense – nothing ventured, nothing gained. For example, the Pirates, who lead MLB with 48 SB have been caught stealing 15 times. That’s first in CS. The Oakland A’s, in second place in MLB with 39 SB (hey, they’re doing something right!) have been caught stealing seven times.

The average sprint speed in the major leagues is 27 feet per second. Jarren Duran (29.3 ft/sec) is the fastest player on the team (last year he ranked 39th in MLB in sprint speed). Of the rest of the current active roster, Connor Wong (28.8 ft/sec), Raimel Tapia (28.2 ft/sec), and Christian Arroyo (27.8 ft/sec) are all above the average speed, but not necessarily by much. The Red Sox aren’t stocked with speedy sets of wheels, so we’re not going to see a huge increase this year in stolen bases over what we can expect to occur naturally, due to the rule changes.

Alex Cora himself has said that we shouldn’t expect more:

Our guys, they’re not the fastest guys … so we’ll go with scouting reports and steal whenever we see something, but we’re not going to be that team that is going to just run out there because we don’t have that personnel.

Here’s a quick look at the Sox leaderboard for swipes:

Duran: 6 SB

Tapia: 4 SB, 1 CS

Valdez: 3 SB, 1 CS

Verdugo: 3 SB

Almost everyone’s gotten in on the thievery, with the understandable exceptions of our biggest, slowest, and/or most injured batters who have yet to steal a base (such as Casas, Devers, McGuire, Duvall). The other exception is Rob Refsnyder, who clocks in almost exactly at the average sprint speed but simply hasn’t had a ton of playing time. Even those with lower than average sprint speed have been involved. Even Justin Turner has 2 SB!

This suggests to me that the Sox are practicing more self-control and focusing on fundamentals (their sloppiness in this area is something I’ve complained about repeatedly in recent seasons). They’re clearly evaluating each situation, being mindful, and running when they have a good chance of success.

I’m glad to see they’re not getting swept up in the trend or the mindless optimism of shorter base paths. Hooray!


How many bases do you think Jarren Duran will steal in 2023?

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