The Texas Rangers led all Major League Baseball in stolen bases in 2022. The lineup was built with speed and led by manager Chris Woodward's desire to put pressure on the opponent through the running game. His staff would communicate to players how long it took a pitcher to throw home, the time it took a catcher to throw from home to second base, and would then let them decide if they thought they could make it. Chris Woodward said this back in June about the team approach:
"We had Mitch Garver – probably didn’t really want him running on a bad leg – but he was getting times to home plate of like 1.8 [seconds, which is considered very slow] and he was like ‘I can’t live with myself to just stand on first base knowing that I can be on second"- Former Rangers manager Chris Woodward
That approach led them to steal 128 bases in 2022. The approach continued even after Woodward was fired in August and Tony Beasley was promoted to interim manager. The Rangers had 19 players that had at least one stolen base and five players that had double figures in stolen bases. Starting this season one of the new rule changes is a bigger first base. That is to help decrease the number of collisions at first base, but MLB is hoping this encourages teams to call more steals. It would seem to feed right into that approach that Woodward had last year. The question becomes will Bruce Bochy allow this team to be as aggressive as they have been?
Bruce Bochy is not against the stolen base. During his tenure in San Francisco, if he had guys that could steal bases they would. In 2007 they ranked eighth in the league with 119 stolen bases and had four guys with double figures in steals. There are also those years such as 2014 when they ranked 29th in the league. That team was more methodical and ground out at-bats and won the World Series with that approach. Here is what he said in December when speaking to reporters right before Christmas about how he looks at speed,
"Speed, I think, is going to be looked at even more in our game. As tough as it can be to score runs. … You saw how the game changed (previously) — ‘Hey, let’s go for the long ball more.’ But speed might be a bigger part of the game than it’s been a long time, trying to manufacture runs more.”"- Current Rangers manager Bruce Bochy
He has also spent some of this time in the leadup to spring training being enamored with Bubba Thompson and the speed he possesses. It does appear as if he will not be afraid of taking advantage of the speed he has in the lineup. It starts with Bubba Thompson and his 18 steals last season, but also Marcus Semien had 25 steals last season, Adolis Garcia had 25, and Leody Tavares had 11. They all will likely be on the roster to start this season
Bubba Thompson could help Texas Rangers lead MLB in steals in 2023
Thompson is the one to watch in 2023. If he gets a good amount of playing time in 2023 and can get on base enough that 50 stolen bases or more are not out of the question. He almost is automatic at being able to steal second base. He was 18 for 21 in the 55 games he played last season. It will be on Thompson to get on base whether it is with a bunt, a walk, an infield hit, or a base hit to the outfield. He spent most of last season at Triple-A Round Rock. In his 80 games at Round Rock, he stole 49 bases. In total, he stole 67 bases in 135 games played in 2022. If the Rangers are going to lead the league once again it will be imperative for Thompson to lead the way.
The question is not whether Tavares, Thompson, Semien, or Garcia will have a green light, they will. The question for Bochy and the coaching staff is whether they will allow other players to try and steal bases. As I said earlier 19 players had at least one stolen base. Will that same freedom exist this season? Sometimes players made poor choices and it led to the Rangers being run out of an inning. The Rangers led the league in stolen bases, but they also led the league in players that were caught stealing. One thing to watch is to see if Bochy might try and keep a firmer grip on the running game and take that decision-making away from the players.
The rules change starting with the size of first base, as well as the number of times a pitcher can throw over to first base are meant to increase the amount of action in a baseball game. Major league baseball wants to encourage teams to steal bases, take extra bases when they can, and show off the speed of the players. The Rangers can and will do this. Other teams will do this as well. One of the things to track in April is how teams adjust to these rule changes and how the Rangers try to take advantage. The Rangers can use this to their advantage and if done correctly it can help them win games in 2023.