In 2023 Major League Baseball is increasing the speed limit to motivate runners to go for more stolen bases. Or to put it another way: less caution, more action.

Warning: this will not be Whitey Herzog baseball. From 1982 through 1990, a run of nine seasons, the Cardinals led the majors with 2,061 stolen bases – an average of 229 per year. No other MLB team swiped more than 1,537 bags over that same time.

Home runs?

Didn’t need ‘em.

“Give us 10 singles, and we’re gonna entertain you,” Herzog once said.

“Whiteyball” was fast, furious and fun. Cardinals fans loved the aggressive style and the chance to come to the fast-carpet version of Busch Stadium to watch Vince Coleman, Ozzie Smith and Willie McGee drive pitchers and catchers crazy with their Bugatti speed.

As the early-1980s St. Louis first baseman Keith Hernandez told the MLB Network: “I would love to be able to put us in the league today and see how we’d do. They would have heart attacks.”

The 2023 Cardinals can’t capture an Olympic gold medal in the 4 x 100 relay, but they should benefit from the rules changes that should make it easier to steal bases.

No. 1, the surface size of the bases have been enlarged by three inches. The installation of bigger bases will decrease the distance between first and second base by 4 and ½ inches. More of those close-call steal attempts will go the runner’s way.

No. 2, there are limits on pickoff attempts and pitchers stepping off the mound rubber to freeze the runner and reset. From now on a pitcher can step off or attempt a pickoff only twice during a plate appearance. But if the pitcher fails to nab the runner on his third pickoff attempt, a balk will be called, and the runner will advance to the next base.

No. 3, the advent of the pitch clock will prevent pitchers from dawdling in a way that makes it more difficult for a baserunner to ascertain the pitcher’s rhythm and timing.

The rules were tested in the minor leagues during recent seasons. In 2002, MiLB games had a 26% increase in steal attempts, and we’ll probably see a similar increase in the majors in 2023. If so, MLB teams may come up with an average of 1.7 steals per game this season. And that would be progress.

Per, here’s a look at the average number of steals per game through the decades:

1980s: 2.27
1990s: 2.13
2000s: 1.63
2010s: 1.55
2020s: 1.25 (so far.)

The new rules “will reward players that obviously can steal bases,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell told “And it will put all pitchers in a little bit of a strategy disadvantage with these guys.”

The Cardinals emphasis on smart and opportunistic baserunning should pay off again in 2023. The new rules should work in STL’s favor because baserunning is a team strength. And that includes having a positive track record at stealing bases.

In 2021 the Cardinals were a net +45 on steal attempts, and that ranked sixth-best in baseball. Last season the Redbirds once again were a +45 on steal attempts for seventh-best in the majors. So that’s a plus 90 for the Cardinals on steals over the past two seasons.

In 2022, the MLB-wide success rate on stolen bases was 75 percent. The Cardinals exceeded that with a positive percentage of 79%, and their average SB success rate over the past two seasons is 80%.

This is notable because a success less than 75 percent is considered inadequate, inefficient and not worth the risk of giving up an out. Gone are the days when St. Louis teams managed by Mike Matheny had stolen-base success rates as poor as 57, 64 and 67 percent. A team has 27 outs to work with in a nine-inning game, and mindlessly running into outs is a terrible waste of a precious commodity.

“Stealing bases adds some runs but very few, and you lose most of the runs that you gain by having runners caught stealing,” the great Bill James said.

From 1997 through 2003, MLB’s success rate on steals came in under 70% for seven consecutive seasons. It was even worse in the 1980s. For example, when the Cardinals won the World Series in 1982, the overall MLB success rate on steals that season was only 62 percent. Metrics-savvy front offices and field managers have recognized the stupidity of squandering outs on the bases, and the industry has adjusted.

But with the stolen-base totals in decline, baseball’s entertainment value has suffered. In 1987, MLB teams combined for 3,588 stolen bases, the highest total during the post-expansion era (1961-present.) In 2022, teams combined for 2,486 steals. That’s 1,099 fewer steals than the peak point of ‘87. In 2022 teams attempted an average of 0.67 steals per game – a 45 percent decline from the 1987 average of 1.21 steal attempts per contest.

In 1987 Vince Coleman led the majors with 109 steals and was one of 15 players that had at least 40. And there were 18 players that had between 30 and 39 steals. So if you add all of that together, that’s 33 big-leaguers with at least 30 stolen bases in ‘87.

In 2022, Jon Berti (Marlins) led MLB with 41 steals, and only five other players had as many as 30. The new rules won’t lead to a return to 1987-style baseball, but the trend will move in a better direction. And the Cardinals – who ranked 13th in the majors in steal attempts last season – will run with it.

Former St. Louis manager Mike Shildt did a fantastic job of cleaning up the base-running mess for the Cardinals, and current manager Oli Marmol has continued the trend. In the last three full seasons, the Cardinals have ranked no worse than No. 7 in the majors in net baserunning gain. That includes steals, and the success of advancing an extra base on a batted ball (excluding force-outs.) In those three seasons – 2019, 2021, 2022 – the Cardinals picked up 225 bases with their cunning baserunning.

Based on last season, these Cardinals figure to make the most of the enhanced opportunity to steal bases in 2023:

* Tommy Edman, who stole 32 bases in 35 attempts. He was fifth in the majors in steals in 2022 with an exceptional success rate of 91.4 percent.

* Tyler O’Neill had 14 steals in 18 attempts. And if he’s healthy and playing regularly, we may see O’Neill reach 25 steals. O’Neill is among the top two percent of major-league players in sprint speed.

* Not that Paul Goldschmidt will be as active as Vince Coleman back in the day, but he went 7 for 7 in steal attempts last season, is a perfect 19 for 19 over the last two years, and has been successful 23 times in his 24 steal attempts as a Cardinal.

* Dylan Carlson swiped five bases in seven attempts last season and is capable of doing more.

* Watch out for Lars Nootbaar, who had four steals and an 80 percent success rate in 2022. Twenty steals is a reasonable goal for Nootbaar in ‘23.

I assume Marmol will push it even more in hunting for steals, but he’ll use data and scouting to form his strategy. Marmol is smart, and he won’t waste his mind by carelessly wasting outs on misguided and reckless steal attempts. But if the Cardinals could successfully steal bases at such a high percentage (80%) over the last two seasons, what will they do with the extra freedom provided by the new rules? I don’t think the Cardinals have received nearly enough credit from their own fans for their obvious skill at running the bases, and at stealing bases. Perhaps that will change in 2023.

And on the other side of the equation, the Cardinals will do well to counter the opponent’s stealing game because Willson Contreras has one of the fastest pop times and strongest arms among MLB catchers. He’s picked off seven runners over the past two seasons. His career caught-stealing rate (31%) is seven percent above the MLB average since the start of the 2016 season. With the added importance of policing the running game, the value of the Contreras defense should go up in 2023.

Before I go – and I saved this until the end so you can skip over it – here are the team-by-team rankings for net stolen-base gain in 2022. I offer this to give you a look at the good (and not so good) teams for a general idea of what to expect in 2023. Here they are, grouped 10 at a time:

Guardians,  +65
Marlins,  +64
Dodgers,  +62
Phillies, +49
Rangers, +46
Diamondbacks,  +46
Cardinals, +45
Astros,  +39
White Sox, +38
Cubs,  +37

Royals,  +36
Brewers,  +36
Yankees,  +36
Orioles,  +32
A’s,   +32
Giants, +32
Mariners,  +29
Braves,  +25
Pirates,  +25
Angels,  +25

Rays,  +21
Mets,  +18
Nationals,  +13
Red Sox,  +12
Rockies,  +5
Padres,  +5
Twins,  +4
Tigers,  -1
Blue Jays, -3
Reds, -8

Nice work by the Redlegs there.

Thanks for reading …


Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at or the 590 app.

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All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Prospectus, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball Net and Spotrac.

Bernie Miklasz
Bernie Miklasz

For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.