As MLB players adjust to the league’s new pitch clock and baseball games are shortened in length, there was also another notable change on the first day of the 2023 MLB season on Thursday: an uptick in stolen bases.
Base runners converted on 21 of 23 stolen base attempts on Opening Day compared to going just 5-of-9 in seven games during the first day of the ’22 season. Granted, there were 15 games played on Thursday, but this year’s number of bases stolen marked the most on any Opening Day since 1907. The Orioles led the way after the first day, stealing five bases in Baltimore’s 10–9 victory against the Red Sox.
The 91.3 stolen base percentage on Opening Day this year was more than 16 percent higher than the percentage in ‘22 (75%). According to The Washington Post, there was only one day during the ’22 campaign that MLB players recorded 20 or more steals with a success rate above 90 percent. That day was July 26 when baserunners stole 22 of 24 bases.
The increase in stolen bases stems from the league restricting pitchers to only two pickoff attempts per batter. If a pitcher attempts a third pickoff, it must result in an out. If it does not, pitchers will be called for a balk. The bases on the diamond also expanded, decreasing the space between bags by 4 1/2 feet.
In addition to changes in the number of stolen bases, MLB saw the pitch clock in action for the first time during a slate of regular season games. There were 14 pitch clock violations committed through 15 games on Thursday and the average length of game time was reduced by 26 minutes from last year’s group of Opening Day games to two hours and 45 minutes.