It has come as no surprise that steals are back, with stolen bases across Major League Baseball at their highest point in decades. This seems largely due to the increased size of bases, which have gone from 15 square inches to 18 square inches. As a result, the distances between first and second base and second and third base have shrunk by 4.5 inches, which can really make a difference even though it may not seem like much. To this end, the Philadelphia Phillies have enjoyed running the bases more than in years past, and their exploits this season have led to a quirk in team history: The 2023 Philadelphia Phillies have had seven players reach double digit steals, which is the first time that they've done it in over 100 years.
I scoured the stats over at good old Baseball Reference, and 1913 was the last time that the Phillies spread the steals around so much. That season, the team was paced by Hans Lobert's 41 steals, and six other players hit double figures, including Sherry Magee and Gavvy Cravath. You remember that club, don't you? Since then, however, it's been nothing but close calls. In 1999, five Phillies hit the mark, with Kevin Sefcik finishing at nine and Rico Brogna stalling out at eight thefts. In 1992, the same thing happened, with five players hitting the mark but Dave Hollins (9) and Mickey Morandini (8) just missing. The 1980 World Champs came oh so close. Six Phillies got to 10+ but Manny Trillo ended at eight. The team also had six participants in 1976, but they didn't come close to a seventh.
With the realization that the game of baseball has changed drastically over the decades, this is still an impressive mark to reach. The 2023 Phillies don't have an absolute burner on their team who put up over 50 steals. It's more impressive, in my estimation, that they are a threat to swipe a bag when seemingly anyone reaches base. The opposing pitcher must keep an eye out, and every little distraction tilts the advantage more toward the offense. Bryson Stott has emerged as a quality baserunner, Trea Turner is flirting with a 30/30 season, Nick Castellanos has established a career high in SB, and J.T. Realmuto continues to be just about the only catcher in MLB who can run.
Credit to the Phils' coaches, instructors, and the players for taking as much advantage of this facet of the game as they can this season. The rules changed, and the team bought in. They don't have to mash three-run homers all the time to win ballgames, although those are fun too. Instead, the possible "small ball" advantage of having so many capable base stealers could be the difference come playoff time.
When you looked at this lineup before the season, you wouldn't have expected them to rank in the top 10 in steals while also being caught fewer times than the league average, as well. And yet, here we are. The Phillies are being smart about navigating the bases, and it's resulted in them accomplishing a feat that they haven't managed since the Wilson administration. Congrats to all involved. Now, let's see if any of this translates into October success.