Improved baserunning a central focus for Cubs entering 2023
As the 2022 season wore on, it became clear that the Cubs couldn’t rely on out-slugging their opponents on a regular basis.
That was expected given the makeup of the roster and it was proven throughout the first month of the season. But when the calendar flipped, so too did the Cubs’ mindset.
They began to push the envelope on the basepaths, namely in trying to steal bases.
The Cubs stole just 4 bases in April but then paced all of Major League Baseball in the category with 30 swipes in May.
It was all by design, as the Cubs looked to manufacture offense and play to their roster’s strength.
The Cubs ranked 4th in MLB with 111 stolen bases in a year where the average team stole just 83 bags. They were also right at league average (75%) in stolen base success rate so they weren’t just running to run and push the envelope needlessly.
It was the franchise’s highest stolen base total in 16 years:
That said, a jump in stolen bases doesn’t necessarily mean the Cubs were happy with their baserunning prowess in 2022.
Manager David Ross was blunt with his assessment of the team’s baserunning as the season came to a close.
“I would say it like this — we have not run the bases well,” Ross said. “We have gone first to third maybe as good as anybody in the league and we have stolen way more bases than have been projected and what you say what our team speed is. There’s two areas.
“But we have run into some outs on the bases that we definitely need to clean up.”
Jed Hoyer concurred.
“How do I evaluate our baserunning? Not good enough,” Hoyer said at his end-of-season press conference in October. “We made too many mistakes. We gave out too many outs on the bases.
“There were times I think we pushed the envelope intentionally hard because we didn’t have the ability to hit a lot of homers. And so we tried to create some runs, manufacture some runs. I think that part of it was understandable.
“But there were times that felt like we could be a bit sloppy on the bases and that’s the stuff that winning teams don’t do and we have to cut that part of it out. So I think baserunning is an area that we can improve significantly.”
The numbers back up what Ross and Hoyer are saying:
—Only 1 team in baseball (Cleveland Guardians) went from 1st to 3rd on a single more than the Cubs in 2022. David Ross’ squad went from 1st to 3rd on 37.4% of its opportunities throughout the season.
—The Cubs made more outs at home (24) than any other team in the league.
—Only the Tampa Bay Rays made more outs on the basepaths (73) than the Cubs did in 2022 (68). The next closest team behind the Cubs was the Dodgers, who accounted for 58 outs on the bases. The league average was 47 outs on the bases, so the Cubs made essentially 45% more outs on the basepaths than the average MLB team in 2022.
—FanGraphs’ catch-all Baserunning metric pegged the Cubs at 17th in baseball, ahead of the World Series champion Astros as well as other playoff teams like the Yankees, Mariners, Blue Jays and Mets.
This winter, the Cubs hope to inject more power and instant offense into their lineup but even without that, baserunning is a major focal point for the organization.
“It’s certainly something that is going to be a real focus of our meetings this winter,” Hoyer said. “And it’s gonna be a real focus of how we go about things in Spring Training. And it’s gonna be a real focus next year that there’s a difference between being aggressive and giving up outs and sometimes we gave up outs.”
The Cubs will bring back some of their top baserunners on the 2023 roster as utility man Zach McKinstry (7 stolen bases) and shortstop Nico Hoerner (20 SBs) ranked as the top baserunners by FanGraphs’ metric. Christopher Morel (10 SBs), Ian Happ (9), Seiya Suzuki (9) and Patrick Wisdom (8) are also still currently in the picture for the 2023 roster.
Hoyer’s front office is working to improve the offense as a whole but the Cubs believe some elements of their aggressive baserunning style can carry over into 2023.
There are also rule changes that could end up having a major impact on baserunning — particularly stolen bases — around the game with the addition of a pitch clock, a limit on pickoff attempts and slightly larger bases. In that sense, the Cubs could have a bit of a step up on the competition after a season in which they learned a lot from their aggressiveness.
“We’ve had some games this year where we’ve made a lot of outs on the bases and it feels like, ‘what are we doing?'” Hoerner said. “But then there’s games that we’ve changed by being aggressive.
“As a team that hasn’t had a lot of slug this year, you do have to force it at times. As our lineup starts to fill out more, we’re gonna be able to maintain some of the qualities that have made us effective in this time and then combine that with a team that does have some slug and things like that, then you’ve got a pretty dynamic offense all around. I do think it’s a pretty significant skillset to build.”