Cincinnati Reds manager David Bell, when speaking with MLB.com during this year’s spring training, made his intentions clear for the 2023 season. He wanted his team focused on, “…winning every moment each and every day on the field.” One of the ways for a team like this young Reds clubhouse to do that is by getting the most out of every at-bat and every on-base situation.
The formula is simple: to win games, generate runs. That’s something they could never quite put together last year on their way to only the second 100-loss season in the entire 150-odd-year existence of the club.
So how can they realistically “win every moment” on offense, and where is one place all these winning moments could come from? By aggressively attacking the base paths.
Why Stealing Bases Could be Key to Reds 2023 Season
All About That Base
Despite the hitter-friendly confines of their home park, Great American Ball Park, the Reds lineup does not include a lot of power. The collective home runs of the team through the first 10 games of the season is good for only 14th in the league at 11 (shared among four other teams). But there’s been an exciting turn of events in one area of the Reds offensive game this year: getting on base.
So far the 4-6 Reds sit squarely at ninth in the National League with an on-base-percentage of .332. Not great, but better definitely than average and higher than many outside of the Reds clubhouse expected at the start of the season. For context, the $245 million plus payroll of the mid-market super team the San Diego Padres is sitting at 11th in the National League with a sub-par .320.
Without household names like Manny Machado, Juan Soto, or Fernando Tatis Jr. — or an endless bankroll from a willing owner — the Reds are doing enough to put themselves in position to consistently get on base. But what are they doing when they get there?
READ MORE: Why to watch the Reds in 2023
A Case for Bases
For those not in the know, MLB has instituted several rule changes for the 2023 season. One of those was increasing the size of the bases from 15 inches to 18 inches. In effect, they’re decreasing the distance of the base paths by 4.5 inches. That may not sound like much, but, in the oft-cited words of Hall of Famer Branch Rickey, “Baseball is a game of inches.”
During this year’s spring training, Bell and his staff seemed to echo that sentiment put forth by Rickey. Bell and his team set about putting this incremental change created by the new base size rule to good use by emphasizing base stealing. When speaking to Charlie Goldsmith of the Cincinnati Enquirer about this tactic, Bell said, “The action on the bases, baserunning (is) even more important…I would anticipate being able to see a real difference in the type of game (we play).”
So, how has Bell been translating that off-season work he and his team put into base stealing in live games this season?
The Reds have already had five one-run games this season. Of those five, they’ve lost all but one, leaving their win/loss percentage at an abysmal .200. In those tight games, how many stolen bases did the team get? Two. One by Jonathan India and the other by Jake Fraley in their most recent losing effort to the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday night.
How many additional stolen base attempts were there during these close games? One. A lone caught stealing attributed to PH-LF Stuart Fairchild in their Opening Day loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Over the course of their 10 games to open the 2023 season, the Reds have stolen a total of five bases (and been caught stealing a total of four times). That’s good for 20th place in the league. For comparison, the Cleveland Guardians sit atop the league leaderboard in stolen bases at 19 through twelve games.
For those of you keeping score, the Reds have only achieved/attempted to steal base a total of nine times. Remember, this is a team with an above-average on-base percentage who made it a point in spring training to focus on base running. How many of those one-run losses could have been converted to wins if they had just attempted to steal more bases? Just where did Bell’s game-day strategy of base stealing go?
The Path Ahead
This is a team that, in the eyes of many, is overachieving with the talent and staff that they currently have at their disposal. They are doing a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to making contact at the plate and putting runners on base. By taking a step back and re-affirming the mission statement Bell put into place for the year, namely, “winning every moment,” the Reds can truly embrace the opportunities they’ve created for themselves thus far.
With a concerted effort to attack the base paths and capitalize on situations with runners in scoring positions, this is a team that has a real chance to not only keep surprising their critics but actually compete in their division. They’ve shown a will to win, the question is whether or not they are willing to use every tool at their disposal to go out and take those wins.
Main Image: Sam Greene / USA TODAY NETWORK