Stolen bases are up across the league, as we all knew they’d be with the new base sizes and pitcher disengagement rules implemented this season. The Yankees aren’t taking too much advantage of it — they rank near league average in stolen bases (42) but are almost dead last in the league with a 74 percent success rate — but nonetheless, they’re fitting in with the trend. They’ve attempted 57 steals as a team over their 61 games through Monday, a 0.93 per game average that’s a solid tick up over the 0.82 per game we saw last year.
That being said, if it seems like the mayhem on the basepaths we saw earlier in the season has calmed, you’d be right, at least in the case of the Yankees. After coming out of the gates hot with 31 stolen base attempts in April, the number dwindled to 25 in May, and now, a single attempt through their first three games of June. It makes some degree of sense: Conventional wisdom and analytics both tell us that a stolen base only becomes worth the potential consequences of a caught stealing if you can bank on a success rate in the vicinity of 75%, and the Yankees are one of two teams that haven’t been able to cross that breakeven point this year. If you’re not good at it, don’t do it!
Still, it’s undeniably hurting the team. According to FanGraphs, their -3.1 baserunning runs accumulated this year are nearer to the bottom of the league than the midway point, well on pace to sink below last year’s -5.1 mark. That’s despite the addition of Anthony Volpe, already one of the league’s most talented baserunners (his 4.4 BsR is third in the game!), to the mix. It’s disappointing that the Yankees don’t seem to be taking advantage of the leeway given by the new rules. What gives?
First, their two most successful stealers from 2022 just aren’t running. Isiah Kiner-Falefa — who ran an excellent 83 percent success rate on 51 attempts across 2021-22 — has been hampered by a lack of playing time and an even greater inability to get on base than last year. Perhaps more critically, Aaron Judge isn’t taking off anymore. He’s got just four attempts this year, a rate of one every 16 opportunities (on base with no runner ahead), a 25 percent drop from his 1-in-12 rate last season. Given his proneness to injury, it’s hard to blame him. Baserunning from him would be a luxury, nice to have, but for the sake of keeping his bat in the lineup, it’s something we’ll probably have to live without.
We’ll also probably have to live without more attempts from Gleyber Torres, who’s second on the team with 11. That might not be a bad thing. Torres stole bases in four out of six games to start the season (five steals total) and is 1-for-6 since, bringing rate since 2021 down to 65 percent. Gleyber, please stop stealing bases!
On the other hand, Anthony Volpe’s dynamism has been sorely missed in recent weeks. He’s easily the team’s best base stealer, as evidenced by his 13-for-13 success rate on top of all the reasons provided by Esteban Rivera at FanGraphs earlier this year. But if it feels like the swipes have dried up lately along with the rest of his production, they have: He entered Tuesday having not taken a base in nearly a month after taking just 41 games to get to 13.
But it’s not because he’s actually trying any less. In April, Volpe stood on first or second base with the next base open 40 times, attempting eight steals, a rate of 1-in-5 opportunities. In May, that rate stayed steady at 1-in-4.8, but thanks to his slumping bat, he simply got fewer opportunities. To this point in June, Volpe’s been on base with nobody ahead of him just a single time.
The combination of those two things — Judge’s reluctance to run and Volpe’s inability to get himself in a position to run — along with Harrison Bader’s injury struggles are doing a number on the Yankees’ baserunning ability. Simply put, those are their three best base stealers (Bader is 63-for-80 on his career), and none of them are stealing bases at the moment. Remove those three, and the Yankees are ghastly on the basepaths. Even including Gleyber’s early streak, the team’s success rate removing those three plummets to barely 60 percent, in a not-insignificant 32 attempts. The way things are at the moment, they’re more or less blocked from being an effective base-stealing team.
Banking on Aaron Judge to return to the form he had when he was healthy enough to play a rare 157 games, as he did last year, is probably a long shot. But Judge stolen bases are a luxury, and Volpe will break out of his funk and start getting on base more sooner or later. When he does, he’ll be adding a double-boost to the Yankees lineup in a way that we haven’t seen in a long time. It’s bad now, but there may be better times ahead on the bases.