Nico Hoerner

In a resurgent Cubs offense, stolen bases play pivotal role

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Entering play on Wednesday, the Chicago Cubs find themselves with a 59-55 record and just a game and a half behind the first-place Milwaukee Brewers, with the team's offense standing out as some of the league's most improved in 2023.

The Cubs finished 2022 with a bottom-third offense in the league, ranking 22nd in runs scored and a far cry from the current fifth-place ranking the North Siders occupy in 2023.

While it's no secret that the Cubs ability to get on base at a high clip and high walk rate have served as a catalyst for the lineup this season, the action on the base paths is an addition to the Cubs attack that was largely ignored in the previous core of players.

With 99 stolen bases thus far in 2023, the Cubs have already surpassed the full season total for all but five Cubs teams since the 1994 players' strike. The effort has been spearheaded by Nico Hoerner and Cody Bellinger, who hold career-high totals with 28 and 17 steals respectively.

The increased running game is certainly at least partially aided by rule changes that took effect prior to the season that increased the size of the bases.

Leaguewide, 0.89 stolen bases are attempted per game with a 79.9% success rate, a significant jump from just 0.68 attempts per game and a 75.4% success rate in 2022.

This year's figures mark the most stolen bases attempted per game since 2012, with a success rate that would serve as the highest all-time leaguewide.

Beyond the help given to all teams across the league with the rule change, David Ross' Cubs have taken a more aggressive approach once on base, a tactic that seems to carry over from last season.

After the transitional 2021 club stole 86 bases, which was still good for fourth in the National League amid what was a then-continued decline of steals, 2022 marked a new identity for the club.

While perhaps underwhelming overall with a 74-88 record last season, the Cubs were second in the senior circuit with 111 stolen bases, marking the franchise's third-highest total since the 1994 strike, only behind 1997 and 2006.

The latter of those seasons was greatly aided by the presence of career speedster Juan Pierre, who stole 58 bags in his sole season as a Cub.

The Cubs are currently 99-for-120 on stolen base attempts in 2023, and have appeared to strategically run, frequently taking advantage of pitchers who are slow to the mound while creating scoring opportunities off of singles, particularly with two outs.

This approach is undoubtedly an unfamiliar one for Cubs fans, who not all that long ago saw the franchise's period of greatest success stem from a high-risk, high-reward offense that piled up home runs and doubles just as quickly as it did strikeouts.

Though the Cubs are still striking out at above a league average rate, the modest drop in strikeouts has also led to creating more opportunities for a team willing to run once on base, with the ball in play more than it was in 2022.

While Nico Hoerner and Cody Bellinger both undoubtedly possess speed well above league-average, the Cubs have achieved stolen base success without a known speedster, instead being more opportunistic while undoubtedly aided by the increased base size.

For a franchise that has long struggled with runners in scoring position, simply creating more opportunities for hitters has led to increased success.

After hitting just .230/.318/.379 with RISP in 2022, the Cubs have fared a significantly better .268/.344/.419 slash line, helping create confidence throughout the lineup to perform in what are often seen as pressure-filled situations.

The Cubs' .268 batting average with RISP is the club's highest since 2008, when a dynamic lineup fared a .278 average with RISP.

The increased conversion on scoring opportunities, which have more often been created by stolen bases, have helped to create a positive feedback loop in the team's offense.

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