Teams are running wild on the Red Sox with the new rule changes

Pittsburg Pirates v Boston Red Sox
Pittsburg Pirates v Boston Red Sox / Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/GettyImages

Major League Baseball implemented several changes this season with an emphasis on speeding up the game while simultaneously creating more action on the field. While the early returns have been promising from the perspective of their intended goals, some of these changes have been costly for the Boston Red Sox.

New rule changes limiting the number of pickoff attempts a pitcher can make and increasing the size of the bags to reduce the distance between bases were made with the intention of sparking activity on the base paths. It's working, perhaps a bit too well for Boston's taste.

According to Rotowire’s Jason Collette, major league teams stole 101 bases on 122 attempts for a success rate of 83% through the first five days of the season. That's a significant increase from 84 steals on 117 attempts for a 74% success rate through the first five days of last season. The league is attempting steals at the highest rate since 2011 and the second-highest rate in the past 20 years. Teams are running more often and converting those attempts more efficiently. If anything close to the current success rate continues, teams will be encouraged to run more often.

The Red Sox can't stop teams from running

No team has been as negatively impacted by these rule changes as the Red Sox have been in the early stages of this season. Opposing teams are a perfect 14-for-14 in stolen bases against Boston. Entering the day on Thursday, no other team had allowed more than nine or had more than 11 attempts against them, per Baseball Reference. Nine teams have failed to catch a runner stealing this season but Boston is the only one with more than five attempts against them.

All 14 stolen bases have come at the expense of primary catcher Reese McGuire. While he's never been a primary catcher for a full season before, dampening the sample size, McGuire doesn't have a reputation for being a liability in controlling the running game. He threw out 33% of opposing runners attempting to steal last season, which ranked sixth in the majors among catchers with 75+ games played at the position. He was above average with a 1.97 seconds Pop Time to second base, per Baseball Savant. McGuire doesn't have the strongest throwing arm but his quick exchange has generally allowed him to control the running game at a respectable level.

The fact that teams are running wild on McGuire this season suggests that this is either a small sample-sized fluke due for regression or there are factors outside of the catcher's control. Red Sox pitchers are struggling to hold runners with the rule limiting pickoff attempts while adapting to a pitch clock that forces them to speed up their pace on the mound. Runners are taking advantage by getting a better jump and the larger bases mean they slide into their destination a split second faster.

Not all stolen bases are going to lead to the opposing team scoring runs but some have done damage. In the seventh inning of Tuesday's loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates, Tyler Heineman, who stole only one base last season, swiped second with two outs. Bryan Reynolds followed with a base hit to drive in the run. The Baltimore Orioles stole five bases on Opening Day and all five runners came around to score in a game the Red Sox ultimately lost by one run.

The Red Sox lineup can't capitalize on the rule changes

The good news is that the Red Sox haven't been caught stealing yet this season. Perfection on the base paths! Unfortunately, they only had two attempts through their first six games. Only the Los Angeles Angels, who are 1-for-1 this season, have attempted fewer steals.

This shouldn't be surprising considering Trevor Story led the Red Sox with 13 steals last season despite appearing in only 94 games. Xander Bogaerts (8) and Jarren Duran (7) were the only other Red Sox players with more than five steals. Story opened the season on the injured list, Bogaerts bolted for San Diego and Duran is toiling away in Triple-A. Boston didn't exactly stock up on a bunch of burners to improve in the speed department over the offseason even though they were aware that the rule changes would place a greater emphasis on the running game.

Speed is a tool the Red Sox are severely lacking. The average sprint speed in the major leagues is 27 feet per second. The current Red Sox active roster only has six players who were above that mark last season. Connor Wong led the way with 28.8 ft/sec, which tied for 69th in the majors, per Baseball Savant. Story (28.5 ft/sec) would have been next on the list but he hasn't played yet this season and he didn't crack the top 100 last year. Yu Chang (28.4 ft/sec), Raimel Tapia (28.2 ft/sec) and Adam Duvall (27.9 ft/sec) are the only other current Red Sox position players who ranked in the top 200 last season in sprint speed. Among them, Duvall is the only everyday player along with a backup catcher, utility infielder and a fifth outfielder.

The Red Sox could improve on the base paths later in the season if Story and Adalberto Mondesi make successful returns from injuries. Duran or David Hamilton can provide blazing speed if their bats hit consistently enough to climb their way up from Triple-A Worcester. In the meantime, Boston doesn't have the right personnel to take advantage of the new rules.

Boston doesn't necessarily need to pile up steals in order to succeed. They play half their games in a ballpark built for extra-base hits that can score runners from first base. The Red Sox were one of the worst base stealing teams in the majors last year but still managed to finish sixth in runs scored.

While their limitations with stealing bases might not doom the offense, their inability to stop other teams from running is a growing concern. Teams will learn quickly that they can run on the Red Sox and it will only encourage them to send their runners more frequently. This could lead to more runs against their pitching staff and they can't count on their offense to balance it out by countering with their own running game.

Whether it be a roster move to acquire a stronger defensive catcher or working with the pitching staff on doing a better job of holding runners, the Red Sox need to do something to stop teams from running wild against them.