Woeful A’s, Stolen Bases Up: Will MLB History Be Made In 2023?

August 22, 2023

While we’ve seen a few hot — or cold — starts in MLB this season, as we head into June, we wondered: could we witness anything that’s truly historical? The best shot at that season may come not from an impressive record, but one of futility. Let’s dig deeper.


The Futile Oakland A’s

It wasn’t too long ago that the Oakland Athletics had an impressive core of young players, boasting the likes of Matt Chapman, Matt Olson and Jesus Luzardo. They traded each member of that trio — in addition to several other players — and are now left with what is easily the least impressive roster in the majors in 2023.

Some might argue that was an intentional strategy by owner John Fisher to tank the team’s standing in Oakland and force a move to Las Vegas. Given that context, it’s no accident that the A’s have a 10-41 record through the first 51 games of the season.

While that translates to a dreadful .200 winning percentage, Oakland looks to be a safe bet to avoid a worse season than the 1899 Cleveland Spiders, who won only 20 of 154 games (.130 winning percentage).

But if we narrow our scope of teams to the modern era — considered to be from 1901 onwards with the formation of the American League — we could indeed witness history — or infamy — in 2023. The 1916 Philadelphia Athletics currently own the lowest winning percentage of the modern era at .235 and a record of 36-117.

Believe it or not, the Athletics are on pace for an inferior record and would have to finish the rest of the season 29-83 to avoid making history. There’s little indication the team will improve, as they finished April 5-23 and are 4-18 through May.

There are a number of incredible A’s stats this season, as you might imagine, but here’s just one — the A’s team ERA is 6.95. Not only is that the worst in the league, but there’s a massive gap between Oakland and the next-worst team, the Kansas City Royals, sitting in 29th at 5.15.

In fact, the gap between the A’s and Royals is almost the same as the gap between the Royals and the current team ERA leaders, the Houston Astros (3.23).

For the record, the Athletics are currently +20000 on Tipico to win the AL West.

Tracking Down Aaron Judge

We saw history in 2022 as Aaron Judge broke Roger Maris’ long-standing record for most home runs in a season in the American League with 62 dingers. The MLB record of 73 set by Barry Bonds during the 2001 season figures to be safe for the foreseeable future, but we do have some impressive sluggers looking to chase down Judge’s mark from last season.

Pete Alonso hit 53 homers during his rookie year in 2019 but has gone yard 40 times in a campaign just once since. Barring injury, he’s an excellent bet to change that trend, as he already has 18 long balls just 49 games into the season. That puts him exactly on pace to hit 60 home runs, so the question centers around whether he’ll be able to keep this pace.

Per Statcast, Alonso actually deserves better results, given the way he’s scalded the ball through the first two months. He has a .609 xSLG with an actual slugging percentage of .541. If he can stay healthy, we might be on watch for Alonso to surpass Judge’s mark from last season.

Max Muncy has 15 home runs through 50 games, a pace that would give him an impressive 49 homers across a full season. However, unlike Alonso, Muncy is already getting the most out of his batted balls as his xSLG (.528) nearly perfectly matches his actual slugging percentage (.520).

Another strike against Muncy is that he occasionally sits against left-handed pitching – taking away opportunities for him to go deep.

The final name to keep an eye on is Judge himself. After smacking a clutch solo homer Tuesday against the Orioles, Judge has eight home runs in his last nine games. He’s already had one stint on the injured list, so he’ll have to stay healthy the rest of the season to have a chance at matching last year’s output.

The Need For Speed

MLB this season has made a concerted effort to incentivize getting the ball in play more often and getting players on the move once they reach base. A few rule changes were made to make stolen bases more prevalent, highlighted by the limiting of pickoff attempts and bigger bases.

So far, the strategy has worked. Entering Tuesday’s games, there were 998 stolen bases in the league, which would be a pace of roughly 3,300 for the season. The league hasn’t surpassed that number since 1999 and hasn’t surpassed 2,500 in any campaign since 2018.

It’s unlikely that we see history, as the highest mark in a single season is 3,585 — posted in 1987 — but there’s little doubt that players are more active on the basepaths once again.

On an individual basis, in 2022, six players stole at least 30 bags. To be on pace for that 30-stolen base mark, players would currently need around 10 stolen bases thus far — which 17 players have accomplished.

Last season, Jon Berti led the league with 41 stolen bases. To this point in 2023, eight players are on pace to surpass that mark. Oakland’s Esteury Ruiz leads the league with 26 stolen bases already — that’s at least something for A’s fans to hang their hats on.

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