TORONTO — Major League Baseball is on the way to having its highest stolen-base numbers in 36 years, and yet the Yankees have largely missed the boat.
The new rules that have led to the increased action on the base paths favor teams with athleticism, which the Yankees’ roster has lacked.
Stealing more bases than the 98 they had recorded entering Thursday — the 10th-fewest in the majors — would not instantly fix the Yankees’ offense, but it certainly has not helped their cause during a season in which they have struggled to create much action consistently.
“Obviously with the [pickoff limits] and the push in the running game with the bigger bases, yeah, that definitely favors athleticism,” manager Aaron Boone said before Thursday’s 6-0 loss to the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. “That’s an area we want to continue to improve.”
It is part of the reason why the Yankees need their younger players to take on key roles in what they hope is a bounce-back season next year.
When the Yankees called up Oswald Peraza and Everson Pereira in late August — and then Jasson Dominguez on Sept. 1 — their athleticism quickly stood out.
It was partly a credit to them, but also partly an indictment of the roster the Yankees had been carrying for most of the season.
Entering Thursday, the Yankees’ average sprint speed of 26.6 feet per second ranked dead last in the majors, according to Baseball Savant.
The website measures bolts — any run above 30 feet per second (considered elite speed) — in which the Yankees also rank last with six, all of them coming from Peraza (three), Estevan Florial (two) and Dominguez (one).
Of course, there are teams headed for the playoffs that do not have high-end team speed and have not wreaked havoc on the bases, though they have found ways to make up for that in other areas of their offense while the Yankees have not.
“Athleticism has always been at a premium, so I don’t want to understate what it was before,” Boone said. “But there’s no question that athleticism is probably at more of a premium with some of the [rule changes]. It’s one of those necessary things that you want to have moving forward, giving yourself a better chance to win.
“But again, there’s a lot of different ways to build a roster and be a formidable team. Athleticism is probably more in play than ever.”
Rookie shortstop Anthony Volpe led the Yankees with 24 steals coming into Thursday, though his knack for swiping bases has cooled off since a hot start.
The 22-year-old stole 13 bases in his first 41 games before having just 11 in his next 114.
Behind Volpe in steals were Harrison Bader (17) and Isiah Kiner-Falefa (13), neither of whom is expected to be on the roster next season.
Gleyber Torres (13) was the only other Yankee who had recorded double-digit steals.
The Yankees could have more base-stealing threats in Peraza, who stole 33 bases at Triple-A last season, and Dominguez, who swiped 40 bags between Double-A and Triple-A this year.
In order to show that at the majors, though, they need to be getting on base regularly enough to put themselves in a position to run.
Overall, the Yankees’ 98 steals entering Thursday were fewer than they had last year (102), when the rules were not skewed to favor base runners.
Meanwhile, across MLB this season, there were 3,416 steals through Wednesday’s games, which was on pace to be the most since 1987 (3,585).
Whether the Yankees get up to speed next year remains a question that will depend on how they reshape their roster this offseason.