Published on December 11, 2023 by Walker Smith  
Trophy Picture

In the dynamic realm of Major League Baseball (MLB), where powerhouse franchises tend to dominate the game through towering home runs, stellar pitching staffs, and substantial financial resources dedicated to player recruitment, the 2023 World Series unfolded as a captivating narrative. The Texas Rangers, a top-tier team all season long, showcased their dominance with an impressive display of home run hitters in their lineup, illustrating the prevailing dominance of power-hitting rosters in the sport.

In stark contrast, the narrative of the Arizona Diamondbacks, the underdogs of the same World Series, unveils a compelling tale of commitment and strategic play-calling. Despite substantial resource differentials (the Texas Rangers total payroll salary for 2023 was $251.3 million while the Diamondbacks had a total payroll salary of $119.3 million), the Diamondbacks showcase the potential success of small-ball tactics, employing strategies such as bunting and stealing bases. Their journey to the 2023 World Series serves as a testament to the idea that, even in a baseball landscape dominated by power hitters, calculated small-ball maneuvers can prove transformative for less powerful teams, challenging the prevailing belief that power-hitting strategies are the exclusive path to success in MLB.

"Small-ball" tactics present a strategic offensive approach that diverges from the conventional reliance on power hitting. Rather than trusting sheer strength or power, small-ball tactics emphasize finesse, speed, and precision, enabling teams to capitalize on their unique capabilities (such as bunting and aggressive baserunning) to effectively level the playing field. The Texas Rangers, renowned for their power-centric approach, instill fear in opponents with their strong lineup of home run hitters. Nevertheless, a meticulously executed small-ball strategy possesses the capacity to exert significant pressure on even the most well-rounded teams. The threat of bunts, steals, and hit-and-run plays forces the opposition to remain on high alert, disrupting their team chemistry and introducing an element of unpredictability that could ultimately impact the game's outcome. In the intricate debate between power and finesse, small-ball tactics emerge as a nuanced and potent strategic weapon, proving that success in baseball is not solely determined by raw strength but also by strategic ingenuity.

The Diamondbacks were able to utilize their small-ball tactics to generate more runs to effectively level the playing field against the power-hitting opponents. The chart below shows the disparity between the Texas Rangers’ power-hitting total runs scored and the Diamondbacks total runs scored, who were just below the league average in runs. The Rangers were 3rd in the entire MLB in runs scored, behind the Braves and Dodgers who were both heavy home run hitting teams. But the Diamondbacks’ push in the 2023 MLB postseason is proof that small-ball can compete with the power-hitters.

Runs Scored

 Throughout the MLB postseason, the Diamondbacks, regularly perceived as the “smaller team,” consistently employed their stealing strategy, creating additional scoring opportunities against opponents and applying pressure on their defense and pitching staff. As a Wild Card team, the Diamondbacks had a massive mountain to climb to make it far in the playoffs and reach the World Series. In the National League Wild Card series against the Milwaukee Brewers, the Diamondbacks stole two bases in two games compared to the Brewers' one stolen base. In the Divisional Series (NLDS) against the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Diamondbacks had five stolen bases throughout their three games against the Dodgers while the Dodgers didn’t steal any bags. In the Championship Series (NLCS) against the Phillies, the Diamondbacks stole nine bases in the seven-game series, outpacing the Phillies who managed to steal only seven. And lastly, in the World Series against the Rangers, the Diamondbacks stole seven bags while the Rangers only stole a single base. Despite falling short in the World Series against the Rangers, the Diamondbacks' consistent implementation of small ball strategies throughout the 2023 postseason significantly contributed to their success.

Expanding our gaze to the entirety of the 2023 MLB season, the Arizona Diamondbacks showcased the enduring presence of small ball tactics in the modern game of baseball. Leading the league in bunt attempts with an impressive 36, surpassing all other teams by a margin of eight, the Diamondbacks carved a distinctive niche for themselves (see Sacrifice Bunts graph below). This contrast was particularly evident when comparing them to their World Series counterparts, who ranked near the bottom in their utilization of bunting as part of their run-scoring strategies. The Diamondbacks' notable emphasis on bunting reflects a deliberate offensive strategy aimed at creating additional scoring opportunities while disrupting the established routines of opposing pitchers. This strategic choice sets them apart from teams such as the Rangers, Yankees, and Dodgers, all of whom find themselves among the bottom ten teams in sacrifice bunts. These teams, in contrast, heavily rely on their power hitters to amass runs through impressive 400-foot home runs.


Likewise, the Diamondbacks ranked within the top two teams in stolen bases in the entire 2023 MLB season, and the Rangers were fourth to last in stolen bases out of the thirty MLB teams for the entire season. Just like their bunting strategy, the Diamondbacks used their speed on the bases to try to create more scoring opportunities and generate more runs (see Stolen Bases Graph below). Aside from the Cincinnati Reds, the Diamondbacks were one of the most dangerous teams on the basepaths, putting a lot of pressure on the opposing pitcher, catcher, and infielders. But in today’s power-hitting dominated game of baseball, the small-ball teams like the Diamondbacks have often struggled to win consistently, which is why most teams have strayed away from that kind of strategy. So, the fact that the Diamondbacks could make it as far as they did in the postseason with the small-ball strategy is improbable in modern-day baseball. The 2023 World Series serves as a reminder that the spirit of competition and the commitment to small ball fundamentals can overcome the odds. Small-ball tactics provide less power-oriented programs with a pathway for success in a sport where the underdog can triumph.

Stolen Bases

Turning our attention to the Texas Rangers, their formidable offensive strategy revolves around a home-run heavy approach, a trend that has gained popularity in MLB offensive strategies. The chart below depicts the total number of home runs by each team during the 2023 MLB season. This figure highlights a stark contrast between the Rangers, marked in red and ranking 4th in the league for home runs, and the Diamondbacks, highlighted in green and positioned as the 9th lowest team in home runs for the same season. This disparity underscores the diverse methodologies adopted by the two teams, with the Rangers relying heavily on power hitting to score runs and the Diamondbacks embracing more nuanced offensive tactics. The Diamondbacks also excelled in stolen bases during the 2023 MLB season, as illustrated in the chart below:

Home Runs

Analyzing the Diamondbacks' performance in the 2023 MLB season reveals that their strategic choices were not merely circumstantial but deliberate and integral to their success. Leading the league in sacrifice bunt attempts signifies a conscious effort to exploit their strengths while capitalizing on opponents' potential weaknesses. This commitment to a nuanced approach, juxtaposed against the Rangers' reliance on power hitting, elucidates the intricate dynamics at play in MLB strategies. The bunting strategy employed by the Diamondbacks transcends a mere tactical maneuver; it becomes a statement of intent, signaling their departure from the conventional power-hitting playbook. Sacrifice bunts, though often perceived as conservative plays, can be potent offensive weapons, especially when executed strategically. The Diamondbacks' league-leading 36 sacrifice bunt attempts showcase their use of small ball tactics not just as a reactive measure but as a proactive means to control the flow of the game, move runners into scoring position, and create pressure on the defense.

In conclusion, the 2023 World Series serves as an epitome of the interplay between power-hitting and small ball tactics. The Arizona Diamondbacks showcased the effectiveness of strategic decision-making and small ball tactics. Their journey to the World Series, marked by leading the league in sacrifice bunt attempts and in stolen bases, challenges the prevailing narrative that power-hitting strategies are the exclusive pathways to success in modern-day baseball. The Diamondbacks' deliberate departure from conventional norms and their success in a power-dominated era underscore the enduring relevance of small ball tactics. Their performance in the 2023 MLB season provides smaller programs with a blueprint for success, showcasing that astute and calculated maneuvers can indeed be game changers. The commitment to the traditional small-ball fundamentals, as exemplified by the Diamondbacks, reaffirms that in baseball, the smaller teams can compete, and success is not solely determined by power or money but also by strategic ingenuity.

Works Cited

Sports Reference (2023, November 2). 2023 Major League Baseball Statistics. Retrieved November 29, 2023, from

About the Author

Walker Smith

Walker Smith is a junior at Samford University. He is a finance and accounting major with concentrations in sports marketing and data analytics.


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