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Silver League Update: Running Away With Steals

I was perusing the waiver wire, looking for ways to help my moribund team, when I stumbled upon fantasy gold: a free-agent hitter with 16 steals! That's nearly a 40-steal pace. Now there was what I needed ... then my brain switched back on and I remembered that I'm running away with stolen bases, and that Jordan Schafer's .251 average and two homers probably weren't going to help me claw my way up anywhere. Why do we draft base-stealers early again?

A part of this is me adjusting to the realities of standard roto style and the fact that all those steals Emilio Bonifacio got me will count forever, but I think a real part of this is just how much baseball is returning to the stolen base. My mind seems to be stuck in the dark ages when one or two center fielders might steal 45 bases but nobody else would get more than a handful. Having one player carry you to respectability just doesn't cut it anymore. Not when Jordan Schafer is on the Silver League waiver wire.

The issue here isn't that the leaders are stealing more and more bases (we aren't back to the 80s yet), but it's that more and more players are stealing some bases, and those who would have stolen a few five years ago are now stealing many. Beyond that, speedy prospects like Mike Trout are bigger parts of teams' plans than in years before. The whole thing has added up to a league leader in steals who is only owned in 12% of Yahoo! leagues: Tony Campana.

With 23 steals Campana is on pace for about 55. A player like that should certainly be owned, despite the fact that he doesn't do very much else, but he doesn't need to come at a premium price in next year's draft. Michael Bourn has led the NL in steals three seasons in a row, but should you spend an early-round pick on him? He (usually) provides more in batting average than the likes of Campana and Schafer, but that's about the only difference.

When you sort players by most stats, you get a pretty good correlation between the top players and the highest ownership rates. Of the top 25 base stealers (11 bags or more) five of them: Campana, Rajai Davis, Juan Pierre, Cliff Pennington, and Jarrod Dyson are owned in fewer than 20% of Yahoo! leagues. You can add another three when you expand the list to those with at least 10 steals: Ben Revere, Gerardo Parra, and Maicer Izturis. (Shafer is actually owned in 27% of leagues.) These aren't the only places to grab some extra bags if your team needs to speed up: Scott Podsednik has just resurfaced with the Red Sox, while Ryan Theriot and Everth Cabrera have stolen six and five bases in the last two weeks, respectively. Both are owned in just 6% of leagues.

I had expected to see a few more power/speed studs, but only four players have as many as ten homers and ten steals. There's a reason why  Andrew McCutchen and Hanley Ramirez are gone in the early rounds, but Ryan Braun would be a first-rounder without the steals. And Jason Kipnis owners are just lucky. Dropping the steals limit to nine lets us add Adam Jones and Carlos Gonzalez to the list. 

I had hoped to capitalize on just such a power/speed combo when I drafted Jacoby Ellsbury with the 11th overall pick and, while I'm missing the power he might have given me, my team doesn't miss the speed. Though I traded Bonifacio over a month ago (and then he got hurt--sorry King Fish 2.0), steals from my role players have kept me in first. The ragtag club of Kipnis, Pierre, Jason Heyward, Alexei Ramirez, B.J. Upton, and Michael Saunders have been more than adequate, though Upton was the only one I drafted early for speed. I list so many players because stolen bases are all around. Sitting on the bottom of the pile in the other three counting stats, I wish now I'd spent even less on early round steals.

Looking at the waiver wire, I wish I were losing in steals, because I can't see any category that it would be easier to climb in, with a little effort. Hopefully nobody in the Silver League reads this...


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