« Closers Preseason Preview – AL Central | Main | Go Bold or Go Home: Carlos Beltran, Top-10 OF »

How to Win 2014: Stolen Bases

One of the biggest mistakes you can make in predicting the future is to assume that today’s trend will continue forever. That’s pretty much what I did last year, seeing that league-wide stolen bases had risen in the recent past and seemed to plateau at a high level. Steals had risen over the last decade from 2573 in 2003 to a high of 3279 in 2011. They were close to that level again 2012 at 3229, and had been over 2900 four years in a row. It seemed safe to assume that 2013 would be another great year for the stolen base.

Nope. Steals dropped to just 2693—a fall of 536 steals, or 16.6%. To put that number in perspective, it’s like five whole teams quit stealing bases. The 2013 total was the lowest since 2005 and you bet it affected player valuations. So, why did this happen? 

First of all, stolen bases are unique among fantasy categories in that they are under a player’s direct volitional control. A baseball player chooses to attempt a stolen base in a way that he does not choose to hit a single,* strike a batter out, or score a run. Of course, once the choice is made, other factors come into play in regards to success and failure—no matter how often he tried, Cal Ripken was never going to out-steal Rickey Henderson

*Of course, Ichiro was an exception to this rule for much of the 2000’s. Seriously, that guy could do whatever he wanted.

The overall trends are subject to human decisions, those of runners, pitchers, catchers, coaches, managers, and GM’s. The relevant decision-makers can’t choose for their team to hit more homers just by willing it to happen. But they can will stolen bases to go up—or down.

Maybe everybody decided that this whole stealing bases thing wasn’t working so well after all. Maybe you can attribute it all to Michael Bourn’s decline, or insufficient playing time for Emilio Bonifacio. (No, you can’t.) Maybe 2013 is an outlier in an upward-climbing trend. It certainly looks that way in this article from Fangraphs.com, which also shows at long-term trend in increasing stolen base percentages. Teams are getting better about which players and situations to call for the stolen base.

Whatever happened to change the trend of stolen bases, I’m not going to trying predict what will happen next.

What’s the implication of this for fantasy?

The first thing that’s interesting to note is that 10 teams ignored the league-wide memo to reduce the running game. If 2013 was the result of a change in strategy (big if, I know), these teams didn’t participate and might be good places to look for steals next year: Yankees, Royals, Indians, Red Sox Pirates, Mets, Astros, Orioles, Rockies, and Rangers.

Unfortunately, you can’t outsmart the future with some magic-bullet strategy. Either league-wide steals will rise and each stolen base will be less valuable, and non-specialists will steal plenty of bases…or they will stay the same or continue last year’s decline, making speed-specialists all the more important. It looks like the safest bet continues to be to spend intentionally on speed. Let’s see where to spend our auction dollars and draft picks. 

2013’s Top 12 15

 

Name

SB

CS

1

Jacoby Ellsbury

52

4

2

Eric Young

46

11

3

Rajai Davis

45

6

4

Jean Segura

44

13

5

Alex Rios

42

7

6

Elvis Andrus

42

8

7

Starling Marte

41

15

8

Carlos Gomez

40

7

9

Everth Cabrera

37

12

10

Leonys Martin

36

9

11

Jose Altuve

35

13

12

Mike Trout

33

7

13

Alexei Ramirez

30

9

14

Jason Kipnis

30

7

15

Nate McLouth

30

7

Why 15? Well, there was a tie. And the tie just happened to land on a nice, round number. I really had no choice.

We can learn a couple things from this list. First, steals come from the outfield, short, and second. But we knew that already. Second, you don’t have to be a particularly good hitter to steal bases. We also knew that. Let’s look at 2012’s data for a few more speedy names—and to see who stopped and started stealing.

2012’s Top 12 22

 

Name

SB

CS

1

Mike Trout

49

5

2

Rajai Davis

46

13

3

Everth Cabrera

44

4

4

Michael Bourn

42

13

5

Ben Revere

40

9

6

Jose Reyes

40

11

7

Coco Crisp

39

4

8

Shane Victorino

39

6

9

Juan Pierre

37

7

10

Carlos Gomez

37

6

11

Alcides Escobar

35

5

12

Jose Altuve

33

11

13

Dee Gordon

32

10

14

Jason Kipnis

31

7

15

B.J. Upton

31

6

16

Desmond Jennings

31

2

17

Ryan Braun

30

7

18

Norichika Aoki

30

8

19

Jarrod Dyson

30

5

20

Emilio Bonifacio

30

3

21

Jimmy Rollins

30

5

22

Drew Stubbs

30

7

Given the overall trend, it should not be shocking that several more players made it to the 30-steal plateau. The players who appear on both lists are a good place to start for consistency. Consider: Davis, Gomez, Cabrera, Altuve, Kipnis, and Trout. Yeah, only six guys managed back-to-back 30-steal seasons. And one of them wasn’t even supposed to be a starter. Moral: don’t bank on one guy to anchor your steals. Second moral: don’t write off Rajai Davis. Ever.

While we’re on the magically round 30-steal number, here are the nine guys who’ve averaged that mark over the last three years:

 

Name    

 SB

 CS

1

Michael Bourn

126

39

2

Rajai Davis

125

30

3

Coco Crisp

109

18

4

Jacoby Ellsbury

105

22

5

Elvis Andrus

100

30

6

Emilio Bonifacio

98

22

7

Ben Revere

96

26

8

Jose Reyes

94

24

9

Carlos Gomez

93

15

 Only three of them (Ellsbury, Andrus, and Gomez) managed 30 or more steals last year, which makes me think that we may be experiencing a generation shift in base stealers, with new players coming into their own and others finally slowing down. Maybe that's what's responsible for the Great Major League Slowdown. Moral: don’t be afraid of a short track record when it comes to steals.

 Watch Out for These Guys

If teams are getting savvier about not letting their guys get caught on the basepaths, you can probably expect runners with high CS totals to get the brakes put on them. Consider avoiding these guys with problematic SB/CS ratios: Aoki (20/12), Bourn (23/12), Shin-Soo Choo (20/11), Ian Kinsler (15/11), Dexter Fowler (19/9), Alfonso Soriano (18/9), Justin Ruggiano (15/8), and Paul Goldschmidt (15/8). Really don’t count on these guys, with atrocious ratios: Gerardo Parra (10/10) and Yasiel Puig (11/8).

Good Hitters Who Steal

One way to pad your steals total is to take your steals in medium-sized amounts from a number of otherwise good hitters on your roster. These guys all stole between 10 and 20 bases, but you aren't drafting any of them because of thier speed.

Maybe you don’t want one or two speed specialists, and didn’t snag a power/speed threat in the first or second round…if so, this tactic can be useful, as players like this frequently slip under the base-stealing radar. Consider: Jayson Werth (10 steals), Goldschmidt (15—unless they stop his running game), David Wright (17), Michael Cuddyer (10), Adam Jones (14), Ben Zobrist (11), Dustin Pedroia (17), Michael Brantley (17), Alex Gordon (11), Brian Dozier (14), Michael Saunders (13), Erick Aybar (12), Chris Young (10), Josh Rutledge (12)….

Okay, somewhere in there we stretched the bounds of “good,” but the point is to get steals out of people you don’t draft for steals. It’s worth noting that this strategy seemed more viable last offseason. If you suspect that league-wide steals will decline further, then you probably won’t think this strategy is very useful. 

Speed Bums

In deeper leagues, when everyone has to scramble to find someone to fill out their MI slot and their last one or two OF slots, I like to snag a couple players I affectionately term “speed bums.” You know the type: can’t really hit but lightning fast. Iffy playing time, no help in HR or RBI; they only don’t hurt you in Runs or Average if you’re lucky.

Do I like to count on them to carry me in the category? Of course not—but they can put me over the top, and after awhile they’re the best choices left. When they don’t work out, new speed bums can always be found on the waiver wire. (Such players also make good deep-league injury replacements when real hitters can’t be found.) 

Here are some guys to consider: the inimitable Rajai Davis (elite speed bum, pretty much of all time, 45 steals), Eric Young (46 steals, probably no starting job next year…Rajai 2.0?), Nate McLouth (30), Emilio Bonifacio (28), Craig Gentry and Brett Gardner (24 each—with surprisingly good hitting lines), Juan Pierre (23, the granddaddy of speed bums), Jimmy Rollins and Alcides Escobar (22 and reduced to a lowly state), Jordan Schafer, Ben Revere, and Elliot Johnson (22 and glad to be here), Denard Span (20), Ichrio Suzuki (20).

It’s interesting to note that there aren’t as many of this kind of player as in the past either. Maybe the MLB strategic decision was not to play these guys at all.

Some Final Thoughts 

I’m playing steals on the safer side this year, and that means paying for some speed near the beginning of the draft. You don’t have to go elite with Trout or Ellsbury to get some speed, but you’ll probably have to spread it across a number of 20-steal types with power (think Ian Desmond or Shane Victorino), or grab a couple of 30-steal guys who can help in Average and Runs (like Leonys Martin or Jason Kipnis).

Whatever happens with steals next year, you don’t want to be outrun by your leaguemates.

Check out How to Win next week for WHIP.



Search Roto Authority

Custom Search




Roto Authority Mailing List

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner


Roto Authority Features



Recent Posts



Monthly Archives









Site Map     Contact     About     Advertise     Privacy Policy     MLB Trade Rumors     Rss Feed