Stolen Bases


Go Bold or Go Home: Everth Cabrera Cheats and Steals, but Doesn't Lie

You don't like shortstops. They're inconsistent. They're fragile. They put defense first. Let's face it: you wish for the days of Nomar Garciaparra and Miguel Tejada, the days of pre-geriatric Derek Jeter and not-yet-disgraced Alex Rodriguez. Heck, you miss Cal Ripken, Robin Yount, and Ernie Banks. You miss Honus Wagner.

You even wish for those days not long ago when Hanley Ramirez and Jose Reyes were sure things. Well, those days are dead and gone, but I've got a shortstop you can trust: Everth Cabrera.

Trust him? But he got suspended for PED's! Yeah, yeah, but he served his time and he'll be back on the basepaths and (probably) the top of the Padres' order in 2014.

Look, I'm not saying you should let him babysit your kids or pick up your prescriptions from the drugstore.* But you can trust him to do his thing, and his thing is stealing, at which he is very, very good. Last year he swiped 37 bags in 95 games; he was caught 12 times, but that still leaves him with a 76% success rate. No way the Pads slow him down for that. In 2012 it was even better: 44 steals in 115 games, with just four CS. That's a 92% success rate, for those of you keeping score at home. Very, very good.

*Neither am I saying you shouldn't. I do not know Mr. Cabrera and cannot accurately evaluate his character.

Billy Hamilton gets all the press (except from me, I guess) for speed, and rightly so, but there are serious questions about whether or not he'll really start. Why? Because there are serious questions about whether or not he can hit. Most of these questions seem to come from inside the Reds organization, so they're worth taking paying attention to. Cabrera, however, already has the trust of his team, and predictability is a valuable thing in our unpredictable game.

The nice thing about Cabrera is that he can hit. I mean, he isn't Joey Votto or anything, but he brings more bat to the table than most of your speed-first players and most of your shortstops. The steals are elite, and the bat doesn't hurt. That adds up to a very useful player. Not a star--he'll never produce in HR or RBI, but Cabrera looks like he could be a plus in AVG and Runs, to go with his elite status in SB.

The San Diego offense isn't top-notch, but you don't have to be amazing to drive in a run when Cabrera is already on second base. Between Yonder Alonso's singles, the power of Jedd Gyorko and Carlos Quentin, and the wild hope that Chase Headley can be awesome again, Everth ought to be crossing home plate pretty often for the Pad People. Oliver projects him for 81 Runs in 521 AB, but I'll take the over on that number. Steamer sees 600 AB, but just three more Runs, but that sounds low for a leadoff man.

How well will he lead off? Well, Cabrera posted nearly-identical BABIP numbers in 2012 and 2013 (.336 and .337) but his batting average increased by .037 points. Why? Probably because he reduced his K% from 24.5% to 15.9%. His BB% nearly held steady (just a 0.2% drop from 2012) and his OBP was a very respectable .355 last year. These are the markers of a player adjusting to the big leagues and learning to hit at the highest level. I think his hit tool is here to stay, and he'll be an asset in AVG, and the times he's on base will keep his Runs total up too.

So, Everth is good--but why him? Becasue it seems like every other shortstop has even more serious questions than he does and position scacricy demands high draft picks and auction dollars be spent on these questionable characters. I'm not saying I'd draft Cabrera in the first round, just that I'd rather draft him a round earlier than wherever his ADP stabilizes at (about 170 right now, for what that's worth) than spend an early pick on the "elites." Let's take a look at who's above him and their questions:

Hanley Ramirez -- his amazing half-season comeback is erasing the disasters that were 2011 and 2012. I don't think he's going to be a disaster next year, but the risk is too high for a first round or early second round pick.

Troy Tulowitzki -- Made. Of. Glass. If he weren't, he'd be a top five draft pick, but he's a big risk wherever you take him.

Ian Desmond -- Actually, I like Desmond a lot. But that isn't very bold, and it's well worth noting that he lost nearly 60 points off his slugging percentage from 2012 to 2013.

Jose Reyes -- His speed went way down, he isn't very heathy, and he isn't very young. 

Jean Segura -- This guy has one amazing half-season under his belt. I'm a believer, but I'm wary of drafting him next year.

Elvis Andrus -- Yeah, he stole 42 bases last year, but it was half that in more plate appearances the year before. That isn't trustworthiness.

Starlin Castro -- Uh...yeah.

Andrelton Simmons -- He's got upside, but the average is pretty rough and he's no sure thing.

At this point, we're getting to the players currently rated below Cabrera, so I guess it isn't very bold to say I prefer him to them. 

It's paradoxical, I suppose, to boldly suggest that you mitigate some risk, but there you go. Cabrera looks like a very safe option compared to the shortstops that are valued more highly, and the steals are as elite as they come (non-Hamilton division, I suppose). The boldness isn't in the player, it's in the fact that you should do what it takes to get him on your team. In a draft, grab him before all the higher-rated shortstops are off the board to make sure you get him. In an auction, be that owner that just keeps going the extra dollar. Let everyone else get scared off the the PED's or the 2012 average, or enticed by the idea of taking their chances with Elvis Andrus. You just enjoy the results.



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.



Stock Watch: Do You Feel Lucky?

With the season's first month done and played, it's time to take a look at who's hot and cold starts are due to skill (or lack of it), and which are due to luck. A star plagued with a low BABIP makes a great trade target, while a young guy playing over his head is a great player to sell. Below, we'll take a look at some players who should be moving on or off your team.

Trade Targets

B.J. Upton is off to a start as bad as his brother's is good. Always a drag on batting average, he's killing owners like me Adam Dunn-style so far, while putting up little of his trademark power or speed. It's hard to steal bases with a .223 OBP. In fact, he's been so frustrating that I almost put him on the Trade Away list because I've grown to hate seeing his name in my lineup. That's an emotion you can use. His BABIP is a frightening .185, over 100 points below his career norm, much of which can be traced to his eye-popping infield fly rate of 29.6%, well over double his highest full season number. The two options seem to be that he figures out how to cut those popups down, or he's all washed up at age 28. The former seems much more likely.

Will Middlebrooks isn't so bad off as B.J., but he's still dragging averages down with a .198 mark. A .217 BABIP seems to be the problem, while the major change in his batted ball data is that he was a groundball hitter last year and a flyball hitter this year. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, as his six homers will attest. His BABIP ought to normalize, at which point he could be a four-category monster in a heavy lineup. The upside is clear, and the downside is mitigated by the weak and injured status of third basemen around the league.

Gio Gonzalez is a risky trade proposition, as with slightly lowered velocity and a walk rate over 5.00, his troubles haven't been entirely due to luck. His ERA sits at 5.35, but his FIP is better at 4.09, and his xFIP better still at 3.51. So, some bad luck seems to be exacerbating things. With a K/9 over 10.00 and a quality lineup, there's still plenty of upside if you can trade for him at a significantly reduced price.

Clay Buchholz has been almost too good to trade away, but if his owner is looking to sell high, consider being the buyer. His years of sub-mediocrity make him look like a sell target, with his 1.01 ERA, but the underlying story says otherwise. He's got a sparkly 2.26 FIP and a very good 2.99 xFIP, to go with a strikeout rate of 9.47. The indications are that he isn't the same pitcher that has filled Red Sox Nation with disappointment for the last few years. If you're still skeptical, check out this article from Fangraphs. If you're still skeptical after that...um, don't trade for Buchholz, I guess.

Trade Away

Carlos Gomez went from disappointing speedster to power/speed fantasy gold last season, and he's kept it up this year. Owners were bullish on him in drafts, and they've been vindicated so far, as Gomez has delivered five homers and seven steals. His usually low average sits at an impressive .367. Okay, I understate. It's at an unbelievable .367. How'd it get there? Try a .419 BABIP, with help from a line drive percentage up four points from last season. Even if his hit profile has changed (and one month of extra liners doesn't prove much), he hasn't magically transformed into Joey Votto with speed. Deal him, as he could fetch a pretty serious return.

Jay Bruce is the sort of slumping superstar that I would have expected to advise you to trade for...until I looked under his statistical hood. He's got just one homer and 43 strikeouts through 30 games--his HR/FB has cratered to just 4.1%, while his popup rate has more than doubled. Everything seems to be going wrong...except his batting average. It's low--just .258--but actually better than last year. Thanks to a BABIP over 100 points higher than last year, at .388. When the BABIP goes, the results will be horrifying. Exactly what's wrong with Bruce, I couldn't say, but I can say that he's actually been lucky. Trade him while you can.

Matt Kemp is experiencing a power outage of his own, which I worried about before the season. Probably because of his surgically repaired shoulder, things are actually worse than I expected and it looks like a loss of flyball distance  could be the culprit. His batting average is a mediocre .267, buoyed by a fortuitous .351 BABIP. That could easily drop before his shoulder heals, but it's still early enough to recoup a good return for him.

I mentioned Matt Moore as a trade candidate last week, and I'll just back that up now by pointing out that his 4.08 FIP compares unfavorably with his 1.98 ERA.

Pick Up

Brandon McCarthy's ERA sits at a whopping 7.22, but his FIP is just 4.04. A skilled pitcher, he ought to be able to improve on that FIP, let alone the ERA. His ownership rates are just: Y!: 30%/ESPN: 16.5%/CBS: 28%. If his is owned, he makes a sneaky-smart throw in, in a larger deal.

Hector Santiago (Y!: 2%/ESPN: 0.1%/CBS: 8%) briefly closed for the White Sox last year, but now he'll be moving into the rotation. His first start was successful, and, with Gavin Floyd out, we could be seeing lots of the hard-throwing Santiago in the rotation. Very interesting waiver wire opportunity.

Francisco Liriano (Y!: 5%/ESPN: 0.2%/CBS: 25%) has been mowing down the International League for the Indianapolis Indians on his rehab assignment, but he's should be up with the big club again soon. He's got as much upside--and downside--as anyone on the waiver wire.

Chris Tillman (Y!: 17%/ESPN:  2.3%/CBS: 34%) has rattled off three good starts in a row, making four of six. The mere possibility that he's finally harnessing his talent makes him worth a speculative add.

Nick Hundley (Y!: 8%/ESPN: 5.2%/CBS: 23%) is batting over his head, with a .421 BABIP, but he's got three homers and nine doubles. He's shown some power in limited playing time before, and he could be a very useful stopgap option if you're having trouble at catcher. Unlike most such options, he's got a bit of upside.

Domonic Brown (Y!: 24%/ESPN: 22.5%/CBS: 73%) was a hot pick after his torrid spring, but he saw his ownership rates drop after a relatively slow start. Well, he's got five homers and an average that won't kill you--pick him up unless you have a great outfield. Not that you have that option in CBS leagues....

Just Say No

Scott Feldman is a hot pickup lately, after whiffing 12 Padres in a complete game on May 1. It was a truly dominating performance, but remember, it was against the Padres, and his overall game isn't impressive. Stay away.

Ricky Romero once pitched over his head all season and made an All-Star team. Once he was even a pretty decent pitcher. Last year, he was basically the worst starter in the Majors. Nothing about his return to the bigs indicated otherwise. He'll probably get some pickups based on the familiarity of his name alone, but don't get sucked into that. His best-case scenario is no better than being average-ish, without strikeouts. The downside is that he bombs your ratios for several starts and gets sent back to the minors. Nota good bet.



Catchers And First Basemen With Speed

It would have been awesome to own Royals catcher John Wathan in a rotisserie league in 1982.  The 32-year-old set the single season stolen base record for catchers, with 32.  The only other backstop to reach 30 swipes in a season was Ray Schalk in 1916.  In more recent times, Jason Kendall, Ivan Rodriguez, Craig Biggio, and Russell Martin stole 20 or more bases while qualifying at catcher in fantasy leagues.  Pudge owns the only 20/20 season for a catcher.  Check out his 1999 line: .332-35-113-116-25!

Speedy first basemen are more common in baseball history than you might think; even if we raise the bar from 20 to 100 games played at the position, there have been 41 player-seasons of 30+ steals from first basemen.  Ten of those seasons have occurred since 1990.  A 25-year-old Gregg Jefferies hit .342 with 16 home runs, 83 RBI, 89 runs, and 46 steals for the Cardinals in 1993.  Otherwise, Jeff Bagwell is the only first baseman to steal 30 bags in a season since 1990 (he did it twice).  You probably recall Derrek Lee as a first baseman with decent wheels, but did you know Ryan Klesko stole 46 bases from 2000-01?

I bring all of this up in the name of looking at some catchers and first basemen who might be able to steal you ten or more bases in 2013.  At catcher, of course, you're not going to find much.  Yadier Molina stole 12 bases last year; he's flirted with ten a few times before.  Martin and Joe Mauer are probably your only other outside threats.

First base is interesting.  In the last five years, there have been 17 player-seasons of 10+ stolen bases by first basemen.  A couple of the higher totals came from Paul Goldschmidt and Eric Hosmer last year, at 18 and 16 respectively.  Goldy "has deceptive speed," D'Backs former first base coach Eric Young told MLB.com's Steve Gilbert in August.  Young felt Goldschmidt could steal 25-30 bases a season if he wanted to, but probably won't given his role as a power hitter.

Hosmer also stole 11 bases in his debut season in 2011, even though he only played 128 games.  Count me among those who expect some level of bounceback from Hosmer overall this year, though the eighth round feels early for a guy who was as consistently bad as he was in 2012.  For that matter, I can't see taking Goldschmidt 20th overall.  You can probably get the same level of production out of Jason Heyward, with more upside, ten picks later.

You may recall that in 2009, Mark Reynolds stole 24 bases to go along with his 44 home runs for Arizona.  Since then he hasn't attempted nearly as many steals, but he still has a shot at ten if healthy.  Joey Votto, Albert Pujols, Edwin Encarnacion, Brandon Belt, and Michael Cuddyer also have the ability.  The beauty of getting a dozen steals out of first base is that those are a dozen most other teams in your league are not getting from the position, so it really does put you ahead.


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Sleepers & Busts: Shortstop Speedsters

Elvis Andrus, TEX - ADP 130

One year ago, Andrus entered the season ranked as a Top 5 shortstop by most rankings. A year later, he's dropped to the No. 8 shortstop over at Mock Draft Central, and while that's more accurate, I still feel like if you draft him at his current position you're paying for the name more than the production.

Andrus' average has risen steadily each of the past three years, but that doesn't mean it's safe to expect growth from last year's .286. Andrus' jump from 2010-11 was the result of a markedly increased line-drive rate (19.3 percent to 23.1 percent) and a reduction in his infield pop-ups. Both of those numbers took steps back last season, but his average leapt again based on his .332 BABIP. That's a healthy jump from the .312 mark he carried into last season.

Andrus' stolen base total dropped to 21, and it did so thanks to a paltry 67.7 percent success rate in 31 attempts. Since going 33-for-39 (84.6 percent) in his rookie season, Andrus has gone 90-for-127 (70.8 percent) from 2010-12. While he runs a lot, he's not exactly a great base stealer, and last season was the worst of them all.

He'll also lose the added benefit of Josh Hamilton driving him in. Mike Napoli, too, is gone. The Rangers' lineup in general doesn't look as threatening as it once did, given Hamilton's departure and an aging Nelson Cruz. It's still solid, but it's fair to expect a decrease in runs for Andrus given the changes.

Elvis is still just 24 years old, so he could surprise with some power, but over four years he's basically been a steals-and-runs shortstop, and there's plenty of reason to believe he'll disappoint in both of those categories in 2013. Still, he comes off the board before Dan Haren, Greg Holland, Matt Moore, Salvador Perez and a host other players, including the comparable Alcides Escobar. I'd pass at his current slot.

Final Ruling: Bust

Alcides Escobar, KC - ADP 215

Speaking of Alcides, he's coming off the board a full 85 picks later. That's seven full rounds of difference between shortstops who went .293-68-5-52-35 (Escobar) and .286-85-3-62-21 (Andrus).

Andrus clearly wins in the runs and RBI departments, but Escobar stands to make up a lot of ground as the Royals' projected No. 2 hitter in 2013. After spending the first three months of the year primarily in the 7, 8 and 9 spots for Kansas City, Escobar jumped to the two-hole and never looked back on July 1. He scored 39 of his 68 runs in those 81 games (58 percent) and picked up 32 of his 52 RBIs (62 percent).

Unlike Andrus, Escobar is an 81.3 percent base stealer since being traded to Kansas City (61-for-75), and last season's 35-for-40 (87.5 percent) effort was remarkable. It's fair to expect a step back in last year's 23 percent line-drive rate, which would lower his .344 BABIP and .293 average. Still, Escobar finds himself coming off the board in the late 17th round -- after the likes of Hisashi Iwakuma, Trevor Cahill, Wade Miley, Mark Reynolds, Justin Ruggiano and Dustin Ackley. If you're looking for a shortstop and/or speed in the tenth round, wait back and grab Escobar three or four rounds later instead of taking Andrus. 

Final Ruling: Sleeper

Everth Cabrera, SD - ADP 269

Cabrera is primarily a one-trick pony in his own right, but it's quite the trick. The 25-year-old led the National League in stolen bases last season despite playing in just 115 games. Cabrera swiped 44 bases in 48 (!) attempts -- good for a mind-blowing 91.6 percent success rate.

Cabrera only hit .246 last season, but he did so with a solid enough 9.6 percent walk rate that he got on base at a .324 clip. Even if he repeats his ho-hum batting average, he'll reach enough to burn up the base paths and set the table for Chase Headley, Carlos Quentin and possibly Jedd Gyorko.

There's reason for optimism with Cabrera's average, though. He's a strict line-drive (19.1 percent) and ground-ball (60.7 percent) hitter. Cabrera only hit fly balls 20.2 percent of the time -- an excellent trait for someone with his skill set. Granted, it means he's not likely to take advantage Petco Park's new hitter-friendly right field dimensions, but if you're drafting E-Cab with power in mind you've erred somewhere along the way.

Cabrera's .702 batting average on liners last season was below the league average. If he can raise that number and cut down on his strikeouts as he did in Triple-A (17.3 percent K-rate vs. 24.5 percent in the Majors), there's room for him to improve his average. His main problem is that he simply needs to be more aggressive. Cabrera doesn't swing outside the zone because he simply doesn't swing much at all. He swung at just 41.2 percent of the league's offerings (46 is average).

With a full season near the top of the order, Cabrera could surpass 70 runs and 50 steals. With an uptick in average, he has a great shot to outperform his 22nd-round ranking. Yet Cabrera is coming off the board around the same time as minor leaguers Mike Olt, Leonys Martin and Travis d'Arnaud; non-closers David Hernandez and Vinnie Pestano; and innings eaters like Jason Vargas and Brett Myers. He's worth reaching on several rounds early, as the upside is far greater than most of his peers at that stage in the draft.

Final Ruling: Sleeper



How to Win: Stolen Bases

Each week on How to Win, we'll be taking an in-depth look at a single category from the standard 5x5 league format. We'll feature draft and season strategies, league leaders, category sleepers, potential busts, and much more. This week, we center on stolen bases. Last year I drafted Jacoby Ellsbury in the first round, because I was sure getting that one great thief would be enough to win. It...um...wasn't.

Quick Overview
When many of us started playing fantasy, it was in the middle of a power heyday, stolen bases and the thieves who stole them were a rare and hot commodity. Things have changed, though, and the best advice I can give is not to go too crazy over steals for one simple reason: bad players can steal bases. Fringe major leaguers can give a lot of value in this category, which means that even fantasy leagues that snap up anyone with even a little power frequently have some emergency base-stealers waiting on the waiver wire.

2012's top 24
1. Mike Trout OF                     49
2. Rajai Davis OF                    46
3. Everth Cabrera SS               44
4. Michael Bourn OF              42
5. Ben Revere OF                     40
5. Jose Reyes SS                       40
6. Coco Crisp OF                      39
6. Shane Victorino OF           39
9. Juan Pierre OF                    37
9. Carlos Gomez OF                37 
11. Alcides Escobar SS           35
12. Jose Altuve 2B                   33
13. Dee Gordon SS                   32 
14. Jason Kipnis 2B                 31
14. B.J. Upton OF                     31
14. Desmond Jennings OF    31
17. Ryan Braun OF                 30
17. Norichika Aoki OF          30
17. Jimmy Rollins SS             30
17. Drew Stubbs OF               30
17. Jarrod Dyson OF             30
17. Emilio Bonifacio OF       30
23. Angel Pagan OF              29
23. Ichiro Suzuki OF             29
24. Jordan Schafer OF         27

Worth noting: Carlos Gonzalez and Andrew McCutchen  are counted as 5-category stars, but missed the cut with 20 steals each. Justin Upton slumped to just 18, while the injured Jacoby Ellsbury managed just 14 and Matt Kemp stole just 9.

When I first made this list, it went all the way down to players with just 21 steals. Then I realized I had limited my player pool to all those qualified for the batting title. Big mistake. It's important to remember that some of the most productive base stealers might be part timers like Davis and Pierre, or otherwise low-impact hitters like Cabrera and Schafer. In a way, this makes those few players who produce at the plate and on the basepaths more valuable (but we all knew that) and less valuable--because those steals really can be replaced.

Just to add a little historical context, here are the last three years' top thieves. Not a lot of power at the top of that list....

2010-2012's top 12
1. Michael Bourn OF        155 
2. Juan Pierre OF              132
3. Rajai Davis OF             130
4. Coco Crisp OF               120
5. Ichiro Suzuki OF          111
6. Jose Reyes SS                109
6. B.J. Upton OF               109
8. Drew Stubbs OF           100
9. Angel Pagan OF            98
9. Brett Gardner OF      98
11. Shane Victorino           92
12. Elvis Andrus SS        90 

Good Players Who Also Steal
Getting a steals-only burner isn't the only way to rack up points in this category. Here are some players who won't show up on the lists above but add steals anyway: Paul Goldschmidt (18), Chase Headley (17), Yoenis Cespedes (16), Adam Jones (16), Eric Hosmer (16), David Wright (15), Aaron Hill (14), Edwin Encarnacion (13), Brett Lawrie (13), Kyle Seager (13), Yadier Molina (12), Austin Jackson (12), Chase Utley (11), Josh Reddick (11), Curtis Granderson (10). None of these guys really count as "power-speed threats," but all would we worth drafting even if their steals totaled zero. Instead, they just help you out.

Plus Ones
So many speedy players are only speedy players, that a player who's a threat to steal a base and do even one other thing has a lot of extra value. Here are some quality thieves you can count on reasonably hope for a good average (if not much else) from: Revere, Pierre, Altuve, Aoki, Ichiro, Alejandro De Aza, Jon Jay, Martin Prado, Denard Span.

If batting average isn't your thing, maybe you'll like these guys, who score a few runs to go with their steals (and, again, not much else): Andrus, Dustin Ackley, Victorino, Gomez, Escobar, Crisp, Cameron Maybin, Will Venable. Add anyone who starts leading off to this list too, whatever they did last year.  

Cheap Steals
Here are some players you shouldn't have to reach too far to get, but they'll add those steals nonetheless. All have an ADP of 100 or more and stole at least 20 bases last year -- and should again. De Aza, Aoki, Revere, Victorino, Crisp, Maybin, Pierre, Aybar, Michael Saunders, Stubbs, Cabrera. All these guys could provide useful value, but my favorite has to be Cabrera, with his 44 steals and his 239.30 ADP. If all the shortstops who can actually hit are gone, Cabrera makes a great alternative to guys like Andrus and Gordon.

Potential Busts
The easiest way for a base stealer to bust is to get pulled from the lineup or sent down to the minors. The next easiest, though, is to get caught a few too many times and convince their team take the green light off. Here are some guys we expect to get steals out of...but that maybe their manager should shut down: Starlin Castro, McCutchen, Wright, Andrus, Jackson, Ian Kinsler, and Justin Upton. Castro and McCutchen worry me especially, because they're getting caught a ton on the bases and they're both getting drafted very early. Someone taking McCutchen in the first round won't be thrilled if he turns into a four-category player next year. 

A Few Last Words
There are a lot of ways to win in stolen bases, but I think the best thing to do is to mix and match the strategies available. If you can get a power-speed guy in the first couple rounds, go for it. Drafting several good players who happen to steal bases can pad your totals without forcing you to use early picks on high-quantity base stealers. Nabbing a couple plus-ones toward the end of the draft is a great way to fill out your MI slot or your fourth or fifth OF. The most important thing you can do, though, is keep an eye on the waiver wire, because you can find a lot more steals there than homers. 



Andrelton Simmons: The Surprise Shortstop

Everyone knew the Braves were going to go young at shortstop this season. Alex Gonzalez was allowed to walk as a free agent and although Jack Wilson was retained as veteran insurance, Atlanta was going to turn the most important position on the diamond over to a kid. Up until a few weeks ago, it was all but guaranteed that the job would go to 22-year-old Tyler Pastornicky. Instead, he's struggled badly in Spring Training - .220/.230/.237 in 59 at-bats - and is "obviously pressing" according to at least one observer. March stats don't mean much, but when you're a young kid trying to win a job, it helps to make a good impression.

While Pastornicky has been busy squeezing sap out of the bat, 22-year-old Andrelton Simmons has wowed the Braves coaching staff with his stellar glovework. He's barely outhitting Pastornicky ironically enough, putting together a .186/.271/.233 batting line in 43 exhibition at-bats. It hasn't mattered though, as there remains a strong sentiment around the team that Simmons should break camp as the starting shortstop despite never playing above High Class-A ball. He was a second round pick in 2010 and hit .311/.351/.408 during his pro debut with their Carolina League affiliate last season.

Baseball America ranked Simmons as the team's fourth best prospect earlier this offseason, saying he's an "aggressive hitter" who "knows the strike zone but doesn't walk much" in the subscriber-only scouting report. "He has bat speed and can turn on fastballs, but he won't have more than gap power," they added. "An average runner, he needs to improve his reads and jumps after getting thrown out 18 times in 44 basestealing attempts." Much like Freddy Galvis of the Phillies, Simmons doesn't have a typical fantasy profile but he can be a useful piece under the right circumstances.

Simmons has two things really going for him. One, he can steal bases. He swiped 26 bags last year and 18 (in 62 games) the year before. His reads need work as the Baseball America write-up said, meaning his stolen base total won't be much help if you're in a league that counts net steals (SB minus CS). Secondly, Simmons makes a ton of contact. He struck out in just 7.5% of his plate appearances in High-A last year, a ridiculously low percentage that's well below the league average even when considering his age relative to competition. The ability to make contact (or, inversely, not make contact) translates well across minor league levels and into the big leagues, and good things tend to happen when the ball is in play. Some BABIP love could have his batting average up around .280-.290, which is valuable when combined with 20+ steals.

The ZiPS projection system is quite a fan of Simmons. They estimate his current talent level at .274/.309/.348 with 21 steals given regular playing time, putting him on par with fellow middle infielders like Alcides Escobar (.270 AVG and 25 SB), Cliff Pennington (.252 and 23), and Jemile Weeks (.262 and 21). Again, not fantasy stars but rather useful pieces to fill out a roster or help you cope during an injury. Simmons doesn't even have the job yet and frankly is an inferior fantasy option to Pastornicky, who has produced at the higher levels and has a much longer track record, but he offers some sleeper potential for late-round batting average and stolen bases, particularly in deep mixed leagues or NL-only setups.



Utley's Injury Opens The Door For Freddy Galvis

Middle infielders are prone to sharp declines, particularly second baseman after years of turning the blind double play pivot at the bag. Roberto Alomar and countless others fell off a cliff without warning, and now injuries are taking a toll on Chase Utley. The 33-year-old missed 43 games with a thumb issue in 2010 and 45 games with a knee issue in 2011, and chances are he'll open this season on the DL with knee problems as well. Here's what GM Ruben Amaro Jr. told Jim Salisbury of CSNPhiladelphia. com...

“He hasn’t been felling all that great,” Amaro said. “He hasn’t gotten to the point where he feels confident enough to get on the field without making it worse.”
 
“I would think it’s doubtful that [Utley] would be prepared to play second base for us opening day,” Amaro said. “We’re trying to hit it with a couple of different things to get him over the hump."

Assuming Utley has to start the season on the shelf, 22-year-old Freddy Galvis is almost certain to open 2012 as the club's everyday second baseman. Utility man Michael Martinez recently broke a bone in his foot as well, giving Galvis a little more security. The Phillies are reportedly looking for some infield depth, but the job appears to be his for now.

Baseball America ranked Galvis as Philadelphia's sixth best prospect in their 2012 Prospect Handbook, but unfortunately for fantasy owners, it wasn't because of his offense. "Galvis is arguably the best defensive shortstop in the minors," wrote the publication. "He has plus range despite fringy pure speed, and he also has excellent hands, an above-average arm and incredible instincts ... A switch-hitter who sprays the line drives, Galvis makes consistent contact but will never hit for much power."

Defense and injuries will keep Galvis in the lineup, but he does have something to offer fantasy owners: stolen bases. He stolen 23 bags in 137 games split between Double- and Triple-A last season, a year after swiping 15 in 138 Double-A games. The Phillies didn't emphasize the running game as much last year after losing first base coach and baserunning guru Davey Lopes to the Dodgers, but with Utley and Ryan Howard hurt to start the season, speed figures to become a bigger part of their offense. Batting eighth ahead of the pitcher will boost Galvis' on-base percentage just a bit (via intentional walks), which should then boost his stolen base total.

Dan Syzmborski's ZiPS projection system expects a .261 average with 19 steals out of Galvis given regular playing time, putting him in a class with guys like Jemile Weeks (.267 and 21), Dexter Fowler (.264 and 18), and Lorenzo Cain (.259 and 17). Not a star player, but a decent fantasy option to fill out your roster in case of injury or in a particularly deep mixed league/NL-only setup. Galvis figures to pick up both second base and shortstop eligibility, and the extra bit of flexibility is appreciated. Utley's injury is going to hurt the Phillies and fantasy owners alike, but Galvis is a useful piece that could contribute more than expected with just a little BABIP love.



Bad Basestealing

Today let's take a look at some players with poor stolen base success rates in 2010 and at least ten attempts.  They could be speed sleepers for 2011 if they improve their approach.

  • Gordon Beckham - 10 attempts, 40% success rate.  He didn't attempt to steal much in the minors, but he only played 59 games there.  Beckham had a lousy rate in '09 as well, but did make 11 attempts in 103 games.  15 attempts and a 75% success rate would give you an 11-steal player.
  • Adam Jones - 14 attempts, 50%.  It'd be nice to see him try a little more, but clearly he's capable of double digits.
  • Corey Hart - 13 attempts, 54%.  Perhaps Hart fancies himself a power hitter now, as his attempt number was his lowest in a full season.  Are his 20/20 days behind him?
  • Starlin Castro - 18 attempts, 56%.  That's 18 attempts in 125 games.  I have to think he can steal 20 next year.
  • Matt Kemp - 34 attempts, 56%.  Maybe Kemp wanted another 20 or 30 steal season too much.  I think he'll jump back to 30 swipes next year.
  • Brandon Phillips - 28 attempts, 57%.  Still a threat to steal 20.
  • A few others with lousy success rates: Colby Rasmus, Alexei Ramirez, David Wright, Mark Reynolds, Matt Holliday, Jason Heyward, and Kelly Johnson.  Typically unless the player has a history of stealing below a 70% success rate, I assume he'll get back to around 75%.


Full Story |  Comments (0) | Categories: Stolen Bases

Running More

I have to admit that our little plate appearances per steal attempt stat is flawed, because it doesn't account for changes in a player's OBP or times on first base.

Baseball HQ uses a stat they call SBO, or Stolen Base Opportunity %.  That is calculated as (SB+CS)/(singles + BB).  That's a good one to look at too.

Anyway, here are the players who are running more this year, for one reason or another.

NAME PA/Att 08 PA/Att 07 Diff
Lance Berkman 20.1 66.8 -46.7
Delmon Young 20.5 52.4 -31.9
David DeJesus 21.7 50.2 -28.5
Matt Holliday 23.8 47.5 -23.8
Mark Ellis 26.6 49.4 -22.8
Ray Durham 27.0 44.0 -17.0
Alex Rios 17.5 33.9 -16.3
Randy Winn 21.8 36.3 -14.5
Chase Utley 47.2 61.3 -14.1
Troy Tulowitzki 38.7 52.5 -13.8
Kelly Johnson 30.0 43.4 -13.4
Tony Pena 37.0 48.7 -11.7
Melvin Mora 33.7 43.9 -10.3
Hunter Pence 22.4 30.3 -7.8
Matt Kemp 14.2 20.7 -6.6
B.J. Upton 11.9 18.3 -6.3
Shannon Stewart 38.8 45.0 -6.3
Joey Gathright 9.1 15.4 -6.2
Ichiro Suzuki 10.3 16.4 -6.1
Ryan Theriot 12.9 18.7 -5.8
Ian Kinsler 17.1 22.6 -5.5
Rafael Furcal 15.4 20.7 -5.3

That Berkman has attempted 11 swipes in just 221 PAs is a surprising and welcome development.  It's also nice to see disappointing hitters like Rios and Young running more to partially make up for it.


Full Story |  Comments (5) | Categories: Stolen Bases



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