Stolen Bases


RotoAuthority Unscripted: I Bet You Didn't Know Day

Last night I was up way too late writing this article and it occurred to me that I didn’t know what I wanted to write about. In fact, I couldn’t really think of anything truly notable to say. And that’s when it hit me: it was time for another “I Bet You Didn’t Know Day,” wherein I peruse the various leaderboards, statistics, and assorted metrics and look for things that surprise me. Then I hope that they surprise you too. But even if the nuggets of baseball strangeness that I uncover don’t merit more than a raised eyebrow and a muttered, “I’m gonna check that out myself,” they should amount to something that actually matters for the health of your fantasy baseball team.

Except for this one: Billy Hamilton grounded into a double play. It doesn’t really matter—but it is pretty impressive. Well played, whichever team pulled that one. Well played.

Some More (Mostly) Relevant Thoughts on Speed

Hamilton also leads baseball with 15 caught stealing—six more than second-place Dee Gordon—but his 38 steals still leave him with a success percentage over 70%, so I guess he isn’t in line for a red light anytime soon. 

With 41 swipes, Jose Altuve is the only other player with more steals than Hamilton (bringing that number to two more players than anyone predicted). But Altuve’s only been caught three times. (That’s a 91% success rate, if you’re counting at home.)

Elvis Andrus has 20 steals already, which is pretty nice—but they come with nine times caught. With so many years of high CS totals, I guess you shouldn’t worry much about Andrus getting the red light. Unless Texas ever changes managers….

Charlie Blackmon is the surprise All-Star of the year so far, but if he’s not on your team, you might not have known he’s swiped 18 bags so far. Another surprise base stealer (not to mention, surprise All-Star) is Todd Frazier, who’s got 15.

As always, remember to lower the minimum plate appearances requirement whenever you sort by stolen bases: Eric Young, Rajai Davis, Jarrod Dyson, and James Jones are all in the top 20 in the category but won’t appear on any searchable list that demands the player be qualified for the batting title.

Brian Dozier has just a single steal in the last 28 days, and just four between June and July. That’s after posting six in each of the first two months. So maybe don’t trade for him expecting speed.

Some Thoughts on Pitching

WAR is far from a perfect proxy for fantasy value. It’s too predictive, and too good an indicator of real talent. But, just for fun, can you name the top ten starting pitchers in fWAR? If you can’t, prepare to raise a skeptical eyebrow, as the list is graced by Corey Kluber (3rd), Garrett Richards (7th), Jose Quintana (9th and making my incessant suggestions to pick him up sound pretty smart), and Phil Hughes (6th). Yes, that Phil Hughes. Go ahead and tab over to your league's waiver wire just to check and see if any of these guys are still unowned in your league. Believe me I’ll wait. 

If it wasn’t late already, I’d be checking too.

Alfredo Simon is tied for the league lead in wins with 12. If you watched the All-Star game, that probably doesn’t surprise you. If you watched the All-Star game, then maybe you will be surprised that the guy’s got a 5.05 K/9. Whether he comes back to earth or not (and he will), you don’t want that on most fantasy teams.

Speaking of K/9, you won’t be surprised to hear that the three leaders in the stat are Clayton Kershaw, Yu Darvish, and Stephen Strasburg. (If you are, you’re in the wrong game, and probably the wrong website. No, wait…let’s not be exclusive. Stick around, check it out. You’ve got time for a new hobby, right? I promise it won't become life-consuming.) Anyway, you might be surprised to hear that the next name on the list belongs to Jake Odorizzi, who owns a 10.34 K/9. Admittedly, his BB/9 of 3.48 gives him some trouble, but he’s providing a surprising amount of value for a guy who feels like a fringy player. 

It seems to me that pitchers are showing more control than they used to: only four qualified starters are walking over four batters per inning. (Though most of the Cubs are close.) So be strict on you pitchers in the WHIP category. (You can add your own joke.)

Dellin Betances has 88 strikeouts. That’s 23 more than the next best reliever, Sean Doolittle. It’s good for 62nd among starters, which is pretty impressive considering that he’s pitched about half as many innings as the guy ahead of him (Wily Peralta). 

The scary thing is that, while Betances has a very nice 13.58 K/9, it is just blown out of the water by Aroldis Chapman. He’s whiffing 18.30 batters per nine innings. Which, yes, is just over two per inning. Uh…wow.

Do you know who the leader is in Holds? (No.) Do you care? (Probably not, but you should, because these guys turn into closers sometimes.) Anyway, it’s Brad Ziegler, with 26. He’s been a closer before, so he’s someone to remember for this season, and in the future. Tony Watson, Will Smith (not the actor—I think), and Tyler Clippard are the only others over 20.

The top two pitchers in blown saves are Luke Gregerson and Bryan Morris* (six and five, respectively). Both have ERA’s under 2.10. No wonder they abbreviate blown saves “BS.”

*Actually Morris is tied with a bunch of people. But they didn't exactly fit the comment.

Back to Hitting, Briefly

Michael Brantley’s fifth-place .326 average is fueled by a pretty-normal .325 BABIP. Don’t confuse it with teammate Lonnie Chisenhall, who is getting the same average out of a .367 BABIP.

Victor Martinez now has a below-average BABIP of .296. He’s hitting .322, good for 8th in baseball. The next highest-ranked player with a sub-.300 BABIP is Erick Aybar (45th), who’s batting .283. Which is still kind of impressive.

Hey, I told you it would be brief. Tune in next time for more surprises…unless we do something different.



RotoAuthority Unscripted: Obligatory Writer's Block Half-Season Post

All right, I’ve sat at my computer for almost two hours now trying to think of a really good, really original post for today’s column. Nothing’s going on, and I’m finding myself going back to Facebook more often than Fangraphs as the morning drags on and my coffee runs out. This is the danger of an unthemed Unscripted column.

So here it is, my obligatory observation of the baseball season’s halfway mark, in which I shall remark upon some several things of note. Well, things of note to me. The one promise I’ll make is this: Andrew Gephardt, I won’t be stealing the ideas from your column yesterday. Click here for those too lazy to scroll down…either way check out his 10 strange but true facts and be enriched.

Also read my stuff, but no guarantee about enrichment, seeing as I (just this morning) jettisoned my favorite second baseman of the season—Aaron Hill—and had to read about how Ian Kinsler has been one of the best of the year. It’s amazing that my various teams are more of a mixed bag than a disaster. (And perhaps a reminder that my fantasy advise should be judged in aggregate. Anyway, thanks for nothing, Aaron.)

Thing Number 1: Steals Are Alive Again

The Major Leagues have stolen 1417 bases so far this season, good for a pace of 2934 (based on it being roughly halfway, and all—it isn’t exact, I know)—or significantly more than last year. It’s still less than the 3200+ that we saw in 2012 and 2011, but I wonder if the pace will actually pick up with returns to health from speedy guys like the one-dimensional Eric Young, and superstar Bryce Harper, as well as the recent enough promotions of Gregory Polanco, Mookie Betts, and the like. Okay, so totals as big as a season’s stolen bases won’t be changed terribly much by my cherry-picked examples, but your fantasy team might. Steals still abound on many waiver wires, so don’t despair if you need more points in the category…and don’t get too comfortable just because you’ve built yourself a lead.

Thing Number 2: Power Is Down, Strikeouts Are Up

The leaguewide strikeout rate is now at 20.3%, or the highest it’s been in the last five years (or maybe ever for all I know that’s relevant to your fantasy team). I have vague memories of 20% being a bad number for how much you strike out, but since my little league whiff rate was about 70% (but hey, I had a 30% walk rate), who am I to criticize? Anyway, what’s relevant is this: Mark Buehrle and Bartolo Colon are trouble for your team in the strikeouts category—you’ve gotta miss bats to get things done on the fantasy mound. Unless you still play in a 4x4 league, I guess.

Meanwhile, fewer balls are traveling out of the park than in years past. It’s beyond the scope of this study to wonder whether that’s just because we get more homers in the hotter second half of the year (but if you know, let me know in the comments), but so far we’ve got a league ISO of just .139, which isn’t exactly bringing back the Dead Ball Era, but it certainly makes you appreciate Jose Abreu (.346 ISO) all the more. It probably even makes you wish you traded for Khris Davis (.231) in April.

Even if the pace picks up in the second half due to weather, pitcher fatigue, or whatever else might do it, the general point remains true: this scarcity of power is surely driving up the cost of homers on your trade market, so even if no-average guys like Adam Dunn are floating around on your waiver wire you kind of have to take a shot. I still might not reach all the way to Chris Carter in a batting average league though….

Thing Number 3: Never, Ever, Trust Relief Pitchers

I’m looking at RotoAuthority’s 2014 Closer Rankings next to our current Closer Depth Chart and a lot of these names are different. Some have changed over and over again. The half-season advice is pretty much the same as I would give before the season: don’t pay for saves at all…or pay a lot for them. Splitting the difference is what kills you. 

Our top four closers are still rocking, and only one of the top 12 (Jim Johnson) has lost his job (so far). After that, though, 11 of the last 18 closers have already been replaced, permanently or temporarily. Two of them even got traded for each other and out of both closer jobs. Perhaps it always feels this way, but it seems like teams are readier than they have been in years past to replace their closer. Johnson and Grant Balfour were, notably, acquired with high price tags and still deposed, which might be a bad sign for the struggling Joe Nathan

I’d happily advise simply ignoring closers on draft day based on this…but so many owners are already doing that that it’s getting harder to snatch up the decent closers on the waiver wire…and giving Ronald Belisario the opportunity to wreck your ERA and WHIP for a few weeks.

Thing Number 4: 7 Players on a Quarter of the Best Fantasy Teams*

Okay, so these guys are on 25% or more of the 500 best Yahoo! Public teams. If you’re in a Yahoo! Public league, you share my skepticism that your league leader is really one of the best fantasy managers, but there it is: these guys have been surprises, to varying degrees, and their owners are pretty happy with what they’ve got. I don’t own one of them, in any league. 

Masahiro Tanaka: this guy has somehow managed to exceed the sky-high expectations our entire country put on him. I guess we should have known better, since he’d been living up to Japanese expectations for some time now, which make the Yankees’ look pretty tame. I see no reason to think Tanaka isn’t for real; he’ll be a top-10 pitcher next year.

Francisco Rodriguez: Remember the pimply-faced 20-year-old who dominated the playoffs in 2002? No? Well that’s okay, because K-Rod has brought it back this year as one of baseball’s best closers. I have to think he’ll be a draftable closer again next year, but see Thing Number 3 to learn how confident I am in any closer. Still, he was a great first-week waiver wire snag. Well played, teams with the highest waiver priority. 

Dee Gordon: What? It’s not like you thought Gordon was going to get the second base job out of Spring Training either. I’m pretty sure Gordon himself didn’t. Steals players are fickle, but he’s kept it up long enough that he’ll be a league leader in the category even if he misses the rest of the season. I guess it’s too late to offer a lowball trade for the guy.

Jose Abreu: Tim Dierkes was talking up Abreu a lot before the season and got his man in the MLBTR Staff League. So, no wonder he’s winning. Abreu is the new Dunn—as in, the Dunn who used to be a must-own.

Johnny Cueto: I mentioned him a little bit a couple of weeks ago as a guy who tends to beat his peripherals. I’ll stick by that, and say that I expect he’ll continue to perform at a high level, and perhaps regress less than most stats-savvy owners might expect. 

Jonathan Lucroy: He’s pretty much the only catcher who’s lived up to expectations. And this year seemed to be so deep in catcher quality too…just another position full of players not to trust? Probably not. As for-real as Lucroy is (at least as a high-level catcher, if probably not as baseball’s best), buying low on his disappointing compatriots is worth doing.

Sean Doolittle: Johnson's replacement took a little while to take over, but he's run with the job. He's proof that a good fantasy season is much more than what happened on draft day.

 

 

 

 

 



RotoAuthority Unscripted: More People Who Don’t Belong (Or Maybe Do)

And by people, you know I mean baseball players. Today, we’ll check out the hitting leaderboards in homers, steals, and batting average and look more closely at the names that follow my highly scientific test of causing me to feel mild surprise. You know the drill—we did it last week too. Maybe we’ll do it again for pitchers down the road, but I’m thinking we’ll return to our regularly unscheduled content next time around.

Editor's Note: This author is traveling and wrote this post last week. He acknowledges that the listed stats are out of date, but hopes nothing changes so drastically as to invalidate the conclusions. Good luck with that....

Home Runs 

21: Nelson Cruz
20: Edwin Encarnacion
19: Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Abreu
18: Troy Tulowitzki
17: Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss, Victor Martinez
16: Mike Trout, Todd Frazier, Albert Pujols
15: Jose Bautista, Brian Dozier, Paul Goldschmidt, David Ortiz

We covered Mr. Cruz last time around, and he’s known for his power, so it’s not that shocking that he’s up here. Jose Abreu continues to impress, since he’s got about 50 fewer PA than most of the guys on this leaderboard…but he also was already known for prodigious power. No, the three names that really raise my eyebrow (just the one) here are Victor Martinez, Todd Frazier, and Brian Dozier

We mentioned Dozier last week in terms of runs but his homers are a different matter. To start with, his HR/FB is running at 17.4%--compared to 9.9% last year. His 15 longballs are already beginning to rival his minor league total (from 2009-12) of 19 homers. So, what we have here looks like a case of luck…but one that’s so extreme that it can’t be luck. Right? His flyballs are going about 279 feet on average (putting him 133rd in baseball, right next to Asdrubal Cabrera—and only about a foot short of Albert Pujols, for that matter). So things don’t look super-optimistic for Dozier remaining a home run leader by the end of the year.

But stranger things have happened. Dozier’s 2013 was enough to give us a taste of his power (18 homers) potential, and it does seem as though he isn’t the same guy who rose through the minors in obscurity, with nothing going for him but a little speed. I like Dozier on the year, but I do suspect his HR/FB rate will regress in a pretty significant way. 

Going into last year, I was all about Frazier. That didn’t go so well, but he’s back with a vengeance now. (It helps getting back to a normal BABIP.) Like Dozier, his HR/FB rate has gone crazy (21.3%, compared to last year’s 11.3%). Unlike his almost-close-to-a-namesake, Frazier is among the league leaders in flyball distance, averaging nearly 303 feet in the air (13th in baseball, putting him in the company of Mark Reynolds and David Ortiz, among other luminaries of the longball). So that’s a seriously good sign. At 28 he’s not too old to make a serious improvement in his game, though it would be unusual.

One disconcerting factor is this, however: 12 of his 16 homers have come at home. (So he’s a bit of a homer?) Any time you see such a big park split, you worry, but for me, that’s helped a bit by the fact that he’s hitting the ball so far on average. He’s one to watch, but I think there’s a real chance he’s still among the top 15 home run hitters at the end of the year. Just don't root for him to get traded.

 I’ll be honest, I didn’t see Martinez coming. At all. He’s 35 years old and having the best season of his career. He’s already hit more homers than he’s managed to total in a year since 2010. In fact, he only needs seven more homers to match his career high, from his 2007 peak with the Indians. If you did see this coming…you’re a liar.

The thing about it is that his HR/FB rate hasn’t increased since last year! Just kidding. Of course it has. By a lot. (2014: 18.3%, 2013: 7.2%) His flyballs are going 294.56 feet, good for 41st in baseball, and close to players like Adam Dunn and Allen Craig. So kind of a mixed bag of company. Basically, though, Martinez is a tale of two impossible propositions:

First, he could have made the adjustments that allowed him, at 35, to hit for better power than at any previous time in his career. Or… 

Second, he could have more than doubled his HR/FB completely on luck.

Okay, so it could be a combination of the two, and it almost certainly is—but if there’s any truth at all to the first proposition, Martinez has to be considered for real. He may get passed up by a few guys who are hitting the ball farther, but he looks like a serious contributor in homers this year.

Stolen Bases

36: Dee Gordon
28: Billy Hamilton
24: Jose Altuve
20: Ben Revere, Rajai Davis
18: Alcides Escobar, Jacoby Ellsbury
17: Eric Young
16: Starling Marte, Elvis Andrus
15: Brian Dozier, Jose Reyes, Leonys Martin
14: Brett Gardner

I am not feeling deeply shocked by any of these guys, as all have shown good speed in the past. The component of speed that usually keeps some of these guys off the leaderboards, though, is hitting well enough to stay in the lineup. Or in the Majors. 

I was going to analyze this in terms of BABIP and caught stealing and do my best to advise you about who's getting so lucky that he can't possibly keep getting on base this much, or who's getting caught on the bases so often he's sure to get the red light soon. But that isn't true for anyone on this list.

I wrote a couple paragraphs about it, but decided they were kinda wasteful: no one here raised real red flags, at least, no more than speed-first guys always do.

Batting Average

Pretty much nobody ever belongs when it comes to average, I know. But we’ll take a look anyway.

Above .340: Troy Tulowitzki (.356), Jonathan Lucroy (.341)

.330-.340: Victor Martinez (.332)

.320-.330: Jose Altuve (.329), Robinson Cano (.327), Yasiel Puig (.325), Michael Brantley (.323), Andrew McCutchen (.321),

.310-.320: Alex Rios (.319), Miguel Cabrera (.318), Carlos Gomez (.313), Jose Bautista (.312), Mike Trout (.311), Casey McGehee (.310)

Full disclosure, I’m traveling as you read this and wrote this post a few days ago. The players involved shifted places on the list while I was writing it…so they’ve probably changed since then. They’ll change again. So consider these musings of mine in a very general sense. 

Seeing Martinez on this list isn’t too surprising. What is surprising is that he only has a .309 BABIP! Which is delivering him a .332 average? I call him a contender for the batting title right now. (Okay, that’s only so bold, given that he’s already leading the AL, but still.)

We don’t really get all that eyebrow-raising until we come to Brantley. His BABIP isn’t crazy (.329) but he has stayed pretty close to .300 in recent seasons. But maybe this is a part of taking his game to the next level. I’ll call him a “maybe.”

Rios and his .376 BABIP seem dangerous to me, however. He’s shown a lot of BABIP variance in his career, but he’s never been close to this high. It’d be nice to think this means he’s set for a great year, but you know that’s not how it works. It’s also a bit unsettling that his power (only three homers) has seriously dwindled. I feel like he’s a sell-high candidate, but maybe I’ve just had a hard time trusting him since 2010.

Gomez broke out last year, yes, but that doesn’t mean he proved himself as a high-average guy, batting .284 with a .344 BABIP in 2013. No wonder it’s taking a .379 BABIP to get him to this level. I’ll buy him as a high-BABIP, decent-average type, but most people don’t sustain BABIP’s near .380 for very long.

Bautista is enjoying a .330 BABIP right now…but he’s only once managed a figure over .300 (in 2011), and he’s been at .275 or under in every season since 2008. So no, I don’t think he’s going to sustain this and continue helping in average. 

McGehee is the ultimate “he doesn’t belong here” sort of guy. But does he? Looking further into the question tells us…good heavens no. Riding a powerless .366 BABIP, (just an .077 ISO with only a single homer), not only does he seem in line for some regular regression, you have to think he’s going to get challenged more since he can’t put it out of the park. I’m pretty sure this is just confirming what you already knew: McGehee isn’t likely to this year’s breakout fantasy contributor in a few months.



RotoAuthority Unscripted: Humility, Speed, and Everth Cabrera

I’ve plugged a lot of bust players this year. I know that. Who was a bigger fan before the season of the mediocre Aaron Hill, the injured Carlos Beltran, or…you know what, if you want to see which players I’ve busted on, you should go back and check out my preseason articles. (Yes…that’s a clever ploy to get people digging into the RotoAuthority archives…that’ll definitely work….)

But anyway, here’s a little about one of my (so far) worst bets of the year: Everth Cabrera. I've got him on several teams, and considered him a top-five shortstop before the season began. In an exercise of humility, I’m prepared to admit that things aren’t going well before my pre-season favorite speedster and myself at the moment. If you own him, I’d imagine your relationship with the Padres’ shortstop is probably going through a rough patch too. Should you stick it out? Or is it time to let E-Cab steal a spot on the waiver wire? (Or get caught trying?)

Going into the season, I profiled Cabrera as a guy with fewer question marks than most of his shortstop peers. Kudos to you if you ignored my warnings and drafted Troy Tulowitzki, but other than that, the top shortstops haven’t been awesome—though most have certainly outhit Cabrera. 

Some other questionable things I said were that Cabrera “can hit” (italics original), that the Padres could “drive in a run” with the help of Yonder Alonso, Jedd Gyorko, and Carlos Quentin, and (indirectly) that I didn’t think being (presumably) off PED’s would matter much. 

Well…first of all, nothing has gone right for the Padres’ offense so far (except Seth Smith, who appears to be stealing everyone else’s hits), but Cabrera has managed a not-horrible-I-guess 21 runs scored so far, so that actually wasn’t as bad as I’d expected. Unfortunately, a guy with just six RBI really needs to be a positive contributor in runs if he’s going to hang in a fantasy lineup. And I just don’t think Cabrera’s going to get many chances to improve those RBI. (Though he does have two longballs already. Can you imagine that—giving up a homer to Everth Cabrera? Now, that would be embarrassing. That’s how pitchers felt in little league when they gave up a hit to me.)

Cabrera’s steals are down too; he’s slacking with just 10 on the season, while burners like Eric Young, Jose Altuve, and Billy Hamilton are rocking 17 or 18. And out-of-nowhere-longshot Dee Gordon is embarrassing everyone in the world with 30 already. Come on! Part of Cabrera’s low steal total is thanks to his success rate: he’s been caught four times already, which leaves him with an acceptable 71% rate. But that isn’t what we paid for, considering that he was only caught four times in all of 2012! Get it together, man.

Lousy teammates and a few more outs on the basepaths aren’t the root of Everth’s problems. If they were, this article would be a lot more optimistic. No, the worst problems are the ones at the core of his .240 batting average and his cringe-worthy .273 on-base. The good news is that if Cabrera fixes these issues, the runs and the steals ought to bounce right back accordingly, because their problem is just that he isn’t getting to first base often enough to steal second or cross home. 

So what is killing Cabrera’s ability to hit for average and get on base? He was supposed (in my head, at least) to be a better-hitting Elvis Andrus, but he’s looking more like Alcides Escobar. (Actually, Escobar has been kinda good this year. That’s nice for him, but I’ve still got a grudge from last year. 

Well, Cabrera’s BABIP is sitting at .301, giving him almost squarely neutral “luck.” A speedy guy like Cabrera should be able to squeeze a higher BABIP out of his plate appearances, seeing as he’s got the wheels to beat out infield hits; sure enough he BABIP’d (everything is a verb these days) over .330 in both of the two seasons. That’s actually a positive indicator: there’s a pretty decent chance that his BABIP regresses closer to his previously-established mean and drags his average and on-base up a little with it. An increased BABIP might be all it takes to put his average into the .260 territory, which isn’t exactly glowing praise, but it would lift him into the “doesn’t-hurt-you” level for the category. 

Unfortunately, we can’t blame everything on BABIP and hope that his numbers rise across the board if his luck turns. Hopefully you stayed with me this far, because I’ve saved the most troubling issue for last: walks and strikeouts. Cabrera’s walk rate has diminished by more than half since last year, dropping from 9.4% to just 4.2%. So, no wonder his OBP is so ugly—he just isn’t taking those free passes that were so important to his game in 2013 and 2012. Cabrera’s also given up most of the gains he made in his strikeout rate, which sits at 22%, after dropping from 24.5% in ’12 to 15.9% in ’13. 

So Cabrera’s walks are down by a lot and his strikeouts are up by a lot. That’s bad. But let’s remember that we’re still dealing with a pretty small sample of just under two months. His monthly splits are actually a little weird: he struck out more in March/April, but his batting average is about .100 points worse in May. He had eight doubles in March/April, but just one in May. He had only four steals (three caught) in March/April, but has six (one caught) in May. He only walked four times in 116 March/April at bats, but has five walks through 88 May at bats. What’s the purpose of going over his month-by-month stats? Mostly to show just how odd small-sample play can be. 

I’m not ready to give up on Cabrera. If he can get a little better luck to combine with recovering his batting eye, he still has a chance to return to something approaching his previous skill levels. One thing I’m not worried about is his skills dying without PED’s—unless he’s been injecting stuff into his eyeballs, I think it’s safe to say he didn’t get his batting eye from external sources.*

*But if you know of evidence to suggest that PED’s improve batting eye directly (as in, not by bulking up a hitter’s power and making pitchers afraid to throw anywhere near the strike zone) I’d be very interested to hear about it in the comments. And I'd be more worried about Cabrera.

Cabrera’s problems are deep enough that I wouldn’t advocate going out and trading for him the way I would if BABIP were the only real issue, but if he’s on your waiver wire, that level of risk is still a good investment. I definitely wouldn’t try trading low on him in most circumstances. I suspect that more than Cabrera’s season is at a crossroads—whether or not he’s able to get his walks and strikeouts under his control is likely to determine what kind of career he has and how long it is. 



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.


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

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. 




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