Hope You Drafted Stolen Bases

I hope you got your stolen bases in the draft this year. Like saves, stolen bases is often the category that a few teams will leave for in-season management. The ability for one player to make a substantial impact combined with the likely availability of new SB sources throughout the year allows you to allocate the draft day resources elsewhere and adjust via trades or the waiver wire. Sometimes 30-HR guys emerge out of nowhere like Lucas Duda and J.D. Martinez last year (and Martinez was actually just a 30-HR pace, hitting 23 in 123 games), but it’s very rare whereas the wire seems to deliver at least a couple of speed studs each year.

Not in 2015.

While the season is not yet over, it’s not too early to declare that speed harvest was lacking this year. If he keeps pace, Billy Burns will be the only 30-steal waiver find. In fact, he might actually be the only 25-steal waiver find if Jarrod Dyson doesn’t get two more and Delino DeShields is too injured to log three more. Last year we saw six guys log 27+ SBs as mostly waiver finds, including the MLB’s leader in Dee Gordon (64). I say mostly because I’m obviously looking a bit broadly here. I’m using ADP data from those two seasons and using pick 300 (25 rounds of a 12-team mixed) as a cutoff.

Anyone with an ADP later than 300 or no ADP at all is considered a waiver find. I realize deeper mixers and single-league formats change the dynamics here, but I don’t think teams actively leave deficiencies in categories in those leagues like they would a 10- or 12-team mixer where the pool is expected to deliver real help throughout the season. There are currently 41 players in baseball with at least 15 SBs and 15 of those qualify as waiver finds. Last year there were 58 guys logging 15+ SBs and 15 of those were also waiver finds.

The big difference is that the 2014 group stole 97 more bases than this year’s crop, over six swipes per player. Even if you lop off Gordon’s 64, the remaining 14 guys still had 313, eclipsing the 284 from this year’s group. Of course, we still have time left in the season so the 284 is expected to go up. I estimated about 55 left for this group paced on current paces and the remaining games, but seven of those are from Dyson, who has started just twice this month and simply might not play enough to fulfill that estimate.

With the season not yet over, I’m sure some of you are wondering about those on the cusp of 15. I’m glad you asked. Odubel Herrera (14), Will Venable (14), and Gregor Blanco (13) will all likely join the 15+ club, but I don’t think they change the landscape of the conversation at all. Even adding a few more guys to the mix over the 2014 group doesn’t make it more appealing. The top three waiver finds for speed in 2014 only hit a combined four home runs, but they stole 130 bases. This year’s group need the top five to reach that number (133 for the five).

You need high impact SB numbers to justify carrying someone who is a slug in the other four categories. Some speedsters also maintain a solid average and others might bat near the top of the lineup for runs (Gordon hit .289 with 92 R in addition to the 64 SBs), but often it’s only the speed. Dyson and Jordan Schafer were second and third among 2014 waiver finds with 36 and 30 SBs, respectively. Their combined runs+RBIs was just six higher than Gordon’s runs total alone. Dyson’s nothing contributions everywhere else are a lot less palatable with 13 fewer SBs, especially when you’re using a full roster spot for 199 PA.

Here are the 2015 waiver finds with 15+ SBs so far:

1 Billy Burns Athletics 109 485 3 63 34 26 0.295 100 576
2 Jarrod Dyson Royals 76 199 2 27 17 23 0.258 97 348
3 Delino Deshields Jr. Rangers 99 397 2 63 28 22 0.256 95 663
4 DJ LeMahieu Rockies 131 538 6 76 52 21 0.318 101 425
5 Cameron Maybin Braves 124 503 10 60 52 21 0.268 98 691
6 Anthony Gose Tigers 118 437 5 57 24 20 0.255 90 402
7 Cesar Hernandez Phillies 121 431 1 55 32 19 0.271 92 N/A
8 Jake Marisnick Astros 111 318 9 39 32 18 0.241 81 444
9 Kevin Pillar Blue Jays 136 537 10 67 46 18 0.267 84 600
10 Dexter Fowler Cubs 132 585 17 90 41 17 0.254 116 331
11 Ender Inciarte Diamondbacks 113 484 4 65 39 17 0.292 91 461
12 Chris Owings Diamondbacks 123 470 4 53 39 16 0.240 60 350
13 Kevin Kiermaier Rays 131 462 8 52 34 16 0.263 98 431
14 Michael Bourn – – – 118 397 0 29 22 15 0.225 60 381
15 Michael Taylor Nationals 116 426 14 42 60 15 0.242 81 430

As you can see, the crop isn’t utterly devoid of talent, but it didn’t produce (or hasn’t produced since it is ongoing) many must-start players for mixed leaguers. Burns, D.J. LeMahieu, and Dexter Fowler should all be in the lineup of someone in a 12-team league, but not necessarily the team that has them. It’s not tough to envision a scenario where their outfield is deep enough to not regularly use Burns and Fowler. LeMahieu plays a position that can be tougher to fill so he’s likely starting for a lot of the teams he’s on. And even if you have a stud 2B, there is still MI to fill.

But how much are fantasy teams really getting from the Kevin Pillars of the list? Pillar had a .585 OPS through May, so no mixed leaguer got the seven steals he logged during that time. You probably didn’t buy in right away on June’s surge (.911 OPS in 100 PA) so you likely missed most of those five SBs. You probably jumped on board in July, if at all, and since then he has posted a .660 OPS with 6 SBs.

Cesar Hernandez also surged in June after a poor start, hitting .324 with 8 SBs. He closed with six SBs in the final four games. You probably didn’t really notice him until the four-hit game which capped a 10-game run of .385 AVG with 4 SBs. That four-hit game was on a Sunday so I can definitely see some teams acquiring him that night for the next week. If so, you got the final three SBs of June and have enjoyed 13 in 267 PA (a full season pace of 36) with a .275 AVG. That is a solid boost, but probably too little too late if you waited to address your speed via the wire.

Delino DeShields Jr. looked like he might be the class of the SB waiver finds this year with 13 in his first 168 PA. A mid-June hamstring injury cost him nearly three weeks and derailed that train. He is 9-for-14 since returning from the DL, including 1-for-3 in his last 19 games.

Maybe I’m making too much of it, but as I looked to supplement my speed in leagues this year, I found it much tougher than normal which also made trading for the SB studs that much harder. There is already a premium on Gordon, Billy Hamilton, Jose Altuve, and Ben Revere for their speed. With the trading team is having a much harder time filling that void with anything adequate, it was cost-prohibitive to get those SBs via trade.

Last year’s crop was by no means perfect with 100% mixed-league viable options, but higher volumes from the Jordan Schafers and James Joneses of the list made their emptiness every else easier to roster while several others supplemented their speed elsewhere not only making it easier to roster them, but also desirable to do so:

1 Dee Gordon Dodgers 148 650 2 92 34 64 0.289 101 434
2 Jarrod Dyson Royals 120 290 1 33 24 36 0.269 85 383
3 Jordan Schafer – – – 104 240 1 26 15 30 0.238 76 531
4 Charlie Blackmon Rockies 154 648 19 82 72 28 0.288 99 353
5 Lorenzo Cain Royals 133 502 5 55 53 28 0.301 111 324
6 James Jones Mariners 108 328 0 46 9 27 0.250 68 N/A
7 Sam Fuld – – – 113 402 4 40 36 21 0.239 90 892
8 Danny Santana Twins 101 430 7 70 40 20 0.319 133 N/A
9 Drew Stubbs Rockies 132 424 15 67 43 20 0.289 112 391
10 Craig Gentry Athletics 94 258 0 38 12 20 0.254 77 406
11 Ender Inciarte Diamondbacks 118 447 4 54 27 19 0.278 87 N/A
12 Josh Harrison Pirates 143 550 13 77 52 18 0.315 138 792
13 Gregor Blanco Giants 146 444 5 51 38 16 0.260 108 577
14 Ichiro Suzuki Yankees 143 385 1 42 22 15 0.284 87 454
15 Anthony Gose Blue Jays 94 274 2 31 13 15 0.226 74 522

Not a flawless bunch, but definitely better. Craig Gentry was basically done stealing by July (5 over the final three months after 20 in the first three), Anthony Gose was really bad, Schafer did have the overall volume, but he got 9 of his 30 SBs as a sub (with a .195 AVG, too) so even if you were in a daily league and could pick his starts, you still lost out. Gordon, Charlie Blackmon, Lorenzo Cain, Danny Santana, Drew Stubbs, and Josh Harrison were all mixed league plays ranging from stud to above-average.

I’m only looking at the last two years, but SBs are trending at the lowest rate we’ve seen since 2005 and the last three seasons are the three of the four worst over the last nine years. Was that last sentence confusing enough with all the written numbers? The point is SBs are down and we’re feeling the hit in fantasy baseball. Is it something we need to worry about long-term? Tough to tell. SBs were in the same range as 2015 for 2003-2005 before spiking and holding relatively firm from 2006-2010 before a huge two-year spike which preceded this recent downturn.

Again, I’m not sure if the SB downturn is here to stay, but it has made the rabbits (the known SB commodities who regularly go in the early rounds) more valuable and the idea of leaving it to in-season management with the wire and trades more treacherous. I wouldn’t be surprised many leagues saw a Hamilton or Gordon essentially passed around via 2-3 trades because while they are more valuable on the one hand because of the scarcity, you can also build a lead with them and then flip them to plug other holes on the team without fear of a plummeting down the standings (obviously, this is very league dependent, but very possible, too).

I usually like to stock up on power-speed combos in the early rounds, guys who do pretty well in each, though likely won’t be a league leader in either. Someone like Fowler, to be honest. But also guys like Blackmon, A.J. Pollock, Jason Heyward, Mookie Betts, and Kolten Wong were high on my lists of guys to get. Not all of them pan out like those guys did (Ian Desmond and Brian Dozier* to name a couple), but it’s a strategy I’ll continue to employ, especially in the lower-offense environment we’re seeing right now.

*Dozier has been great, no doubt, but he does have 10 fewer SBs this year

How did SBs shake out in your league? Were you able to get them off the wire? Do you like going for the SB studs in the draft to avoid a potential waiver wire pitfall?

Paul is the Editor of Rotographs and contributes to ESPN's Daily Notes. Follow Paul on Twitter @sporer and on Twitch at sporer.

newest oldest most voted

Finding steals in an AL only has been close to impossible once Burns was added. I tried out Dyson and got a handful here and there amidst way too many days where he did not play.