The pitcher stands on the mound, staring intently at the catcher’s signals. He comes to a set, freezes, and takes a deep breath. As he lifts his front leg, the runner on first takes off. The ball gets to the catcher who pops up and fires to second, but it is too late. The runner has successfully stolen second base. This is one of the most exciting plays in baseball, but unfortunately, we are seeing fewer and fewer of them.
It is sad to say, but looking at the trends it is clear to see that while power may be on the rise, stolen bases are declining. In fact, there were a total of just 2,537 stolen bases in 2016. Now, I know what you’re
thinking, that is a big number. But while it may seem like it, we have seen a record low in stolen bases the past two seasons.
We did not see a lot of steals last season, but we saw even fewer in 2015, when there was just 2,505 stolen bases. Since 1980, the only seasons to have fewer stolen bases than both 2015 and 2016 were the strike-shortened seasons of 1981 and 1994. To make matters worse, both of those seasons had over 2,000 stolen bases, in about half as many games. If they were not cut short they would have easily blown past the past two seasons.
While steals are down, the number of players providing an elite number of stolen bases has not dropped as much as you might think. Last season, five players provided 40-or-more stolen bases. That was the most players to do so since 2013, and not that much of a decline compared to recent history.
|Year||Players with 40-plus Steals||30-plus Steals||20-plus Steals|
As you can see, the number of players to steal 40-plus, or 30-plus bases may be slightly down, but not that far off from what we have seen recently, especially since 2013. However, where we see the biggest drop off is in players to steal 20-plus bases. What that means is that if you don’t pay up early for the guys who will rack up steals, you will have a tough time piecing them together later in the draft.
Normally, I enter Fantasy Baseball drafts looking to shore up power, runs, RBIs and average, while looking to draft a handful of guys that can steal around 20 or so bases, making me competitive in the category, while not having to overpay. In fact, I despised taking a speed specialist like Billy Hamilton. Well, now I’m completely on the other side. I think you HAVE to try to get a player early who can provide steals, otherwise you will be fighting an uphill battle in the stolen base category all season. I know the old school of thought would still be to pay for power early on. But let me put things into perspective. As I said, only 28 players stole more than 20 bases in 2016. Meanwhile, 111 players hit 20-plus homers last year! That is a difference of 83 players! This clearly has to affect your strategy heading into your Fantasy Baseball drafts, but it depends on your format.
This is clearly the format to pay a premium for stolen bases. As you well know, a tradition Roto league has five offensive categories: batting average, home runs, runs scored, RBIs, and stolen bases. In this format, a steal is just as valuable as a home run, as your ultimate goal is to rack up the most total points as possible. To do so, you need to perform at least adequately in each category. I have already made the case that you should pay up for steals. Given that power is so up that you can wait on it, select a guy such as Hamilton early in your draft, and make up for his lack of power by selecting a guy who can hit 20-homers later on. However, what you may not realize is that with steals being down, the guys who can do so have finished as top hitters in the Roto format.
Last season, Jonathan Villar led the league with 62 stolen bases. According to ESPN, he finished as the fourth-best hitter in standard Roto formats. Not only that, but the top six hitters in Roto were Mookie Betts, Jose Altuve, Mike Trout, Villar, Jean Segura, and Paul Goldschmidt. What did they all have in common? All of them stole a ton of bases. Of that group, Betts had the fewest swipes with 26. The rest of them all had at least 30. Yes, they all contributed in other categories. But Betts, who had 31, was the only one to hit more than 30-homers. In fact, Goldschmidt, Altuve, Villar and Segura all had less than 25-homers. That right there should show you the value of stolen bases in Roto leagues.
However, if you need more proof all you need to know is that Hamilton, who hit .260 with three homers, 69 runs and just 17 RBIs, finished as the 15th best OF solely because he stole 58 stolen bases.
Not only do you need to get the steals early in your draft to remain competitive in that category but according to this, these guys are obviously worth the early picks it takes to acquire them in a Roto format.
Points leagues are a completely different beast. Do not overpay for steals in this format. I repeat, DO NOT OVERPAY FOR STEALS IN POINTS LEAGUES! Got it? Good. But why should you not pay for steals in points leagues? Well, unlike in Roto, you are not looking to be competitive in categories, you are just looking for players who can compile the most points. You have to take into consideration that walks, doubles, homers, runs scored and RBIs all help players rack up points. While steals add value in a standard league because a player is rewarded two points for every steal, they are also deducted one point for every caught stealing.
Let’s see how the players we discussed above faired in points leagues. In a standard CBS Sports points league, the top hitters were still Betts, Trout and Altuve. Goldschmidt finished as the seventh-best hitter, falling just one spot. The biggest difference was with Villar, Segura and Hamilton, players whose value is inflated in Roto due to their stolen bases.
In this format, Segura finished as the 17th best hitter, while Villar fell to 20th. These guys obviously remained valuable for their homers and doubles, etc. The biggest player to take the hit was Hamilton; the 15th ranked outfielder in Roto finished as the 51st outfielder in points formats! That just shows you that in points leagues steals should not be valued anywhere close to where they are in Roto.
Paying for stolen bases is a mistake many new points league owners make. Do not fall into what I have dubbed, ‘Roto bias,’ which is when players overvalue the five Roto categories in leagues like Head-to-Head points.
Use this information to craft your strategy and win your league!
As always, make sure to follow me on Twitter, @MichaelFFlorio.