Eno Sarris

Saves and Steals

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The State of the Steal

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Stolen bases don't get quite the same attention here as saves, maybe. Probably because there isn't a 'designated stealer' position on the roster. If only one person could steal bases on your squad, then we might have rankings that we updated every week. Of course, that would be a strange rule change for baseball.


As it is, there are plenty of players that can steal bases. And yet, they're doing it less often. Check out the last ten years, first in graph format:


That's quite a cliff. Now let's put those numbers in context in a table.


2004 2589 1100 70.2% 8.6% 0.297 0.266 0.335 23375
2005 2565 1069 70.6% 8.2% 0.295 0.264 0.330 22326
2006 2767 1110 71.4% 8.4% 0.301 0.269 0.337 23599
2007 2918 1002 74.4% 8.5% 0.303 0.268 0.336 23322
2008 2799 1035 73.0% 8.7% 0.300 0.264 0.333 22585
2009 2970 1133 72.4% 8.9% 0.299 0.262 0.333 22419
2010 2959 1129 72.4% 8.5% 0.297 0.257 0.325 21308
2011 3279 1261 72.2% 8.1% 0.295 0.255 0.321 20808
2012 3229 1136 74.0% 8.0% 0.297 0.255 0.319 21017
2013 2693 1007 72.8% 7.9% 0.297 0.253 0.318 20255


A few things come to mind. This isn't a return to 2004 and 2005. The league-wide runs and on-base-percentage are closer to the last two years then earlier in the decade. So, while they were less successful and took off for second less often, they also had more chances in 2004 and 2005. 2013 looked just like 2011 and 2012, except for the missing 300-400 stolen bases. Also, you can't blame just one player for those missing stolen bases. Or even three or four. So it's not Jose Reyes' fault. it's possible that the decline in on-base percentage and batting average contributed to the missing stolen bases, but it also seems like teams took fewer chances in 2013.


The upshot of this, for fantasy, is that the stolen base becomes more valuable. Fewer players are stealing bases, and so the ones that are become more attractive. Simple law of supply and demand.


Over at FanGraphs, Bill Cartwright has his OLIVER projections. They aren't up on the site yet, but I got a sneak preview. The following players, and their projected OLIVER stolen base totals, might be cheaper than they should be in drafts next year, or in your dynasty and keeper leagues.


Everth Cabrera (44)
He's coming off a steroid suspension, and if his statistical history can be believed, those performance-enhancing drugs mostly helped him make contact. If he returns to previous baselines, he'll have trouble hitting .260. And he's not great with the glove. And he has no power. And he doesn't walk. All of these things should make him less attractive in drafts and keeper leagues. And yet, he's only 27. And he's projected for the tenth-most steals in baseball next year by OLIVER. And he's a shortstop. Let others take the chance on Billy Hamilton -- no longer a shortstop -- and see if you can't snag E-Cab for a cheap price.


Ben Revere (38)
Revere may or may not hit a homer next year, but only 24 people are projected to steal more bases. And despite the outfield being a little crowded now, there's no way Darin Ruf, Marlon Byrd or Domonic Brown is playing center field. So, like with Cabrera, a flawed player will find himself with all the playing time he wants.


Brett Gardner (29)
Gardner is not coming off a great season, and he is 30 years old. But even if he just repeated last year and hit eight homers and stole 24, he'd be a valuable player. And on a stolen-base-attempt-per-plate-appearance level, 2013 was his worst year. He can take off more often if he's not counted on for power -- more singles and fewer strikeouts and doubles, for example -- and let's see if the Yankees can improve their lineup. In any case, the floor works now that stolen bases are down.


Junior Lake (25)
With his plate approach, a .260 average might be a best-case scenario. But Lake has power and speed and comes right in behind Wil Venable in projected homers (17 to 18) with the same stolen base projection. Both cats are interesting, but coming off Venable's career year, maybe you take the 24-year-old with more upside over the 31-year-old in San Diego.


Adam Eaton (23)
The most disappointing aspect of Eaton's debut was the fact that he didn't attempt many stolen bases, after superlative totals in the minor leagues. If you pro-rate his stolen base total out to a full season, he would have only stolen about 11 bags. Maybe some of that has to do with getting comfortable with the big leagues. This projection is modest when you consider he stole 46 bags in the minors in 2012, but it's a big jump off his rookie season. That means there's risk here. The cost probably won't be prohibitive, though.


Nate McLouth (22)
McLouth is not sexy. Well, I can't speak for his face. But his stats... he's a platoon hitter that might hit .250. He might hit 15 homers. He might steal 25 bases. He'll have to sit on your bench some of the time in mixed leagues. But -- especially since he has some power -- those stolen bases still count. A little more these days. That's... attractive.


Aaron Hicks (20)
We're probably talking deep leagues now. With a .233 projected batting average -- due mostly to too many strikeouts -- and a role that's not quite determined yet, Hicks has some risk. But he does get on base, has some power (projected for 12 homers) and speed. Don't forget about him, even if it was pretty silly of me to predict rookie of the year hardware for him last spring.


Peter Bourjos (19)
It was a lost year for Bourjos, mainly due to injury. And his plate discipline is flawed. But he's only going to be 27 next season, and even if he doesn't get traded -- he's rumored to be on the block -- he has a starting role for him on his team. Double-digit homers, and probably more than his projected stolen base total, could easily be in the cards if he can be healthy.


Kolten Wong (19)
The post-season probably made Wong less attractive in the eyes of future owners. But the Cardinals seemed to have soured on David Freese, and the natural solution is to move Matt Carpenter to third and install Wong at second. A decent batting average, somewhere right around ten homers and twenty stolen bases? On the middle infield? Sure.


Jimmy Rollins (18)
Yeah, he's super old. Yeah, he's an injury risk. Yeah, the power is gone. Yeah, he strikes out too much and the batting average will be terrible. He plays shortstop! He'll probably still steal 15+ bags!


Lorenzo Cain (16)
.260, 10 homers and 16 stolen bases -- and some worry about his health and starting role -- make Cain a deep leaguer at this point. But not someone to totally write off. If Jarrod Dyson wins the center field job, then Dyson is a mixed leaguer. He's projected for the third-most stolen bases in baseball at 49 -- only 27 less than number one in baseball,  Billy Hamilton. But if they make Dyson a sub again, then it's Cain that's more relevant. You just take too much of a hit on the runs, rbi, hits, home runs when you use a part-timer for stolen bases. Cain would keep you afloat in most stats and add some stolen bases to boot.


Brian Dozier (13)
An infield fly ball problem is really all that stands in between Dozier and mixed league relevance. If he irons that out, he could hit .275+ with double digit homers and steals. If he doesn't, he'll struggle to hit .250 again. It's that simple.


Avisail Garcia (13)
Garcia had a lot of batted ball luck last year, so his projected batting average falls to .269. His plate discipline isn't great, and though he's thought by scouts to have a ton of power, he's only projected for 17 homers. But Garcia has stolen bases at a decent clip in his career, and with 13 stolen bases and the rest of those projected numbers, he's a decent play in most leagues.

Eno Sarris is an editor and writer at FanGraphs.com. You can find his work gathered in one place at and enosarris.com. Follow his misadventures in writing on Twitter as well.
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