Over the last seven weeks, we’ve evaluated every bullpen in gruesome detail. In the process, we’ve uncovered strengths, weaknesses, sleepers, holds targets, and good old fashioned fantasy workhorses. Today, we shift our focus to the “steals” portion of this column. If you missed any of the reliever news, you can check out the All Bullpen Audit, NL East, AL East, NL Central, AL Central, NL West, and AL West. Bear in mind, some information may be obsolete.
Let’s kick off today’s column with the initial stolen base tiers followed by 10 of my favorite sleeper picks. I’ve listed ADPs supplied by FanTrax in parentheses.
As always, I welcome any and all criticism or suggestions. Think I missed somebody? Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @BaseballATeam.
Tier 1: The World Beaters (4)
Billy Hamilton (205)
Dee Gordon (114)
Adalberto Mondesi (49)
Trea Turner (9)
All four of these players are likely to eclipse 40 steals with a healthy season. Hamilton, a highly flawed hitter with one category of fantasy relevance, is finally being valued appropriately. It’s not a given that he’ll retain a starting job with the Royals. The best way to use him is as a bench player who you patch in on days when one of your usual starters is off or has an especially bad matchup.
Gordon could be similar to Hamilton in that the best way to use him is as a bench player. There’s some potential for a rebound since he played through an injury last year. Turner is a fantastic first round foundational piece with five category production. Mondesi offers potential for transcendent fantasy stats. Last season, he stole bases at an unforeseen pace in the current era. As a low OBP hitter, he’ll need to remain active on the basepaths to return value at his current price tag.
Speed and power elevate Trea Turner's value
Tier 2: Consistent Thieves (5)
Starling Marte (41)
Mallex Smith (119)
Jonathan Villar (110)
Whit Merrifield (37)
Jose Altuve (17)
This is an extremely strong tier. They all offer multi-category value while projecting for about 35 steals. Smith missed the first tier only because he’s recovering from a hopefully minor elbow injury. He might miss some early action which will strain his ability to reach 40 steals.
A fastidious observer might notice the projections for Turner and Marte are very similar. They figure to supply around 19 home runs, healthy run and RBI totals, and a .280 average. Even if Turner nabs a handful more bases, Marte looks like a better value. While many consider Marte to be injury prone, there’s no data suggesting he’s a greater risk than Turner or other speedy folk.
The new-look Orioles claim they’ll let their baserunners go wild. That’s great news for Villar who supplies most of his fantasy value with his legs. He’ll also have a valuable lineup role thanks to the terrible Baltimore roster. Villar rebounded upon a traded to the Orioles. However, a closer reading of the data leads to an unpleasant conclusion. Although his walk and strikeout rates improved in Baltimore, his plate discipline actually declined. Nothing else changed besides an increased willingness to run. As such, expect occasional deep slumps if you roster Villar this year.
We know one thing about the 2019 Royals. They’re going to run. Merrifield buffed his stolen base total last season by reaching base more frequently. He probably doesn’t have room for a third straight season of major improvement. Even so, we shouldn’t be surprised if he surpasses 40 steals again in a weak AL Central.
Altuve is the lottery ticket in this group. He’s being drafted as if his 17 steal 2018 is the new norm. Offseason knee surgery could reinvigorate him on the bases. The specific procedure he had performed usually results in a full recovery. If that’s the case, Altuve could be back in the conversation for MVP.
Assorted Rabbits (6)
Victor Robles (105)
Mookie Betts (2)
Jose Ramirez (4)
Delino DeShields (374)
Lorenzo Cain (68)
Ronald Acuna (10)
This tier projects for between 25 and 35 steals. Robles has the potential to blaze past his projection. There is a chance he’ll immediately post a .370 OBP which would quickly lead to a top-of-the-lineup role and 700 plate appearance pace. Of course, that’s a rosy outcome. It’s more likely he toils near the bottom of the Nationals lineup and has a merely decent season. Although Robles is available over 50 picks later, I flat out prefer him to Mondesi.
Superstar players usually take it fairly easy on stolen bases. They pick their spots for when their legs matter most to their team. That’s why, despite a .438 OBP, Betts only swiped 30 bases last year. Similarly, I expect Ramirez to take a more placid approach on the bases this year. However, the Indians do have a weak lineup which makes stolen bases a more viable offensive strategy. He might be tasked to spark rallies. He could shoot up or down the rankings.
Cain is a steady on base machine. His running may be slightly constrained by the quality of his supporting cast. You don’t want him running into outs ahead of Christian Yelich. That’s not to say Cain runs into many outs – he’s usually very successful on the basepaths. Deshields will be set loose in perhaps his last chance to prove he’s more than a playable version of Terrance Gore. The 26-year-old has an intriguing combination of contact skills and plate discipline. Alas, making contact and making quality contact are two very different things.
Any sort of naysaying against Acuna tends to illicit a backlash. However, I’m unimpressed with his stolen base success rates throughout his career. I see him as a lesser version of Betts and Ramirez. While they might easily exceed my expectations, it would truly shock me if Acuna stole more than 30 bases. Even 25 feels like it could be a stretch.