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Stolen Base Overview (Fantasy Baseball)

by Josh Shepardson | @BChad50 | Featured Writer
Mar 4, 2018

If you’re looking for specific players to target for stolen bases, I’ve already covered them here. This piece is taking a full-team overview as opposed to looking at specific players. While power is more plentiful than ever across the MLB landscape, stolen bases are becoming more difficult to come by. Last year, only two players eclipsed 50 stolen bases, three exceeded 40, six bested 30, 14 reached at least 25 stolen bases, and just 29 players hit the 20-stolen base plateau. The lack of big stolen base totals from individual players coincides with a slide in stolen base attempts at the team level on average.

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Season SB Attempts AVG (Per Baseball-Reference)
2017 115
2016 118
2015 119
2014 127
2013 124

Looking at my primer for stolen bases from last year, you’ll notice as recently as 2011, teams averaged more than 150 stolen base attempts (151, to be exact). For three straight seasons, though, teams have averaged under 120 stolen base attempts. I checked Baseball-Reference’s league average for stolen bases and caught stealing (they don’t offer a stolen base attempts column) all the way back to the strike-shortened 1994 season, and last year’s average stolen base attempt total was the lowest in that time frame. Remarkably, it was even lower than the average during the strike-shortened year! This is all a wordy way of emphasizing that stolen bases are at a premium.

Projecting Stolen Bases

Projecting stolen bases is difficult because there are many factors that go into stealing bases. First, skills growth or deterioration — or plain old bad luck on balls in play — for players directly impacts their opportunities to steal. The old saying goes, you can’t steal first base. If a player’s OBP craters from last year to this season, then they won’t be on base as often, thus they won’t have as many chances to swipe a bag. That’s simple enough. However, if a player with a slap-singles approach develops more power and turns more singles into extra-base hits, then they’re likely to lose out on the stolen base attempts they’re accustomed to as well.

Skills for individual players is only a small part of the equation, too. Managerial and organizational tendencies are a huge factor, and Jeff Zimmerman of FanGraphs tackled that topic back in January. Zimmerman also attempted to account for the differences in speed from roster to roster, and he analyzed whether stolen base success rate could be utilized for projection purposes. Both articles are outstanding and must-read material.

2017 Stolen Base Attempt Leaders

Rank Team SB Attempts
1 Angels 180
2 Brewers 169
3 Reds 159
4 Rangers 157
5 Astros 140

The managers for all of the top-five teams in stolen base attempts last year return to their respective clubs this season. In Bryan Price’s four seasons as the manager of the Reds, last year’s ranking of third in stolen base attempts is tied for the club’s lowest with their 2014 squad. Of course, it warrants mentioning that Billy Hamilton is on the Reds. However, one elite base stealer alone doesn’t push a team into the top five. Dee Gordon led MLB with 60 stolen bases last year, yet the Marlins ranked 14th in stolen base attempts with 121.

Craig Counsell took over as the manager for the Brewers in 2015 after the club opened 7-18 with Ron Roenicke running the show. Dismissing that season, the Brewers have ranked first (2016) and second (2017) in stolen base attempts. Whether it’s by Counsell’s choice, the organization’s higher-up’s choice, or a combination of the two, Milwaukee appears to be one of the more aggressive teams on the bases.

In A.J. Hinch’s three seasons managing the Astros, they’ve ranked third (2015), ninth (2016), and fifth (2017) in stolen base attempts. Jeff Bannister has managed the Rangers for the same three-season stretch, and Texas has ranked sixth (2015), 11th (2016), and fourth (2017) in stolen base attempts. Both American League West squads in Texas look to be more aggressive attempting to steal bases than the average club.

Things aren’t as clear with last year’s leader in stolen base attempts. The Mike Scioscia-led Angels ranked tied for 16th in stolen base attempts in 2016 before zooming to the top spot last year. In 2014 they ranked 20th in stolen base attempts, and in 2015 they ranked 27th in stolen base attempts. Interestingly, Jerry Dipoto was the team’s general manager in 2014 and until he resigned on July 1, 2015. Billy Eppler has served as the Angels general manager the last two seasons, so the change in general manager could have a hand in the Angels’ climb up the ladder in stolen base attempts.

2017 Stolen Base Attempt Bottom Dwellers

Rank Team SB Attempts
26 Phillies 84
27 Mets 81
28 Athletics 79
29 Blue Jays 77
30 Orioles 45

Both the Phillies and Mets will be led by new skippers this year. The Phillies hired Gabe Kapler to be their manager and the Mets hired Mickey Callaway to lead their club. Neither Kapler nor Callaway have managed in the Majors. It remains to be seen how aggressive each manager will be. For what it’s worth (perhaps nothing), the Phillies ranked 10th in stolen base attempts in 2016 and will have Matt Klentak serving as their general manager for his third year this season. In other words, Philadelphia’s low ranking in stolen base attempts last year isn’t necessarily representative of an organizational aversion to attempting to steal. The Mets, on the other hand, have ranked 29th (2015 and 2016) and 27th (2017) in stolen base attempts, and Sandy Alderson has been the club’s general manager each of those seasons. Alderson has been the Mets general manager since October of 2010, and Terry Collins had served as the Mets manager since 2011. During that seven-year stretch with Alderson and Collins in their respective positions, the Mets’ rank in stolen base attempts bounced around from near the bottom to above average.

The Athletics, Blue Jays, and Orioles have a high-water stolen base attempts mark of tied for 17th for the Blue Jays in 2015 collectively since 2014. The Orioles have ranked in the basement in stolen base attempts each of the last four years. They are easily the worst team to target for stolen bases, but the A’s and Blue Jays aren’t great places to look for stolen bases, either.

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Josh Shepardson is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Josh, check out his archive and follow him @BChad50.

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