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Stolen Base Primer (2019 Fantasy Baseball)

by Josh Shepardson | @BChad50 | Featured Writer
Feb 22, 2019

Billy Hamilton should get plenty of opportunities to run with the Royals, who attempted MLB’s fifth-most stolen bases in 2018.

As I noted last year in the Stolen Base Overview, steals have slid in Major League Baseball. It appears, though, that the drop has essentially stagnated over the last few years. Teams understand the importance of avoiding unnecessary outs on the basepaths, but as you can see in the following table, team averages for stolen base attempts per season have basically leveled off.

Season SB Attempts AVG (Per Baseball-Reference)
2018 114
2017 115
2016 118
2015 119
2014 127
2013 124

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Projecting Stolen Bases

As I noted in this section last year, projecting stolen bases is tricky. There are a ton of factors that go into stealing bases, such as a player’s on-base skills and speed, for instance. Those are a couple of obvious factors, and a player who improves his on-base skills will have more chances than in previous seasons as a result of simply reaching base more. Conversely, as a player ages, he will likely lose a step, which could result in a lower success rate and fewer chances to steal. A less obvious threat to a player’s stolen base chances that I noted last year is a power spike. If a player is already in scoring position on second base, he might not have the freedom to attempt a steal of third. Additionally, if a player’s power spikes in the form of homers, the additional round-trippers will cut into his stolen base chances, too.

Moving beyond a player’s specific skill-set, managerial and organizational tendencies play a critical role in stolen base opportunities. Personnel changes in those positions can render the previous year’s stolen base info basically useless. As I did last year, I’ll suggest checking out a few pieces from Jeff Zimmerman of FanGraphs in which he attempted to tackle some variables that can impact steals. You can check out those pieces here and here. Now, let’s move on to last year’s leaders in stolen base attempts before closing things out with the laggers.

2018 Stolen Base Attempt Leaders

Rank Team SB Attempts
1 Rays 179
2 Indians 171
T3 Red Sox 156
T3 Brewers 156
5 Royals 155
6 Nationals 152

Last year, I showcased the top five in stolen base attempts. This year, I extended the table to six in order to shine the spotlight on every team that attempted more than 150 steals in 2018. Only four teams attempted more than 150 last season. The Brewers are the only carryover from the top of last season’s leaderboard. Milwaukee has ranked no lower than third in stolen base attempts in the three full seasons Craig Counsell has served as manager.

Last year’s leaders, the Rays, tied for 10th in Kevin Cash’s first season as the manager in 2015. They ranked 21st in 2016 and checked in tied for 11th in 2017. The Indians surged from 17th in stolen base attempts in 2017 to second last year, but you only have to go back to 2016 for another top-five finish (fifth, to be exact) with Terry Francona managing. In Alex Cora’s first season as Boston’s skipper, the Red Sox moved up from seventh to a tie for third.

Ned Yost has managed the Royals in every season going back to when I first tallied stolen base attempts in 2014. Working from 2014 to 2018, they have ranked first, eighth, seventh, tied for 11th, and fifth in attempted steals. They were an outstanding landing spot for Billy Hamilton’s top-flight speed. In Dave Martinez’s first season as manager of the Nationals, they matched their 2017 finish of sixth place.

Notably absent from the top of the leaderboard are the Angels and Reds, 2017’s first- and third-place finishers, respectively. The Angels fell to 12th, and they’ve since replaced manager Mike Scioscia with Brad Ausmus. When Ausmus managed the Tigers from 2014 through 2017, they ranked seventh, ninth, 23rd, and 23rd once again in stolen base tries. The Reds fired manager Bryan Price after only 18 games, and they fell to a tie for 14th. Jim Riggleman closed last year as Cincinnati’s manager for the final 144 games, but he’s been replaced by first-time MLB skipper David Bell.

2018 Stolen Base Attempt Bottom Dwellers

Rank Team SB Attempts
22 Dodgers 99
23 Astros 97
T24 Phillies 95
T24 Cardinals 95
26 Yankees 84
27 Blue Jays 77
28 Marlins 76
29 Twins 74
30 Athletics 56

I’ve also opted to expand the table for the bottom dwellers from last year, as these are the nine teams that fell short of 100 stolen base attempts. After a 47-46 start for the Cardinals, Mike Shildt took over the managerial reigns from Mike Matheny. The Red Birds retained him as manager after closing with a 41-28 record. Unfortunately, I’m unable to parse the stolen base data to see the totals under Matheny and under their current skipper. Returning skippers will manage the other eight clubs appearing in this table. The Astros and Twins have some potential to move out of the bottom dwellers section in 2019 after finishing fifth and 10th in stolen base attempts in 2017, respectively. The Athletics are likely to once again find themselves here again after 2019, as they’ve finished in the bottom five each of the last three years and haven’t finished higher than 21st in the last five seasons.

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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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