Stolen base attempts were down year-over-year from 3,412 in 2018 to 3,112 in 2019 and 3,016 (adjusted for a full season) in 2020. They are at historical lows on an attempt per-game basis after peaking in the late 1980s. Why is this happening? Teams are focused on stolen base success rate rather than gross stolen bases. Analytics show that for a stolen base to be a positive expected value play, the success rate needs to be above 70%. Teams are significantly pickier about when to steal a base now than they were thirty years ago. As a result, stolen base attempts are down, but stolen base success rates are up.
Because of the decrease in stolen bases across baseball, a stolen base’s value has increased from a fantasy perspective. Think about it, simple economics – supply is decreasing, but demand is flat, so the commodity price (stolen bases) should also increase. Therefore, reliable sources of stolen bases are among the most sought-after groups in fantasy baseball drafts.
*ADPs courtesy of FantasyPros Consensus ADP
Teams to Target for Stolen Bases
In addition to player speed, there are some other factors that we can use to give us an edge when it comes to drafting stolen bases this season. First, teams that hit more home runs have less incentive to steal bases because they don’t want to lose baserunners and have two-run homers turn into solo shots. Second, managerial and front office tendencies are critical. Specific clubs still operate on an ‘old school,’ small-ball approach, and they might be more likely to make risky decisions when it comes to stealing bases.
Chris Woodward was hired as manager by the Texas Rangers in 2018, and since that time, they have been number one in baseball in stolen base attempts per game. Other managers who love to steal include Seattle‘s Scott Servais, San Diego‘s Jayce Tingler, Kansas City‘s Mike Matheny, and Tampa Bay‘s Kevin Cash. Follow these teams closely during the season to find good Waiver Wire pick-ups that provide stolen bases. Another trick to use during the season if you find yourself streaming stolen bases is to target speedsters against poor-armed catchers. Stolen bases come in bunches – when teams think they have an edge by sending a runner. It makes sense that if the scouting report for a catcher says he has a wet noodle for an arm, the likelihood of opposing teams stealing bases against them goes up.
Players to Target
Here are three players in attractive situations for stolen bases to have on your radar as we enter the season.
Trent Grisham (OF – SD): ADP 67
Trent Grisham is already on everybody’s radar, but here’s a bull thesis for drafting him in the early-middle rounds. Last year he stole ten bases in 11 attempts. He has a 96-percentile sprint speed, so we know he’s fast, and we know that Jayce Tingler loves to steal. The former top prospect gets on base a fair amount (78 percentile BB%) and will lead off for the Padres, who have a stacked line-up, so Grisham should score many runs. He has power, too, hitting ten home runs in 215 at-bats last season. I think he’s a lock for 20-20, and there’s a chance he can take his game to the next level like he did in triple-A in 2019, cut down on his strikeouts, and raise his batting average. He provides a solid foundation for stolen bases, the scarcest offensive category.
Leody Taveras (OF – TEX): ADP 233
Leody Taveras is a switch-hitting 22-year-old who had never played above AA before making his debut last season. He was not ready, striking out nearly one-third of the time and OPS-ing .703 but a perfect 8-for-8 stealing bases. The Rangers are committed to the youth movement, and he’s assumed to be the Rangers’ Opening Day lead-off hitter. He has 96-percentile sprint speed, and his minor league numbers encourage me to believe he can cut down on the strikeouts and stay in the bigs for the entire season. He has a little bit of pop, too, and can probably slug ten home runs throughout a season-another good late-round pick to add some stolen bases to the end of your roster.
Manuel Margot (OF – TB): ADP 272
Manuel Margot stole 12 bases in 16 attempts last season, above the 70% threshold for the green light, and he offers some power. The 26-year-old hit 12 home runs in 2019, for the Padres, in 398 at-bats. The big question mark with him is playing time – he’s never had more than 487 at-bats in a season, and everybody knows the Rays love to play the match-ups, so he might not play regularly despite likely being the starting right fielder on opening day. Still, he’s available late in drafts and offers more than just speed.
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