Too Many Tools? Why I Fear the 30/30 Player.

Play fantasy sports long enough and you're going to get burned.  No matter what you're strategy, most likely along the way you're going to find that certain decisions that you continually make aren't going to always pay off.  Eventually you may find that sometimes the risk outweighs the reward to the point that you simply won't continue to go to that well.

There are so many different strategies you can play off of in the game.  Drafting potential breakout players early.  Never drafting potential breakout players.  Never drafting a closer.  Making 20 moves per week.  Only making a move when absolutely necessary. 

I suppose one thing that finally burned me to the point of nothing but total skepticism is the 20/20, and especially the 30/30, player.  When a guy shows a power and speed combination that totals him 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases, I've generally found that while his season was outstanding, it ultimately will overrate him for the rest of his career. 

Owners always fall in love with a guy who can fill both of those important categories.  We struggle to decide if we're going to start Juan Pierre in the outfield, a player who contributes almost nothing but stolen bases, when we would find it much easier to start a player who can give us half as many stolen bases yet easily fills out the other categories. 

So when a guy comes along and displays both power and speed, owners jump on him the following season.  However, I got burned too many times that way, and I refuse to rate a 30/30 player as anything more than a guy who will either drop the stolen base totals or get hurt.  I can rarely view him as anything else. 

Sure, some of the greatest players in the history of the game were "five-tool players" who had great home run and stolen base totals consistently: Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr, Alex Rodriguez, Willie Mays, etc.  But that player is so rare, that I don't even try to predict who the next one will be.

But my opinion is only that; my opinion.  That's not enough to convince anyone else, or even myself, that my gut feeling is true.  We have sites like Baseball-Reference that are full of statistics that can prove whether or not my gut is right or wrong.  Whether or not me being burned was a trend that was closer to causation than just correlation, or whether I am just the unluckiest player in fantasy history.

I'm going to take a look at every 30/30 season since 2000 and examine the career path of that player going forward.  Did they continue to hit for power and display great speed, did they fall off the map, or did they simply just go back to being a good player with one major statistical outlier?  Let's find out.

2000:

Preston Wilson - 31 HR, 36 SB

Wilson was the only major league player with a 30/30 season in 2000.  Believe it or not, Wilson was drafted 9th overall way back in 1993.  He was all over the prospect map during his minor league tenure, never questioning his power or speed, but he was far from a 5-tool player.  Wilson had questionable defense, and wasn't going to hit for much average.  He also struck out a lot.  In fact, Wilson led the league in strikeouts in 2000 with 187.  We should have seen the writing on the wall that Wilson's future would be murder-death-kill.

Wilson did go on to post back to back 20/20 seasons with Florida in 2001 and 2002, but he did miss 60 total games during that time.  In 2003 he was traded to the Rockies and hit a career high 36 home runs with a league-leading 141 RBI.  He was only 28 years old at the time, so it would seem that he was just beginning, with at least a couple peak years left.  Unfortunately, injuries limited him to 58 games in 2004, and Wilson was out of the league after playing 25 games in 2007 at age 32.  Wilson stole 101 bases in his first 729 games and just 22 over his last 357.  He last played baseball for the Long Island Ducks in 2009. 

Others of Note: Roberto Alomar (19/39), Darin Erstad (25/28), Bobby Abreu (25/28)


2001:

Vladimir Guerrero - (34/37)

Vlad, especially in his Montreal years, is very much a five-tool player.  He hit for average, power, a strong throwing arm, played good defense, and for a time showed a lot of speed.  (Well, he definitely ran a lot for 2 years at least.) 

Between 2001 and 2002, Guerrero stole 77 bases.  He also was caught 36 times.  But fantasy owners typically don't care how many times you get caught as long as you're racking up stolen bases, and Vlad did do that for two years.  He was still in the prime of his career at age 26, so why not expect him to rack up 20+ stolen bases for the next 5-6 years at least? 

Guerrero was in the 30/30 club again the following year with 39 HR and 40 SB, just shy of the 40/40 club.  And he was only 27!  At this point he should be considered easily one of the top fantasy players in the game because of his HR and SB totals along with his high average and leading the league in hits with 206. 

Guerrero only played 112 games in 2003 and then moved to LA the following year.  He stole 77 bases during those two years I mentioned.  He has stolen 65 total in 1,153 games since.  Vlad is a Hall of Famer in my opinion... but a reminder that a near 40/40 season is more likely to be the "peak" than just the beginning.

Jose Cruz Jr (34/32)

Cruz was a former top prospect for the M's who was inexplicably traded for two relief pitchers in a move so painful I still don't want to get into it.  He tapped fully into that potential in 2001 when he joined the 30/30 club at age 27.  Over the next 9 seasons, he would hit .242/.341/.419 and steal 34 total bases in 765 games. 

Bobby Abreu (31/36)

Abreu was the most underrated player in baseball for so long that he eventually had to become one of the most overrated.  But truthfully speaking, Abreu has carved out a very nice career and will definitely garner some Hall of Fame votes.  Abreu is one of the few exceptions to the rule and has had nine 20/20 seasons in his career and two 30/30 years.  Even just last season at age 36, Abreu posted 20/24.  A solid speed/power combination player.

Others of Note: Mike Cameron (25/34), Carlos Beltran (24/31), Raul Mondesi (27/30)

2002:

Vlad - (39/40) Already Discussed

Alfonso Soriano - (39/41)

Soriano officially joined the 30/30 club in 2002, just missing 40/40.  For him, it was a sign of things to come and he averaged 37 HR and 33 SB between 2002 and 2006 with 3 different ballclubs and hitting 46 HR and stealing 41 bases for Washington in 2006.  However since joing the Cubs in 2007, Soriano averaged 26 HR and 13 SB and generally been a fantasy player most of us have avoided.  This season he does have 11 HR, but has yet to steal a base.

Others of Note: Carlos Beltran (29/35), Aaron Boone (26/32), Mike Cameron (25/31)

2003:

Alfonso Soriano (38/35)

Only 11 players stole 30 more more bases in 2003.  Out of those, only 2 hit more than 20 HR; Soriano and Beltran (26/41)

2004:

Bobby Abreu - (30/40)

Carlos Beltran - (38/42)

After flirting with 30/30 throughout his Kansas City career, Beltran finally broke through in the year he was traded from the Royals to the Astros.  I guess he just didn't want to give Royals fans all the business.  He averaged 22 HR and 29 SB's in his first 5 years in KC.  In 90 games with Houston after he was traded, he smacked 23 bombs and stole 28 bases.  Hell, he had 8 HR and 6 SB in 12 postseason games that year alone.

He then signed a 7 year, 119 million dollar deal with the Mets.  While he hasn't been the huge disappointment that his owner believes him to be, once again we see the speed disappear.  Beltran was 28 when he joined New York, and averaged 21 stolen bases over the first four years of the deal.  Not bad, but significantly lower than the 37 SB's he averaged in the previous 4 years.  Then he was hit with the injury bug that I feel we see time and time again with "five-tool players"  Beltran played in 145 of a possible 324 games over the next two years and after 0 SB's this year, has stolen 14 total bases in that time.

Others of Note: Corey Patterson (24/32), Alex Rodriguez (36/28)

2005:

Alfonso Soriano (36/30)

Others of Note: Bobby Abreu (24/31), Jason Bay (32/21)

2006:

Alfonso Soriano (46/41)

Others of Note: Jimmy Rollins (25/36), Eric Byrnes (26/25) Jose Reyes (19/64), Carl Crawford (18/58)

With Crawford and Reyes, we see examples of two of the fastest players having peak power seasons.  Byrnes is a headscratcher himself.  He hit 21/50 the following year and was basically finished after that.

2007:

Jimmy Rollins (30/41)

Rollins won the MVP in 2007 after hitting a career high 30 home runs to go along with his usual stolen base totals.  Of course, as a shortstop who just had a 30/41 season, Rollins shot up the fantasy rankings to be an easy first round grab in 2008.  He followed up his MVP season by hitting just 11 HR and slugging .437, while missing about a month due to injury.  He did however steal 47 bases.  But this was not quite what owners expected.  Hoping that it was just injury, again owners pounced on Rollins in 2009 but he produced a .250/.296/.423 line.  He did however hit 20 HR and steal 31 bases with 100 runs scored, but this was underwhelming considering expectations.  The lowest OBP of his career, his lowest BA since 2002, and his lowest SLG% since 2003.  Last season Rollins played in just 88 games and he has continued his decline.

Since his MVP season, Rollins has an OPS+ of 93, has missed significant time due to injury, and has just 3 HR this season with a .711 OPS.  Rollins was 28 when he won MVP.

David Wright (30/34)

Wright, Reyes, and Beltran were supposed to form the core of an NL East powerhouse in New York.  Wright seemed destined for future MVP status when he joined the 30/30 club at age 24.  He was rounding into one of the games best players, a third baseman who would hit for power and steal bases, quite a rare find and Wright broke out for career highs in both categories.

Wright kept chugging along in 2008 in every category except SBs, which dropped to just 15.  Still, he was only 25 and there was plenty of time for him to become a solid 30/20 player for a long time.  And he did indeed steal 27 in 2009, to go along with 10 home runs.  TEN?!

Yes, the Mets had a new park that supposedly made Petco look like Coors, but this was a massive disappointment.  Wright had a good year in 2010, putting up 29 and 19, but he also hit under .300 for the first time in his career and he was only 27.  This seems to soon to be declining.  Wright is hitting .226 this season and is currently on the DL.

Brandon Phillips (30/32)

Phillips is the classic example of why top prospects are able to hang on with different teams for a few years after they fail miserably.  After hitting .206 in his career in Cleveland, everything immediately clicked for the Reds and he hit 17 HR and stole 25 bases in 2006.  He followed that up by joining the 30/30 club. 

Not much of a fan of taking a walk, Phillips has a career OBP of just .319, but he does play 2B and with a good speed/power combo.  He averaged 20 HR and 21 SB in the following 3 years with Cincy.  This year, he has just 5 HR and 2 SB in 44 games.  He is just 30 years old.

Others of Note: Chris Young (32/27), Grady Sizemore (24/33), Hanley Ramirez (29/51)

2008:

Grady Sizemore (33/38)

Sizemore garnered a lot of MVP talk during his first four years in the league.  Only in his early 20's, Sizemore was considered one of the premiere players in the game and he averaged 27 HR and 29 SB between 2005 and 2008.  He finally reached the 30/30 club in '08 and was only 25 years old.  Seemed destined for greatness...

Sizemore slumped in 2009 to .248/.343/.445, 18 HR, 13 SB, and he missed 56 games due to injury.  Consider that in 2008 Sizemore was caught stealing on just 5 of 43 attempts.  In 2009 he was caught on 8 of 21.  He played only 33 games last season.  Sizemore was on fire in his limited time with the Indians this year, but again it is limited.  He didn't start until April 17th, and he hasn't played since May 10th. 

Hanley Ramirez (33/35)

Like Grady, Hanley was already a star before 2008.  Like Grady, he was young at just 24 years old.  Ramirez was a SS with exceptional speed and power.  He was like Jose Reyes on steroids.  Once we saw the kind of power that Ramirez really possessed, he became less of a stolen base threat and was a #3 hitter, but he still stole his fair share of bases. 

The next year he hit .342, 24 HR, 27 SB, 106 RBI, 42 doubles, and was everything a fantasy owner dreamed of. 

However, last season Hanley "only" hit 21 HR and he "only" had 28 doubles.  Didn't seem too much to be concerned about, but his bad start to 2011 and his declining reputation in the clubhouse have already cast some doubts on the 27 year old SS.

Others of Note: Matt Holliday (25/28)

2009:

Ian Kinsler - (31/31)

Just to be completely honest, Ian Kinsler may be the person that made me the most bitter about 30/30 players.  I think we all have an "Ian Kinsler" if we've played this game long enough.  Let's just say that I dropped him just before his career breakout, and then I acquired him back after his 30/30 season.  Isn't that just the way it goes?

Kinsler had everything click in 2009 and he was a top player in the fantasy realm.  Again, positional adjustment and all, he was very valuable.  I'll make this simple; since then he's hit the injury bug too, and in 150 games he has 14 HR and 24 SB, while slugging just .409.  He was 27 when he joined the 30/30 club.

Others of Note: Matt Kemp (26/34)

2010:

No player joined the 30/30 club last season.  The closest was Carlos Gonzalez.  Gonzalez is another example of a top, 5-tool prospect who had everything click for him and he hit 34 HR with 26 SB in only 145 games.

How has he followed that up this season?  He's hitting .245/.324/.415 in 44 games with 6 HR and 6 SB. 

So far in 2011:

We are almost 1/3 of the way into the season, which can give us some rough estimates of players that are roughly on pace to join the 30/30 club.

Matt Kemp - (11/13)

Kemp has been flirting with this for a few years now.  Comparing to him to some other players on this list almost seems to easy.  He'll finally put it together in his fourth full season, and then what?  Honestly, Matt Kemp probably will have a big season in 2011, and I will happily let someone else draft him in the 1st round in 2012.

Ryan Braun (12/10)

Braun has always shown power, and good speed.  He joined the 30/20 club in 2009, but this year is stealing at a higher rate than he had before.  It doesn't mean he will get to 30, but he very well could.  Because Braun has always been a power guy with good speed, rather than a speed guy with good power, I'm less inclined to believe that he will break down in the way that most others on this list have.  He's closer to Alex Rodriguez than he is to Grady Sizemore.

Conclusion:

Since 2000, 12 different players have joined the 30/30 club.  Just to recap, here are the names:

Preston Wilson, Vladimir Guerrero, Jose Cruz Jr, Bobby Abreu, Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Beltran, Jimmy Rollins, David Wright, Brandon Phillips, Grady Sizemore, Hanley Ramirez, and Ian Kinsler. 

Of those 12, 3 would have another 30/30 season.

8 would go on to have at least 1 20/20 season.

5 would suffer from constantly nagging, or serious injury.

Let's remove the best success stories for just a second and take another look.  Vlad, Abreu, and Soriano were the players who had more than 1 30/30 season, and in the case of Abreu and Soriano, did it pretty consistently.  Vlad pretty much abandonded running after 2002. 

Preston Wilson - Varying degrees of success for 3 years after, then out of the league.

Jose Cruz Jr - Talented player, but a total fluke season.

Carlos Beltran - Speed started to dip right after, then power followed, then injury.

Jimmy Rollins - Power disappeared, then speed, now injuries.

David Wright - First lost speed, then lost power, and now injuries.

Brandon Phillips - Not injury prone, but a steady decline in both categories.

Grady Sizemore - Injuries, injuries, injuries.

Ian Kinsler - Injuries

Hanley Ramirez - Production dropping from ages 25-27 when they should be increasing.

As you can see, there's 2 trends here: Injuries, and players seeming to decline earlier than they should.  It's said that Prince Fielder will decline earlier in his career than most players because of how big he already is.  Just a big lumbering first baseman like his dad was.  But not much is said about this group of players.  The ones who possess power and speed, explode on the scene at an early age, and then fade away.

The only one who truly never faded away was Bobby Abreu.  A remarkable athlete, as consistent as any other player in the game.  Vlad didn't fade away, but he dropped the stolen bases.  Perhaps on purpose so he could focus on the power and contact side of his game.  Soriano was actually pretty remarkable for a 5 year run.  But once he was unable to put up 40/40 seasons, his lack of patience at the plate, bad defense, low contact, proved he didn't have much else and he's turned into nothing more than a "bad contract" to most fans.

The jury is still out on the really young guys.  Sizemore, Kinsler, Hanley and Wright have many more years to play you would think.  And they may very well bounce back to be the players that they once were.  (You'd think especially Hanley and Wright, who haven't had much of an injury history and have still shown value)  But I wouldn't be surprised if all of these players have stolen at least 50% of what will be there career stolen base totals, if not a far higher percentage.

It's for these reasons that I will continue to avoid players like this.  If you happen to get a 30/30 or a 40/40 season out of a player, be grateful.  Enjoy it.  But don't let it carry you into next season.  If you value a player as a 40/40 player when you draft him, unless he's Barry Bonds or Alex Rodriguez in their heyday, you may be very disappointed.  I know that I was.  Keep that in mind when you're thinking of drafting Matt Kemp in the first round next year. 

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