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Ricescapades: Bourn Again

Is Michael Bourn's prolific base-stealing ability enough to make him a top fantasy outfielder? Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE
Is Michael Bourn's prolific base-stealing ability enough to make him a top fantasy outfielder? Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

One question that I often submit to the heavens late at night (no, I don't have a lot to think about) is why slow, high-strikeout sluggers are so maligned in fantasy circles while their speedy, slaptastic counterparts are generally given a free pass. How often did you hear someone turn their nose up at Adam Dunn (when he was good) because he was a "one-dimensional" fantasy player who would help you in home runs but kill you in strikeouts and batting average? I heard this a lot, to the point where Dunn was basically considered trade poison, even in leagues that included OPS and walks.

There's a bizarre fantasy double-standard pervading leagues everywhere that hit me in the face like a brass knuckle the other day. While innocently flipping through a random fantasy mag I had picked up off the shelf, I noticed that it had Michael Bourn ranked inside the top 20 outfielders. Not National League outfielders. All outfielders. After doing the requisite comical spit take and yelling "whaaaaa?", I tried to get to the bottom of this bit of madness. Perhaps it was just one rogue magazine populated by editors who doubled as unrepentant drunks.

Nope. The next one I scanned was a fantasy annual that I respect immensely, and it had Bourn ranked in the top 25, right behind Josh Hamilton. It had the similarly power-bereft Brett Gardner ranked even higher. I understand that fantasy rankings are inherently subjective, but, really? Are stolen bases such a scarce commodity that we should actively seek out players who will win you that category but stifle your efforts to produce in others? Is it really prudent to draft a one-category stud over a flawed power hitter? After the jump, a quick look at whether it's worth it to ignore power and run production if it means lapping the field in stolen bases.

I, for one, have never been a fan of guys like Bourn and Gardner in fantasy leagues because they are pretty much only helping you in two categories, runs and stolen bases, and if they have a down year or even a BABIP-induced drop in batting average (like, say, Bourn in 2010) , they're pretty much worthless outside of the steals.

Look at Bourn. In two of his four major league seasons, he's been a black hole in pretty much every major category except steals and he hasn't even topped 100 runs in any year. This is in large part to hitting in crummy lineups, but he doesn't walk a lot or put up gaudy batting averages, so his run totals aren't ever likely to jump off the computer screen at you. Basically, if you have Bourn and are insisting on leading your league in steals, you'd better have some star power hitters in your lineup to make up for his lack of offensive output.

Contrast the Bourn-type of player with your poor old, pissed-upon strikeout-prone slugger, who has a reputation as a fantasy suck. Let's use Nick Swisher as an example. A typical Swisher season will get you a mediocre batting average and a lot of K's, but also a good amount of home runs, runs scored, RBIs, a buttload of walks, and an OPS roughly 150 points higher than your typical speed guy. People tend to unfairly zero in on the strikeouts (maybe because we all cried whenever we struck out in Little League), accusing players like Swisher of being only good for home runs. However, taken as a whole, he offers solid across-the-board production.

I guess it all comes down to whether you feel that dominating one stat category is worth the hit you're going to take in all the other areas of offensive production. Bourn has led the NL in steals for three straight seasons, and there's no sign of a letdown. If you own him, you'll finish at or near the top in stolen bases, guaranteed. However, is that worth getting murdered in the power categories?

I say no. I like players who help you in several categories, even if they aren't stars. My favorite, underrated example is Matt Joyce, who isn't spectacular in any one area, but offers a little bit of everything to act as a solid player to round out your outfield. Players like Bourn and Gardner offer one-category domination and nothing else, and there's no such thing as a stolen bases-only fantasy league.