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Fantasy Baseball Draft Strategy: Should we pay up for speed in 2016?

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Should fantasy owners pay up for speed in 2016 drafts? Ray takes a look and offers his opinion.

Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, I wrote an article that took a deep dive into the stolen base category across all major league teams. The article highlighted teams that focused on running more, i.e. stealing more bases, in 2015, and also on the teams that chose to not give away outs on the base paths. You can find that article in the link below:

Dissecting the stolen base category

The article detailed how each team performed on the base paths in 2015, detailing how often they attempted a stolen base, how successful they were when they did attempt a steal, and how many stolen base opportunities they had. To summarize, there were a few teams, the Cubs, Diamondbacks, Rangers, among others, who saw their success rate rise, while other teams, the Dodgers, Mets, Yankees, Royals and Nationals, who saw their success rates decline last season.

Looking over the last five seasons, the number of successful stolen bases has been in steady decline, with 2014 being the outlier. As you can see in the table below, the success rates across baseball has also been in steady decline. All in all, the number of stolen bases has dropped approximately 24% since 2011, with a 16% drop in 2013 and another 9% drop in 2015.

Let's take a look at the stolen base data for the period 2011-2015:

Year

SB

CS

Success %

% Drop

2011

3,279

1,261

72.2%

2012

3,229

1,136

74.0%

-1.5%

2013

2,693

1,007

72.8%

-16.6%

2014

2,764

1,035

72.8%

2.6%

2015

2,505

1,063

70.2%

-9.4%

Why are teams not running as much as in the past? I discussed a few reasons in the article linked above:

In 2015, all MLB teams attempted 231 fewer stolen bases than in 2014. Going back to 2011, teams have attempted almost 1,000 fewer stolen bases over the the last five seasons.There are several reasons why teams are attempting fewer stolen bases:

1. Front offices are de-emphasizing the importance of the stolen base, and relying on the home run, and don't see the value in giving up outs on the base paths.

2. Teams are placing more value on winning games with pitching, defensive shifts and catchers who can frame pitches for called strikes.

3. Hitters just aren't getting on base as much as they have in the past. The league average on base percentage (OBP) in 2011 was .321. In 2015, the league average OBP dropped to .317 after dropping to just .314 in 2014.


As a result, the fantasy owner will have a harder time finding stolen base guys on draft day and on the waiver wire. Below is a look at the number of hitters who stole 20+ bases and 30+ bases over the same time period: 2011-2015:

Year

20+

30+

2011

39

20

2012

46

22

2013

40

16

2014

39

15

2015

30

7


In the table above, there were 39 hitters who stole 20 or more bases back in 2011, 20 of which stole 30 or more bases. That number increased in 2012, where 46 hitters stole 20 or more bases, 22 of which stole 30+ bases. Since 2012, the number of hitters who stole 30+ bases has dropped 35%, from 46 to 30 last season. And the number of hitters who stole 30 or more bases has dropped 68% since 2012, and more than 50% over the last year.

This is a pretty shocking revelation and one that fantasy owners should factor into their draft strategy in 2016. But when drafting a guy for his speed, you want to draft the guy who you KNOW will steal 20 or more bags in 2016. Base stealers are a different bunch, as some of them have trouble staying in the lineup because they can't get on base, others have trouble staying in the lineup for defensive purposes or they can't hit for power, of they just lose the starting role to a hitter who has more skills and tools. Still others get hurt and lose their jobs. And as a result, finding a hitter who you KNOW will steal 20 or 30 more bases can be difficult.

In 2014, 24 of the 39 hitters who stole 20 or more bases also stole 20 bases in 2013. In 2015, only 13 of the 30 hitters who stole 20 or more bases also stole 20 bases in 2014. Here is the list of players who stole 20 or more bases in 2015:

Name

2015 SB

A.J. Pollock

39

Anthony Gose

23

Ben Revere

31

Billy Burns

26

Billy Hamilton

57

Brandon Phillips

23

Brett Gardner

20

Cameron Maybin

23

Charlie Blackmon

43

Dee Gordon

58

Delino Deshields

25

Dexter Fowler

20

DJ LeMahieu

23

Elvis Andrus

25

Ender Inciarte

21

Gregory Polanco

27

Jacoby Ellsbury

21

Jake Marisnick

24

Jarrod Dyson

26

Jason Heyward

23

Jean Segura

25

Jose Altuve

38

Jose Reyes

24

Kevin Pillar

25

Lorenzo Cain

28

Manny Machado

20

Mookie Betts

21

Paul Goldschmidt

21

Ryan Braun

24

Starling Marte

30

The players listed below is the list of players who stole 20 or more bases in 2014 and in 2015:

Ben Revere

Billy Hamilton

Dee Gordon

Charlie Blackmon

Brett Gardner

Elvis Andrus

Jacoby Ellbury

Jarrod Dyson

Jason Heyward

Jean Segura

Jose Altuve

Jose Reyes

Starling Marte

The question we need to answer is "Who will steal 20 or more in 2016?". I think Gordon and Hamilton are slam dunks to steal 20 bases in 2016, and here are a few more that I think can repeat next season:

Charlie Blackmon

Elvis Andrus

Gregory Polanco

Jarrod Dyson

Jose Altuve

Mookie Betts

Starling Marte

These are the players who I would pay an extra dollar or two in auction drafts, or grab a round earlier than usual to ensure I draft someone who can anchor the category for me. Gordon and Altuve will more than likely be drafted in the late second to early third rounds this season, while Betts and Marte won't be too far behind them.

I am sure we will be able to find stolen bases late in drafts in 2016, but with many teams not running as much as in the past, it might be worth grabbing that anchor earlier than you are comfortable with just to ensure you can compete in the stolen base category in 2016.