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Fantasy baseball draft strategy: What happens when you draft all speed?

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Let’s see what happens if you draft only speed.

Getty Images/Peter Rogers Illustrations

I recently did a quick mock draft in preparation for the upcoming fantasy baseball season where I focused on drafting starting pitchers first, just to see what kind of team you could end up with if you used that strategy. Today, I wanted to focus on stolen bases. What happens when you draft an all speed team?

First off, some data. Last year, 2018, only 28 players stole 20 or more bases. Six of those players stole twenty bags in under 400 ABs: Adalberto Mondesi (32 stolen bases), Travis Jankowski (24), Michael Taylor (24), Greg Allen (21), Rajai Davis (21), and Delino Deshields (20). Jankowski, Taylor, Allen, Davis and Deshields are all players you can acquire cheaply or towards the end of drafts, so let’s just disregard them. Mondesi, meanwhile, is getting drafted as a top 100 bat, so we’ll include him.

Here’s the breakdown by position eligibility for 20+ stolen bases in 2018:

  • Zero catchers stole 20 bases. Shocker, I know
  • One first baseman stole 20 bags: Ian Desmond (1B/OF)
  • Five second basemen stole 20 bases
  • Two third basemen
  • Eight shortstops
  • 11 outfielders

Seven players hit at least 20 homers and stole 20 bags: Mookie Betts, Jose Ramirez, Mike Trout, Trevor Story, Francisco Lindor (now injured and out for a few months), Ronald Acuna Jr., and Ian Desmond. Those are the players we’ll be targeting early as they’ll provide power and steals.

So, if we wanted to construct an optimal speed team, focusing only on players who stole at least 20 bases last season, what would it look like?

We’ll use the ADP from ESPN leagues as of 2/10/19 to guide us as to who will be available when we pick, and we’ll take into account last year’s stolen bases as well as ESPN’s projections for the 2019 season (they project 30 players steal at least 20 bags).

First pick (#1 overall): Mike Trout, LAA, OF (1 ADP)

Let’s begin as all drafts should: drafting Mike Goddamn Trout (Average Draft Position of 1). That’s easy, but he’s an outfielder, the position most flush with stolen bases (11 20+ stolen base players). Going forward, we’ll try to fill each position (aside from catcher) with a Steals guy, so remember: only one 1B and two 3Bs stole 20+ bags.

Second pick (#24 overall): Andrew Benintendi, BOS, OF (ADP 29)

Mookie Betts (2 ADP), Jose Ramirez (4 ADP), Francisco Lindor (5 ADP), Trea Turner (12 ADP), Jose Altuve (13 ADP), and Acuna (23 ADP) are all gone by pick 24. That’s seven of the thirty players ESPN projects to steal at least twenty bases (and, five of the 20-20 threats): two OFers, two SSs, one 2B, and one 3B. Ramirez is the only 3B who ESPN projects to steal 20+ bags, but Javi Baez stole 21 last year, and he’s eligible at 3B. Is he available as our 3B at pick 24? Nope, his ADP is 18. So, it looks like we’re out of luck with max speed at third. What about Wil Myers? He has an ADP of 115, so he’s definitely a possibility, but we can wait on him for a later pick.

The speedsters available to us with our second pick (#24 overall) are Andrew Benintendi (ADP 29) and Trevor Story (ADP 30). Since we draft on the turn and also have the 25th pick overall (first pick in the 3rd round), let’s take both!

Third pick (#25 overall): Trevor Story, COL, SS (ADP 30)

We now have two of four OFers and a SS. Our next pick is the last of the 4th round, #48 overall. Nine of the thirty stolen base leaders are now gone.

Fourth pick (#48 overall): Jean Segura, PHI, SS (ADP 70)

Fifth pick (#49 overall): Lorenzo Cain, MIL, OF (ADP 79)

We now have three of four OFers, our SS, and our MI. 11 of 30 stolen base leaders are off the board by our sixth pick, which ends the sixth round.

Sixth pick (#72 overall): Tim Anderson, CHW, SS (ADP 111)

Seventh pick (#73 overall): Dee Gordon, SEA, 2B/OF (ADP 121)

Anderson will be out UTIL and Dee Gordon is our starting 2B.

Eighth pick (#96 overall): Wil Myers, SD, 3B/OF (ADP 115)

Ninth pick (#97 overall): Ian Desmond, COL, 1B/OF (ADP 143)

We finally have some CIs! We only need one more OF, our CI, and our C. Is anyone still avails at pick #120?

Tenth pick (#120 overall): Mallex Smith, SEA, OF (ADP 140)

Eleventh pick (#121 overall): Joey Wendle, TB, 2B/3B (ADP 254)

Wendle is a reach but we’re trying to get as many steals as we can, and he had a great second half, so we’re fine with drafting him as our CI.

Catcher is a wasteland, as you’ve no doubt heard, and we don’t generally draft Cs for speed, so let’s just go with a guy who I think will have a bounceback year from last season: Austin Barnes, LAD, C.

  • Here’s our final roster:
  • C - Austin Barnes (12th pick)
  • 1B - Ian Desmond (20-20) (9th pick)
  • 2B - Dee Gordon (7th pick)
  • SS - Trevor Story (20-20) (3rd pick)
  • 3B - Wil Myers (20-20) (8th pick)
  • MI - Jean Segura (4th pick)
  • CI - Joey Wendle (11th pick)
  • OF1 - Mike Trout (1st pick)
  • OF2 - Andrew Benintendi (2nd pick)
  • OF3 - Lorenzo Cain (5th pick)
  • OF4 - Mallex Smith (10th pick)
  • UTIL - Tim Anderson (20-20) (6th pick)

Not bad! We have four players that are threats to hit 20+ HRs and steal 20+ bags. We have some positional flexibility. And, we didn’t really have to reach too far, except for our final pick. (You can switch Dee Gordon and Wil Myers, if you want, but it’s basically the same outcome.) Plus, there’s still speed avails even after our final pick, #144 (like Juan Soto, ADP 150, Amed Rosario, ADP 154, and Adalberto Mondesi, ADP 163), and we can still draft cheap power, like Rafael Devers, 3B (ADP 147), Kyle Schwarber (ADP 167), Miguel Cabrera (ADP 181), and even another 20-20 threat if everything went perfectly, Jackie Bradley, Jr. (ADP 225).

If we stick to the above plan and only draft pitchers after our 12th pick (#144 overall), then we find Charlie Morton (ADP 146), Miles Mikolas (ADP 150), Carlos Martinez (ADP 152), Dallas Keuchel (ADP 154), Rick Porcello (ADP 170), Chris Archer (ADP 178), Yu Darvish (ADP 196), Rich Hill (ADP 247), Hyun-Jin Ryu (ADP 254), and Kenta Maeda (ADP 256). Let’s be conservative and say we only get the last five. That means our rotation is Archer, Darvish, Hill, Ryu, and Maeda. Again: not bad! We’ll certainly need backups in case (when) these guys get injured, but if all goes well, then all these guys could have better seasons than last year (especially Yu, if he’s 100%).

You can certainly build a roster around speed, though you’ll have to be careful about your corner infielders and your pitchers (tons of late value in SP this year, though, I think), and you’ll have to target 20-20 guys so make up for your lack of power elsewhere. Drafting for steals is dangerous, obviously, especially since they’re basically a manager decision more than a player decision these days. And, of course, not having the #1 overall pick in the draft will change things, but odds are that you can grab an elite speed threat (six of the top 10 bats, plus Jose Altuve could always return to 20-20 status).

If you picked last in the first round and wanted to enact the same strategy, you could get Trea Turner and Acuna on the turn, and go from there.

Some folks will try to hoard steals this season, if only because they’re trying to corner the market in anticipation of making a trade for power. It will be interesting to see how drafts proceed this year, and how much fantasy owners trust MLB teams to run in the age of analytics.