Speed-O-Meter: Best base burglars

Speed-O-Meter: Best base burglars
By Brad Evans
March 12, 2008

Brad Evans
Yahoo Sports
It's 3 A.M.

Your fantasy children are safe and asleep.

But there's a stack of accumulated stats in your league's database on the verge of updating. Something is happening in the fantasy baseball world.

Whether you're someone who already knows last year's stolen base leaders, knows the harmful impact an underachieving on-base percentage can have on Michael Bourn's production or whose leadership has been previously tested by SB-hungry opponents in a dangerous fantasy sports drafting world, ultimately, it's your drafting strategy that will decide how these stats affect your team's future standing.

It's 3 A.M.

And your fantasy children are safe and asleep.

Who must you draft to answer the steals call?

Segue.

Much like its pitching counterpart, saves, the stolen base is the most misunderstood, misconstrued and mismanaged category in fantasy baseball. Over the past several seasons, savvy owners have tried to satisfy their insatiable appetites for steals by severing tendons for generally perceived single-category contributors like Juan Pierre.

This year, my swipe-minded friends, it's time to go on a Rajai Davis diet.

The days of extending the Inspector Gadget arm for speed-driven players like Pierre, Willy Taveras and Chone Figgins are dead.

The once flat-lined stolen base has been resuscitated.

To illustrate the resurgence of a category once described by pundits as "scarce," look at the trend of total players who have robbed 20-plus bags per season since 2003, as noted in the table below.

YearTotal
200324
200427
200527
200634
200742

The steady ascent of steals over the past five seasons can be explained by a couple of reasons. For starters, base burglar success rates have increased dramatically. For example, crafty Speed Racer Brian Roberts has acutely improved his SB% in each of his past four seasons, reaching an 88 percent success zenith last year. It's no wonder his 50 steals from '07 dwarfed his previous career high by 14 bases.

Managerial trends and philosophies have also greatly influenced the spike in stolen base production. Of the teams that successfully stole 100 bases last season, their combined attempts were up 7.4 percent from 2006 and a whopping 19.1 percent from 2005. To many skippers, the potential reward of advancing a runner via the steal outweighs the risk. It's this return to fundamental baseball that's the true force behind the wheels renaissance.

The bottom line: because serviceable drag racers are more widely available later in drafts (e.g. Bourn, Davis and Jerry Owens), you can still be very competitive in steals even if you don't land a Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez or Carl Crawford somewhere in the first 15 picks.

However, it doesn't give you a license to punt the category completely even though the pool of sprinters is deeper. As Matt Buser recently pointed out in his always informative Splitsville series, 114 swipes was, on average, the fifth-highest steals tally in 12-team Y! Public leagues in '07. In other words, squads had to average a minimum of 8.8 steals per active roster spot to generate eight rotisserie points in standard 12-team leagues.

When you finally do decide to lasso a racehorse, look for a player that meets the following five fleet-feet factors:

1. On-base percentage of .340-plus and BB% of 9.0 or higher
2. Quality contact rates of 80 percent or better
3. Plays for a historically aggressive manager (e.g. Mike Scioscia, Joe Maddon, Willie Randolph, Joe Torre, Bruce Bochy, Ron Gardenhire or Lou Piniella)
4. Hits at or near the top of the batting order on a consistent basis
5. Plays in a division with vulnerable catchers and/or pitching staffs that Mr. Saturday Night could successfully swipe a bag against (e.g. San Diego)

For those who would rather consume multiple Jagerbombs on the eve of your draft instead of doing research, here's a breakdown of how the Speed-O-Meter reads for the upcoming season:

Speed-O-Meter
Rnk Player Team Pos. ADP AAV Comment #
1 Jose Reyes NYM SS 4 $48 His 78 swipes in '07 most in the Majors since Marquis Grissom in 1992; if his BB% balloons over 11.0, 80 steals certainly attainable 74
2 Juan Pierre LAD OF 107 $14 Trade rumors to Oakland and slowly dwindling BB% (4.7 in '07) deflating his stock, but mid-90s contact rates and Joe Torre's aggressive tactics pluses 60
3 Hanley Ramirez Fla SS 3 $42 Without the Big Burrito, Miguel Cabrera, behind him run totals could slide, but surge in contact% after break and 100% health point to 50+ SBs again 52
4 Carl Crawford TB OF 13 $38 Crazy Legs Carl has averaged 53.6 steals/year in first five full seasons; upward movement in FB% and K% suggest he's on the verge of a 20-50 year 52
5 Chone Figgins LAA 2B, 3B, OF 56 $25 Finger and wrist setbacks cost him 150+ at-bats, but tremendous growth in BB% and GB% foreshadow a return to 50 steals 51
6 Michael Bourn Hou OF 196 $5 This Bourn may not be able to eliminate enemies with hands, but his feet are definitely lethal; career 9.9 BB% and 81 CT% mean 45+ SBs are inevitable 47
7 Brian Roberts Bal 2B 34 $22 Could soon be slamming Old Styles at the Cubby Bear, but an Oriole for now; no coincidence his 50 SBs in '07 was fueled by career-best 12.5 BB% 46
8 Eric Byrnes Ari OF 52 $22 Byrnes more ruthless on the basepaths than Simpson's version over the Springfield power plant – 8.3 BB% and .353 OBP explains 50 SB surge in '07 41
9 Jerry Owens ChW OF 286 $1 In terms of late-round gems, Owens is this year's Victorino; 62.0 GB% and 32 SBs in 356 at-bats upside indicators; 50 SBs a possibility with 550 at-bats 40
10 Willy Taveras Col OF 169 $5 Wild-running Willy could manifest if 89 CT% in the second-half of '07 resurfaces; dramatic 34 point increase in OBP a glimpse at 40-50 SB potential 39
11 Jimmy Rollins Phi SS 6 $39 Y! coverboy hopefully won't be jinxed like A. Jones/Damon were last year; if massive '07 growth in FB% sustains a 120 R, 30 HR, 40 SB repeat is likely 38
12 Ichiro Sea OF 23 $27 Must have brushed up against Richie Sexson based on 0-for-21 spring start, but 89 CT% and .395 OBP in '07 says .315 BA, 110 R, 35 steals a lock 36
13 Shane Victorino Phi OF 96 $13 Victorino is one productive pineapple – sharp rise in BB% and GB% and tutelage of Lopes pushed the Flyin' Hawaiian from waiver wired to strongly desired 35
14 Corey Patterson Cin OF 239 $1 Peppermint Patterson could be a cool and refreshing steals source in Cincy; Dusty Baker sent runners 170 times in his final Chi-town season in '06 34
15 Julio Lugo Bos SS 236 $5 Lugo lanquished on the fantasy bench for much of '07 due to soul-sucking .237 BA, but, remarkably, his 86 CT% was higher than '06; 30-35 SB bargain 34
16 Rajai Davis SF OF 332 $1 Expected to be the light side of the SF leadoff time-share, Davis has the legs of a gazelle; if his OBP is .340 or better, 40+ SBs are attainable with 350 at-bats 33
17 Carlos Gomez Min OF 327 $1 So fast he could glide over any one of Minnesota's 10,000 lakes; presumptive starting CF has 3 SBs in 8 spring games, but eye is in the developmental stages 33
18 Ryan Theriot ChC 2B, SS, 3B 262 $2 Riotous Cubs MI notched fabulous peripherals in '07 – 8.4 BB%, 48.6 GB%, 91 CT%; if Fukudome remains in the two-hole, his numbers could suffer somewhat 33
19 Jacoby Ellsbury Bos OF 129 $11 Superb playoff play and Red Sox threads have inflated Ellsbury's value, but sensational contact rates and blazing speed makes him a slam-dunk 30 SB player 32
20 Dave Roberts SF OF 333 $1 Steals leader of geriatric Giants is expected to churn the wheels more often with Bonds gone; despite dip in CT% and possible platoon with Davis, 30+ SB likely 31
21 Erick Aybar LAA 2B, SS 347 $1 Real dark-horse on this list considering his minor league history is strong – averaged 41 steals from '03-06; has edge over Izturis for starting SS job 31
22 Chris Young ARI OF 59 $18 Stole 27 bases despite a horriffic 141:43 K:BB disparity and .295 OBP; if he can take a major step in plate maturation, Young has 35+ SB speed 30
23 Grady Sizemore Cle OF 16 $34 Size does matter – became first 20-30 player in Cleveland since days of Roberto Alomar; 3.3-point increase in BB% and .390 OBP reasons for SB spike in '07 29
24 Alfonso Soriano ChC OF 14 $34 Unable to get a leg up on catchers due to plaguing hamstring and quad injuries, but will seize plenty of opportunities in leadoff role – inches back to 30 SBs 29
25 Nate McClouth Pit OF 271 $1 If he fends off Nyjer Morgan for starting CF job, McLouth will be a McBargain; 10.6 BB%, .351 OBP and 52.8 FB% in '07 means 15-25 season is on the horizon 28
26 Kazuo Matsui Hou 2B 199 $6 Currently butt of jokes as he deals with anal fissures, but shouldn't affect play; strides in patience (7.7% in '07) and 88% SB success rate in '07 means 25+ SBs 28
27 Corey Hart Mil OF 57 $18 Brewers Hart-throb serious man-crush material – upward vault of OBP (.353) and CT rates (80%) at 25 means 26 could be even better; Sizemore-like 28
28 Rafael Furcal LAD SS 76 $14 Furcal is Spanish for "fragile" – missed 21 games in '07 due to recurrent back, knee and ankle woes; downward slide in BB% also not encouraging for 35 SBs 27
29 Brandon Phillips Cin 2B 20 $30 Joined Alfonso Soriano as only two-baggers to post 30-30 season in MLB history; 4.8 BB% and .331 OBP in '07 suggests a slight decline in SBs is likely 27
30 Rickie Weeks Mil 2B 106 $6 Felled by a recurrent wrist issues for 83 games in past two years, but sizzling 15 SBs and 20.2 BB% in August/September are '08 breakout indicators 27
31 Felipe Lopez Was 2B 236 $4 Return to 44 SB '06 season implausible, but spike in CT% and BB% after the ASB last year points to a resurgent BA and 25+ stolen bags 27
32 David Wright NYM 3B 4 $41 Mets money man more costly than a prostitute from Eliot Spitzer's call girl ring, but if a repeat of 13.5 BB% happens in '08, 25+ steals is probable 26
33 Jason Bartlett TB SS 314 $1 Joe Maddon has historically been bulldog aggressive on the basepaths, which is fantastic news for Bartlett; rising BB% (8.9 in '07) means 25+ SBs a definite 26
34 Johnny Damon NYY OF 122 $7 Beleaguered by a cornucopia of injuries (calf, back, abdominal), Damon's '07 numbers generally suffered, with SBs the exception; strong CT rates says 22+ SBs 25
35 B.J. Upton TB 2B, OF 22 $30 Movin' on Up-ton – showed tremendous statistical growth as one of fourteen 20-20 players last year, but 68 CT% and age (23) suggests possible growing pains 24
36 Nyjer Morgan Pit OF NA $1 In a sword fight with McLouth over Opening Day CF duties; 6:2 K:BB and .269 BA in 26 spring at-bats not optimistic signs; with 350 at-bats, 22-26 SB 23
37 Curtis Granderson Det OF 29 $25 Baby Grand tickled the ivories and the basepaths with 26 swipes last season; steady climb in OBP terrific, but contact rates in mid-70 says SB regression 23
38 Howie Kendrick LAA 2B 117 $7 Funston's main flame could be a steals surprise after Scioscia's recent comments that he "certainly has the ability to steal between 20 and 30 bases" 23
39 Ian Kinsler Tex 2B 64 $17 Kinsler had a quiet 20-20 campaign in '07 – significant gains in BB% (11.4) and OBP (.355) spring optimism for continued growth in HR/SB production 23
40 Eugenio Velez SF 2B NA $1 Velez can steal bases like Obama heists Hillary's thunder in debates – has 118 combined stolen bases in his past two minor league seasons, but a role player 22
41 Ryan Freel Cin 3B, OF 333 $1 Unless he benefits from injuries, reduced role as utility player will stymie end-season steals total; 6.1 BB% in '07, 44.6% lower than '06 – blame knee injuries 22
42 Felix Pie ChC OF 332 $1 Twisted testicle has him singing a falsetto for the next few days, but 9-for-28, 2 HR, 6 RBI spring start shows oozing potential; two years away from 20-20 22
43 Luis Castillo NYM 2B 299 $3 Slap-happy contact hitter (91 CT% in '07) can still spin the wheels despite advancing age – had 10 SBs in 12 attempts in 199 NYM at-bats last year 22
44 Bobby Abreu NYY OF 42 $21 Aging like a fine scotch, but one would think at 34, father time would shove a hickory cane up where the sun don't shine; anticipate a decline 21
45 Matt Kemp LAD OF 113 $11 Kemp a trendy mid-round selection in mixed leagues – presumptive starting RF has 20-20 upside, but must master his craft (67 SB% in '07) 21
46 Torii Hunter LAA OF 59 $21 Scioscia's vigorous tactics is a magic elixir for any vet with speed to burn – Hunter's 67 SB% last season was atrocious, but he'll get more opportunities in '08 21
47 Reggie Willits LAA OF 323 $1 Gritty Ryan Freel-like mighty mouse, Willits was a very profitable source of steals as a regular last season (27 SBs), but he'll start '08 as a fourth OF 21
48 Justin Upton Ari OF 241 $1 Junior Upton has worked dilligently this spring with Kirk Gibson to become a smarter runner; 20-25 steals a realistic expectation in first full MLB season 20
49 Cameron Maybin Fla OF 240 $7 Baby Maybin incredibly raw, but ridiculously gifted athletically – contact rates will be lucky to hit 70, but he'll run often under Fredi Gonzalez 19
50 Joey Gathright KC OF NA $1 Jumping Joey can leap over Japanese import cars in a single-bound, but too bad he can't do the same to someone on the KC depth chart; another year of 250 at-bats 19
51 Josh Anderson Atl OF NA $1 Anderson's value will be limited to NL-only leagues, but his 44.3 stolen base/year avearge in the minors from '05-07 says he's profitable with 250 at-bats 19
52 Alex Gordon KC 3B, 1B 135 $6 Made more of a spark than the flash most pundits projected last year, but was one of only eight 3Bs to steal 14 or more bags; steady growth in the forecast 19
53 Nick Markakis Bal OF 47 $22 With Tejada sloughing it in Houston and Roberts likely soon on his way out, Markakis could lose some offensive punch, but Trembley is very aggressive 19
54 Orlando Cabrera ChW SS 126 $9 Change in managers from ultra-aggressive Scioscia to once-aggressive, now borderline-passive Guillen could cause SBs to drop, but outliers are strong 18
55 Coco Crisp Bos OF 306 $1 Coco's value could go puff if Ellsbury cements a starting role this spring – appears likely given he's been mitigated by a strained left groin; look elsewhere 18
56 Mike Cameron Mil OF 245 $1 Brew-ha-has starting CF has been torrid this spring – .364 BA, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 2 SB in 22 at-bats; you'll have to stomach a .250 BA, but he's still got 20-20 skills 18
57 Alex Rios Tor OF 30 $21 The Rios Grande raged when given the green light – 81 SB% was his highest mark since '04; contact rate ascent means 20 SBs reachable with more chances 18
58 Asdrubal Cabrera Cle 2B 319 $1 May have a first name only a proctologist could love, but Cabrera a sleepy source of 15-20 bags despite not attempting a steal in 159 at-bats with Tribe in '07 17
59 Carlos Beltran NYM OF 20 $32 Days of 40-plus stolen bases are forever gone, but Randolph's assertiveness on the bases will make Beltran a decent SB source; CT% down three straight years 16
60 Russell Martin LAD C 30 $22 Martin really a martian – became the first catcher since Jason Kendall in 2000 to steal 20 bases in a season; rigors of the position will eventually catch up to him 16
61 Colby Rasmus StL OF 315 $1 Oozing with 20-20 upside, but even if he nets 350-plus at-bats, SB expectations should be tempered – LaRussa most conservative manager in Majors last year 16
62 Joey Votto Cin 1B, OF 279 $4 Vroom Vroom Votto can put the pedal to the metal for a 1B/OF – totaled 41 SBs in '06 and '07; will be an OBP machine, but will Dusty get him 450 at-bats? 16
63 Jayson Nix Col 2B NA $1 Locked in a battle with Jeff Baker for the Rocks starting 2B job, but Nix's stickier glove should prevail – 24 SBs, but 6.6 BB% in 439 AAA at-bats in '07 16
64 Hunter Pence Hou OF 61 $24 Can leap through sliding glass doors – and hopefully into bases – in a single bound – stupid .387 OBP in '07 suggests 15-20 SBs is a certainty 16
65 Lastings Milledge Was OF 297 $2 Only fitting that Lastings would fill the final slot of this list; uber-talented youngster .406 BA, .486 OBP, 5 SBs in first 32 spring at-bats 16

POS = Positions player is eligible at in Y! leagues
ADP = Average draft position according to MockDraftCentral as of Mar. 11
AAV = Average auction value as of Feb. 22 from FantasyAuctioneer
# = Projected number of steals in '08
BB% = Base on balls percentage
CT% = Contact percentage
FB% = Fly-ball percentage
GB% = Groundball percentage
K% = Strikeout percentage

Brad "The Big Noise" Evans has obsessed about his fantasy teams since the days when Jeff George had value. Yahoo! Sports fantasy’s resident baseball, football and bracketology expert, Brad also lends advice on the two-time Emmy-nominated webcast "Fantasy Football Live" each NFL Sunday.
Follow him on Twitter. Send Brad a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

Updated on Wednesday, Mar 12, 2008 2:26 pm, EDT

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