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?
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 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.
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:
|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