By Fred Zinkie
Special to Yahoo Sports
To put it mildly, steals are king in terms of roto value for position players these days. Consider these numbers:
· Just 17 players have posted a double-digit steals total, in comparison to 108 who have reached that benchmark in home runs.
· The 15-steal club includes just four players, with the 15-homer club counting 38 members.
· Six of the top-10 fantasy position players to date are among the 48 players who have collected at least a half-dozen swipes.
But despite the immense value of steals, some of baseball’s swiftest players remain on waivers in roto formats. Here are the details on the best base stealing options who remain available in at least 50 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Mallex Smith, OF, Mariners (50% available)
Smith should be rostered in every roto league, as he ranks second in the majors with 18 steals despite spending part of 2019 in the minors. Although his recent contact skills (27.4 percent strikeout rate in ’19) are concerning, the 26 year old has the groundball lean that is needed to give his legs many opportunities to make a difference. Even as a one-category contributor, Smith will be valuable by swiping roughly 40 bags.
Jarrod Dyson, OF, D-backs (88% available)
Even as a part-time player, Dyson has plenty of value in certain roto formats. The veteran is playing almost exclusively against right-handers, which makes perfect sense when considering his meager lifetime .579 OPS vs. southpaws. And in his current role, Dyson has managed to collect the fifth-highest steals total in the bigs (14) without negatively impacting fantasy clubs in the batting average category. For those in daily formats, streaming Dyson on days in which Arizona faces a righty could pay off handsomely.
Billy Hamilton, OF, Royals (66% available)
Despite having one of his worst seasons at the dish (.230 BA, .593 OPS), Hamilton is one of just 10 players to compile at least a dozen steals. This burner is still just 28 years old, which means that he still owns most of the speed that resulted in more than 55 steals for four straight seasons from 2014-18. There will likely be some upcoming month in which Hamilton reaches base at a higher rate and collects enough steals to make a huge impact.
Kevin Kiermaier, OF, Rays (79% available)
Injuries have gotten in the way of Kiermaier emerging as a prime base stealer, but he would have produced 15-25 swipes per year across 2015-18 if he had stayed healthy. The premium defender has been ailment-free so far in 2019, and he is getting many chances to use his speed by putting 53.0 percent of his batted balls on the ground. A career high in steals is likely on the horizon.
Kolten Wong, 2B, Cardinals (79% available)
Wong has been consistent with his feet this year, swiping two bases across four games in March before collecting exactly three steals in each subsequent month. But the rest of his game has fallen off dramatically, as he has slashed .219/.286/.298 since the last time he owned a .300 average on April 20. Until he gets his plate production turned about, Wong belongs on waivers in most mixed leagues.
Delino DeShields, OF, Rangers (97% available)
I will admit that I am a sucker for DeShields, who has produced at least 20 steals in three of his four previous major league seasons despite showing inconsistent plate skills and logging fewer than 500 plate appearances in each campaign. But there is no denying his blazing speed, which has resulted in 10 swipes in just 147 plate appearances this year. DeShields can be used in 15-team leagues while Joey Gallo is on the IL, with the hope that he hits well enough to stay in the lineup once the club gets their star slugger back.
Ramon Laureano, OF, A’s (74% available)
With nine homers and eight steals, Laureano has already emerged as an excellent power-speed threat. His batted ball profile (39.7 percent hard contact rate, 39.1 percent fly ball rate) looks more like that of a slugger than a speedster, but he has the wheels to finish around the 20-steal plateau. And a 20-20 season has immense fantasy value in the current offensive environment.
Leury Garcia, OF, White Sox (90% available)
Garcia may be the most balanced contributor on this list, as he owns a helpful .275 batting average and sits among the top-35 players in both steals (seven) and runs scored (42). His plate skills have never been anything to write home about (career 0.15 BB:K ratio), but his leadoff spot and ground-ball lean should combine to keep him swiping bags and crossing home plate on a regular basis.
For those who made it this far into the article, here is a bonus take to chew on: It’s time to take steals out of the rotisserie baseball scoring system.
I love watching a good speedster as much as the next guy, but MLB teams clearly don’t value the stolen base the way they used to. And the lack of attention to the running game by major league managers has meant that just a few players contribute to 20 percent of the hitter points in a standard roto system. I understand the argument that fantasy baseball doesn’t have to mirror the real thing, but we should keep fantasy in some connection with reality.
I’m not suggesting that we swing roto categories completely towards analytics and advanced stats, but we need to remove/replace the stolen bases category so that this small group of players isn’t valued at a level in fantasy that doesn’t even remotely resemble their real-life production.