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Cheap Steals, Where Art Thou?

The topic of stolen bases can elicit a wide variety of opinions. To some, it is viewed as a trivial and useless category. To others, it is the mountain bypass through which you can catapult past idle teams toward the top of the standings. Regardless of your stance, the truth is that stolen bases have their place and must be addressed. This article isn't just for teams who avoided steals in the draft. Let's be honest, sometimes you can have the greatest plans but if the universe doesn't abide, you could find yourself down with the common folk. Take it from the Trea Turner owner who likely didn't have a backup plan for steals.

At this point of the season, you need to know your team and be honest whether you’ll be able to compete with speed throughout the season. If you don't have a variety of players that can pitch in with a few stolen bases, you should definitely find some guys that can help. Regardless of where you are in the standings, points can always be gained by incremental improvement. Keep in mind that improvement will likely come at a cost. Most of these players have speed, but they may also cost in other categories, specifically batting average. Plan accordingly.

Speed contributors can come from a variety of avenues. There are always guys that come up from the minors or bench guys that are given opportunities that can help your roster. More commonly, there are just guys with speed that have a part-time role, unless they play for a weak team who can afford more playing time for below-average players. Take the time to familiarize yourself with a few names to take action now or to scout in case you need to take chances in the future. Don’t expect these guys to be shiny and untainted. Any time you pick up fruit off the ground, there are bound to be a few bumps and bruises. These guys are cheap steals option. The reason they are cheap is that they have warts and other teams didn't want to take a chance on them. Make sure your team is prepared to take them on and ultimately benefit.

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Digging for Cheap Base-Stealers

Delino DeShields (OF, TEX) — 7% Owned

Yes, we are still talking about Delino Deshields. The same guy that has stole at least 20 bases every year of his professional career. He is currently tied for third in the majors with six steals. Unfortunately, it comes with a .207 batting average. However, he’s shown signs of life, batting .300 in the last two weeks. Hitting at the bottom of the lineup, he won’t get as many plate appearance as others, but it does afford him an opportunity to run ahead of the top of the order.

Deshields is a career .243 hitter and hopefully, he can improve upon that with maturity as he is entering the prime years of his career at 26 years old. He does have an 18% walk rate this year (11% career rate) which will help him get on base often enough to maximize his speed. A 6.4% swinging strike rate and an 81% contact rate will also assist in that endeavor. The Rangers as a whole are running this year and are tied for the third-most steals this season (20). Deshields should have ample opportunities to steal, the primary consideration is whether your roster can handle the inconsistent batting average.

Leury Garcia (OF, CWS) — 8% Owned

Garcia has been around longer than Deshields, you just don’t know about him. He’s been in professional ball for 11 years and he’s still only 28 years old. He hasn’t really played his way into the lineup; he is just fortunate to play for the White Sox, who are tied with the aforementioned Rangers for third in steals. The great thing about terrible teams is that they have nothing to play for and can take more risks. So far, Garcia has stolen four bases to go with one homer and a .267 batting average.

The switch-hitter is batting leadoff, which is always an enviable spot, regardless of the team. This means he controls his own speed destiny, as there is no one in front of him to get in his way when he gets on base. Therein lies part of the problem. He has a career .281 on-base percentage and a 27% strikeout rate, which isn’t helping either. Garcia will need to hit the ball harder than an 87.4mph exit velocity if he doesn’t change his ground-ball hitting ways (53%). Thankfully, in addition to stolen bases, he will still accrue runs hitting ahead of Tim Anderson, Jose Abreu, and also Yoan Moncada.

Danny Santana (2B/OF, TEX) — 7% Owned

Danny Santana and Leury Garcia have quite a bit in common. Santana is also a guy known more for his speed than power or even his hit tool, for that matter. Coincidentally enough, they have both been in professional ball for 11 years. Like Garcia, it has taken the 28-year-old Santana longer to get opportunities and take advantage of them. Thus far, he has contradicted his career .265 batting average with a .333 average in 36 at-bats. Santana has also added two homers to go with four stolen bases. He’s been a pleasant surprise and his 7.9% barrels per plate appearance is shocking as well. However, unlike Garcia who has a steady job, Santana is currently getting his playing time in part due to an injury to second baseman Rougned Odor. That well will dry up soon as Odor is already close to returning. With limited or sporadic playing opportunity in the future, Santana becomes a guy to monitor for playing time. He’s demonstrated this year that he can be more than a one-hit wonder.

Jarrod Dyson (OF, ARI) — 2% Owned

Here lies one of the wise men of the group who is doing his best to show the group how cheap stealers are supposed to perform. At 34 years old, Dyson is still doing what he’s always done, provided stolen bases with a mediocre batting average. His 16 steals in 2018 were his lowest total in the last seven years, during which time he’s averaged 28 bags a year. This year, Dyson has three steals and an impressive .308/.403/.500 slash line. Surprisingly, the average is not inflated by a bloated BABIP (.325).

While not steals related, we all should be rooting for Dyson and his newfound power. In 14 seasons playing professional baseball, the most homers he’s ever hit in a season is five. Dyson currently sits at three in only 52 at-bats. Somehow he is getting it done despite an average exit velocity (79.6mph) that ranks as the fourth-worst among those qualified with 25 batted-ball events. It is unlikely that he reaches double-digit homers, even in this juiced-ball era. However, the speed with a little pop combined with a decent batting average makes Dyson a bit more interesting than usual.

Brett Gardner (OF, NYY) — 25% Owned

One of the last men standing in the once-dominant Yankees lineup, Gardner continues to be overlooked by many. How can you miss him? He is the muscle of the Yankees offense. His 89.4 mph average exit velocity and 16.2-degree launch angle are similar to that of power hitters. It is why he is now batting third in the order. Truth be told, there are few other options due to the onslaught of injuries. Even at the young age of 35 Gardner possesses both pop and speed. He’s hit five over the wall and swiped three bags. His batting average (.239) is still shy of his career norm so expect a progression in not only his AVG but also his overall opportunities. Gardner’s strikeout (9%) and walk (11%) rates also bode well for him.

Despite his age, Gardner remains a solid stolen base option. The one concern with Gardner would be his playing time once all the regulars return from injuries. If Gardner can sustain his role, he will not only have stolen base chances but also be able to accrue plenty of counting stats in what will be a very potent lineup.

Kevin Pillar (OF, SF) — 11% Owned

Pillar finds himself in a new home but still has the same skills to help fantasy teams that are weak on speed. In 2018, he stole 14 bases while hitting 15 homers. He’s doing his best to maintain his consistency as he’s already hit four bombs and stole three bases. His batting average (.200), however, is below his norm so if you stream him going forward, you’re like to get something more in line with the last 14 days, and career average, of .260.

Keep in mind that Pillar doesn’t have the best plate discipline with a 44% chase rate, but it is common with most of the cheap steals options. Even his 83% contact rate might not overcome his below average OBP (.220). If he’s able to find his way to first, he’ll give you an opportunity to increase your stolen base tally, even hitting at the bottom of the Giants batting order.

Dwight Smith Jr. (OF, BAL) — 37% Owned

Who? Who is this guy that suddenly taken over one of the top three spots in the Orioles lineup? Dwight Smith Jr. is a surprise and sometimes it is the unknown development that pushes a team towards the top of the rankings. Smith isn’t a generational talent but if he continues his current performance, he can provide unexpected value. He is hitting .286 with five homers and, for our interests, stolen three bases. Most of his performance is unprecedented so it would be naïve to completely buy into it. However, he has demonstrated that he can minimize the strikeouts (16%). If Smith can improve his contact (75%), then he can ensure that opportunities for stolen bases will exist. He won’t set the basepaths on fire but he plays for a team under new management that seems to believe in just letting the players do their thing. If that is true, there might be more surprising results in the future for you to take advantage.

Greg Allen (OF, CLE) — 2% Owned; Oscar Mercado (OF, CLE) — 0% Owned

These two guys can steal bases but are unfortunately without opportunity. This is particularly surprising considering the outfield situation of the Indians. Carlos Gonzalez, Leonys Martin, and Tyler Naquin currently man the outfield. This is without considering Bradley Zimmer who had a setback in his rehab from shoulder surgery. Without an injury to the current cast, the Indians seem content to stick with their present alignment. Maybe a realization that they aren’t the best team in the AL Central will help them make moves quicker, particularly if playoff hopes are at stake.

Greg Allen has had a rough go of it to start the year. He was given an opportunity to run away with a spot in the outfield but his .118 AVG (sunk by a .167 BABIP) is disastrous. He also has very little other counting stats to his credit with zero homers and no stolen bases. Unfortunately, teams have little patience for a fringe player that doesn’t show any potential in 34 at-bats. Allen is currently rotated into games and could potentially fill in more when he raises his average near his career level (.240), which is more in line with a cheap steals player profile.

Oscar Mercado, though in the minors, might have a better opportunity at playing time than Allen due to a more recent show of success. This is contingent upon him getting called up, of course. In 72 at-bats, he has seven stolen bases, one homer and a .361 batting average at Triple-A. Since Double-A in 2017, Mercado has a .295 batting average. He’s demonstrated a penchant to steal bases with at least 31 steals in each of the last four seasons. Mercado just needs to be given the chance. Keep an eye on him in case he comes up at some point this year.

 

Wild Card

Jose Peraza (2B/3B, CIN) — 49% Owned

“Hold on now,” you say. “How dare you put such a highly owned player on the list?” you ask. If he isn’t available in your league, it might not be long before he finds himself on the waiver wire if he continues his current path. How will a player that has stolen at least 21 bases in the last three seasons end up on the wire? Let’s look at the stats. Peraza is currently hitting .159 with one homer and two stolen bases. He also has a 24% strikeout rate and hasn’t drawn a single walk this season. That is nasty.

He is completely out of whack, but there is a silver lining. Peraza only has a career strikeout rate of 12.7% and even had a 4% walk rate in 2018. He also is chasing (43%) eight percent more than normal and is swinging and missing (11%) four percent more than usual. Once he gets back to normal, Peraza’s value will rise. So, does he fall under the definition of cheap steals? If you can get him off waivers or if you can acquire him for next to nothing in a trade, then yes, he is a dirt-cheap steals candidate.

 

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