Is Punting Steals a Good Idea?

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There are many ways to make a roster that is worthy of fantasy baseball glory. Some owners like to load up on pitching, others load up on hitting, and some look for more of a balanced approach. While this a noble way to build a roster, looking to build a team that will dominate one statistical grouping, what is even better is to build a roster that is full of players that can contribute in multiple categories.

So now we come to stolen bases--one of the more difficult numbers to track. There were only six players last season that stole at least 30 bases last season (three in each league). In the National League particularly, stealing bases usually meant that you could not do much of anything else. Of the six players that stole 30 bases last season, Whit Merrifield (who led the American League in stolen bases with 34 in his first full season) was the only player to have not stolen at least 30 bases in a season before.

Punting stolen bases may be an uncomfortable move, but it is a risky maneuver that can pay off.

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Why It Works

Billy Hamilton, Dee Gordon, Jose Altuve, Trea Turner (maybe). Those are the players that are a lock for strong stolen base numbers and, while Altuve fills all categories, would you really want to overpay for the other three? Gordon has no power, Hamilton has struggled as a hitter his entire professional career (to the point that he might be a backup now), and Turner is coming off of an injury and has yet to play a full MLB season. Cameron Maybin also stole 30 bases last season, 33 between his time with the Angels and Astros, but he only had a .683 OPS and has a career .693 OPS. The long and short of it is that when you buy an elite stolen base threat, you are basically selling everything else. They are basically one trick ponies and will kill you in all of the other categories. While that is the case, there is a much better alternative.

Owners in AL-only leagues should listen up closely: of the 16 players that stole 20 bases last season in the American League, nine had at least 15 home runs and six were over 20 home runs. That is a very strong sample size of players that were able to fill multiple categories and there were also three players in the National League (of 12 that stole 20 bases) that were members of the 20/20 club. The long and short of it is that fantasy owners can find a combination of power and speed rather than just buy speed or just buy power.

For those that have a more advanced statistical look at the game, of FanGraphs' top-25 players in speed from 2017, eight had an isolated power number of .200 or better. To counterbalance that point, the three batters with the worst isolated power in 2017 (Jose Peraza, Dee Gordon, and Billy Hamilton), ranked 19th, 2nd, and 1st in speed last season. While Gordon (with 60 stolen bases) and Hamilton (with 59 stolen bases) had truly elite stolen base numbers, would a fantasy owner really want to own Peraza's .622 OPS, even with 23 stolen bases? It is tough to get players that do everything, but by punting stolen bases a bit, fantasy owners can get players that can do more than just run.

While this may have not answered the question directly, it is not wise to buy a stolen base expert. It is better to get a bunch of players that are going to fill many categories (including stolen bases) and not limit your roster formation with a player than can only do one thing. There are just too many players that will hit home runs as well as steal bases to just buy a player like Hamilton that is only there to steal bases. This is not to say that fantasy owners should neglect the Hamiltons and Rajai Davis' of the world (every player has their price), but these are not the type of players to target if you are looking for a balanced team.


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