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Predicting the Top 10 Finishers in Stolen Bases in 2019


Predicting the leaders in steals for the upcoming season may sound like a straightforward task, but it’s not as easy as it seems.

There is quite a bit of variance involved, and the league as a whole has seen a sharp decline in stolen base attempts since the 2012 season (about 700 fewer attempts). Past production, sprint and speed score metrics, and 2019 projections all factor into this Top 10 stolen base leader list.

Opportunity is also key, as some players get the green light more often and certain teams simply don't like to take risks on the basepaths. All told, we will do our best to use all these means to forecast the top base stealers in the league for the 2019 MLB season as it gets underway.

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Adalberto Mondesi (2B/SS, KC)

Adalberto Mondesi is just 23-years-old and hasn’t even registered a full season of games played at the MLB level. He has shown poor plate discipline and holds a career .250 on-base percentage in his brief taste of the majors. However, Mondesi showcased the astronomical stolen base potential he possesses in just 291 plate appearances last year, stealing 32 bases in 39 attempts and registering the highest Fangraph Speed Score (8.6) in the league. It is also worth noting that he had a 92.3% stolen base percentage in Triple-A over the last three seasons. Projection site Steamer has him pegged for a .253/.293/.437 slash line and 41 steals.

Prediction: 47 steals

 

Trea Turner (SS, WAS)

Trea Turner had 33 steals in 2016 despite registering just 324 plate appearances, and his 46 steals in 2017 and 43 steals in 2018 give him the second-highest three-year-average (40.7) and three-year-total (122) behind Royals outfielder Billy Hamilton. Turner also finished second in the MLB in wSB, which is a Fangraph stat that estimates the number of runs a player contributes to his team by stealing bases (compared to a league-average player). He has always been a high-average and on-base percentage player, which makes his stolen base variance a little less risky than, say, Mondesi and Hamilton.

Prediction: 45 steals

 

Billy Hamilton (OF, KC)

Speed demon Billy Hamilton seemingly threatens the stolen base crown on a yearly basis, and this season will not be different. He signed with the Kansas City Royals over the off-season and holds a career .245/.298/.333 slash line. Hamilton is the epitome of a stolen-base specialist, and he does it really well. He has the most total steals (151) and the highest yearly average (40.7) over the last three seasons, and he also had the highest Speed Score among qualified hitters in 2018. Expect more of the same this upcoming season with the run-happy Royals.

Prediction: 45 steals

 

Mallex Smith (OF, SEA)

Speaking of players with new squads, enter outfielder Mallex Smith. Smith finally got a full allotment of at-bats in 2018 and he put up a very useful 40 steals in 52 attempts while exhibiting the second highest Speed Score (7.7) among qualified hitters. He will most likely hit leadoff for the Mariners, and Steamer projects a .263/.331/.366 slash line with 39 steals.

Prediction: 42 steals

 

Jonathan Villar (2B/SS, BAL)

Jonathan Villar came over to the Orioles in a trade last season and will be entering his first full season with the team. He had the highest wSB in 2018 and the second-highest stolen base percentage (88%). He also ranks third in total steals (120) and yearly average (40) over the last three seasons.

Prediction: 41 steals

 

Whit Merrifield (2B, KC)

The third and final Kansas City Royals player on this list, Merrifield likely comes with the smallest chance of hurting your fantasy team. While Mondesi and Hamilton will probably put a dent in your batting average and on-base percentage categories, Merrifield has never hit below a .280 batting average or had an on-base percentage worse than .323 in his three major league seasons. Steamer projects a .276/.330/.411 slash line with 30 steals, though that seems a bit on the light side when considering he’s coming off a 45-for-55 stolen base campaign in 2018.

Prediction: 40 steals

 

Dee Gordon (2B, SEA)

Though Dee Gordon “only” stole 30 bases in 2018, this can partly be attributed to his .288 on-base percentage (compared to his career .300 on-base percentage) and the fact that he had less than a full year of plate appearances. Though his Sprint Speed has declined in recent years, he stole a whopping 60 bases with the Marlins in 2017 and is clearly still a threat whenever he reaches base. Projecting him to raise his on-base percentage and plate appearances just slightly puts him on track for another season of swiping a hefty amount of bags.

Prediction: 38 steals

 

Starling Marte (OF, PIT)

Starling Marte had the lowest stolen base percentage of anyone on this list in 2018, stealing 33 bases in 47 attempts (70%). His Sprint Speed has declined for three straight seasons and he’s now 30-years-old. However, he has logged four seasons of 30 steals or more since 2013 and he had just 339 plate appearances in the season he fell short (21 steals in 2017). Steamer projects his slash line at .282/.335/.442 for 2019, and that high batting average and on-base percentage means there will continue to be plenty of stolen base opportunities for the Bucs outfielder.

Prediction: 36 steals

 

Mookie Betts (OF, BOS)

Red Sox star outfielder Mookie Betts offers a ridiculous amount of fantasy production, there’s no doubt about that. One possibly underrated aspect of his game is the value he brings via stolen bases - he has 21 or more steals in each of his four full major league seasons. Last year, he was 30-for-36 (83%), and it would be foolish to assume that his high average and on-base percentage would translate to less stolen base opportunities this season. He also put up the ninth-highest Speed Score in 2018.

Prediction: 33 steals

 

Victor Robles (OF, WAS)

This one is a bit of a wild card. Though Victor Robles projects to be a very solid player, he has just 66 plate appearances and three stolen bases in the MLB to his name. He had 14 steals in 182 plate appearances in Triple-A last year, but it is largely unknown if and how his stolen base production will translate to the majors. It seems safe to project at least 25 steals (every projection site is on the same page), but there’s a chance that his high on-base percentage could help him reach the 30-steal mark.

Prediction: 30 steals

 

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