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Stolen Base Risers - 2018 Season Review


Previously, we took a look at which MLB players saw the biggest decrease in their stolen base totals during the 2018 season. While stolen bases were down overall in 2018, that doesn't mean it resulted in lower totals for everyone. In fact, there were several players who saw significant jumps in steals last season.

As a whole, 2018 saw 28 players steal at least 20 bases, 41 players steal at least 15 and 83 steal at least 10. With the decrease in the number of people stealing a massive number of bases, identifying a handful of those mid-low level base steal numbers can be important. The trick is finding a way to do it without damaging your other numbers too much.

This is a look at the players who defied the trends of decreased base path-activity and ran their way to career-high numbers in stolen bases.

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Mallex Smith (OF, SEA)

Smith is an interesting name on this list, because essentially his stolen base increase in 2018 came down to playing time. Smith had a combined 497 plate appearances in his first two Major League seasons (2016 & '17), and stole a combined 32 bases. In 2018, he had 544 PA and used that playing time to steal 40 bases. That number was also helped by Smith hitting for a .296 batting average, and getting on base regularly thanks to a BB% of 8.6. This is the third year in a row that Smith has increased his batting average and OBP, which is an encouraging sign in a young player.

The trouble with projecting forward with Smith is that he has recently changed teams. Smith was traded to Seattle in the offseason and that is going to affect his numbers. The Rays had the second-highest number of steals in the majors in 2018, with 128, while the Mariners ranked just 13th, with 79. However, right now Smith is projected to open the season as the leadoff hitter in the Mariners lineup. Whereas he bounced around the batting order in Tampa Bay he could now be projected to see somewhere in the region of 625 PA. That means if he does attempt to steal bases at the same rate in 2019, we could see him reach 45 steals with the potential for 50 if things break right.

The issue for fantasy owners is that Smith offers a complete lack of power and is unlikely to have many RBI. However, drafting a player that could steal 40 bases may just be a great way to win that category in your league this season.

 

Trevor Story (SS, COL)

The transformation in Story and his baserunning in 2018 was simply amazing. We had seen Story steal bases in the minors; he had 23 steals in 2014 and 22 in 2015. However, in his first two seasons in the majors, he was averaging a stolen base attempt every 44.1 PA. That all changed in 2018, as Story attempted to steal a base every 19.9 PA, and succeeded on 82% of those attempts. That meant that Story provided fantasy owners with 27 stolen bases in 2018, a career-high at any level of professional baseball.

The biggest question is will we see it again in 2019. I do not see any reason why we would not, but then again I did not see why it would have increased in the first place. Story ranked an impressive 17th in sprint speed last season, covering 29.6 feet per second on average. If he is running that well again in 2019 then I do not see why the Rockies will not let him loose regularly once again on the base paths.

 

Greg Allen (OF, CLE)

The big increase from Greg Allen in 2018 will come as no surprise to anyone who has seen his minor league numbers. In 2015, Allen stole 46 bases and then swiped another 45 in 2016. Those numbers dipped in 2017 (25), but across AAA and the majors, he had 33 stolen bases in 2018.

The biggest factor for Allen and what he can provide steals wise in 2019 is his playing time. Right now Allen is projected to start in the outfield for the Indians, but there will be competition this spring. If Allen can get to 500 PA in the majors he could provide you with 30 or more steals. However, those steals will come at a price, as Allen managed just a .257 batting average and two home runs in his 291 PA in 2018. Additionally, he is unlikely to hit near the top of the lineup so you are likely settling for around 100 combined runs and RBI.

Allen will not cost you much this draft season, and if he can play all year he can be a big difference maker, but you need to have a solid team elsewhere to be able to dedicate a regular roster spot to him.

 

Amed Rosario (SS, NYM)

Quite honestly it would have been disappointing to not see a career-high in stolen bases last season from Rosario, given that he played just 46 games in his debut 2017 season. In 170 PA with the Mets in 2017, Rosario stole seven bases, to go with the 19 he had stolen at AAA in 425 PA. In total in 2017, Rosario attempted a steal once every 17 PA, and he put up an extremely similar rate in 2018 (16.9).

The biggest concern for Rosario is that his success rate on the base paths is pretty poor. In both of the last two seasons, Rosario has attempted to steal 35 bases and out of those 70 attempts, he has succeeded 50 times, a success rate of 71.4%. That is not terrible but it is also not great. The issue here is that to gain those extra PA we would ideally need to see Rosario become the leadoff hitter. However, if he is being caught on nearly 30% of his stolen base attempts then the Mets are going to get pretty tired of their table setter running himself into outs after getting on base.

For his stolen base totals, it might be best if Rosario remains near the bottom of the order, where the Mets are more likely to let him gamble on the base paths, despite his poor efficiency. Rosario is one of the fastest shortstops in the majors in terms of sprint speed, so hopefully, low success rate can improve with experience, and we can see him take his stolen base number up into the 30 steal region.

 

Jose Ramirez (2B/3B, CLE)

For the best part of the last three years, Jose Ramirez has been stunning the fantasy world in one way or another. In 2016, it was his sudden jump in batting average from .219 in 2015 to .312 in that 2016 season. In 2017 he hit 18 more home runs than he had hit in 2016 and managed to do it without sacrificing that batting average. In 2018, not only did he take his home run hitting a step further but he also stole a career-high 34 bases, 12 more than he had stolen in a single season in the majors. The pedigree for stealing bases is there, as he once stole 38 in AA in 2013. However, the transition to power hitter had many wondering if he would ever significantly go over 20 bases.

There are a couple of slightly worrying signs about those stolen bases though. Firstly, he got to that number despite having the 260th best sprint speed in the league, and secondly, he demonstrated remarkably good efficiency on the base paths, succeeding on 85% of his stolen base attempts. That is a success rate approximately 10% higher than anything he has achieved in his career. Some of that may be due to experience but there is also likely to be some luck involved in that sudden increase. After having only ever attempted to steal a maximum of 29 bases in a single season in the majors before, I would be surprised if we see Ramirez attempt 40 steals again next season. However, even if that number drops back into the 20 region, the combination of power, speed, batting average, runs and RBI will still likely make Ramirez very much worth a top-five pick in 2019.

 

Tim Anderson (SS, CWS)

In 2018, Tim Anderson stole as many bases as he had in his first two big league seasons combined. It was not as if he had not played significant time in those first two seasons either. He logged 431 PA in 2016 and a further 606 in 2017. In fact, he logged exactly the same number of PA in 2018 as he did in 2017. To fully appreciate the jump we saw in 2018 we need to go back to the final stretch of the 2017 season. Nine of Anderson's 15 steals in 2017 came in a 27 game stretch to end the season. It was almost as if suddenly at the end of 2017 there was a clear philosophy change in the way Anderson was going to approach his base running. Most impressive was that he was 100% on those steal attempts at the end of 2017.

When you look at Anderson's stolen base numbers from 2018 the drop in efficiency from his first two seasons is stark. Anderson had been caught a combined three times in his first 28 attempts (89% success rate) in the majors, in 2018 he was caught eight times in 34 attempts (76% success rate). However, when you break that down by month he was largely fairly successful, apart from being caught on 4/9 attempts in the month of June. Outside of that, he was never caught more than once in any other month.

Interestingly, in sharp contrast to the end of 2017, Anderson attempted just two steals in his final 23 games in 2018. However, Anderson injured his ankle in an on-field collision at the end of August and was likely just taking precautions to avoid damaging the ankle further. With a healthy spring, there is no reason why Anderson could not threaten to steal 30 bases this season.

 

Michael Taylor (OF, WAS)

I wanted to end with Taylor because speed is the one thing he does bring to the table. Despite logging just 385 PA in 2018, Taylor upped his stolen base totals to a career-high 24 on 30 attempts. The trouble is that Taylor accompanied those steals with just six home runs and a .227 batting average. Additionally, for his 385 PA, Taylor appeared in 134 games. The reason that is significant is that Taylor was largely used as a pinch runner and a defensive substitution last season by the Nationals. Therefore, in order to get those steals from Taylor last season, you were often left with a lot of zeroes when he was not utilized in games.

Right now, Taylor is projected to be in a platoon with Adam Eaton in right field during the 2018 season, further reducing his value. However, while Taylor may not make for an interesting proposition on draft day, he is a name to watch if you need stolen bases in-season. Right now Taylor would likely be the next man up if any of Eaton, Victor Robles or Juan Soto suffered an injury. He is a frustrating hitter to own but his steals could be extremely valuable down the stretch in winning you that category, and perhaps even your league.

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