FB303: The Value of Stolen Bases

01/19/2009 11:13 PM - 

FantasyBaseball.com University Series
Contributed By: Mike Muyskens

Note: This article assumes 5 x 5 play in a 12-team Rotisserie League.

The stolen base is a very valuable commodity in fantasy baseball. Only a few dozen players in the league steal enough to have a significant impact on the category. Even less are able to accumulate steals without doing so at the expense of the other stats. While it is true that speed has to be an emphasis in any fantasy draft, many fantasy managers overemphasize it to the point that it jeopardizes their competitiveness.

Because most of the impact stolen base players hit at the top of their prospective lineups and are light on power, they significantly affect a fantasy teams HR and RBI totals for the worse. In 2008, of the 16 players that stole over 30 bases only five (31%) had at least 15 home runs and as many as nine (56%) of them didn’t even reach double digits. Even more disconcerting is that only one of them drove in more than 80 runs. The problem is that most of those players will be rostered on someone’s team but those teams will inherently be at a disadvantage in HR and RBI. In other words, to compete for the top SB honor in any competitive league, a fantasy team will likely have to put its chances of finishing strong in HR and RBI in jeopardy.

Not only that but non-marquee speed guys who are struggling midseason are frequently dropped from 1st or 2nd to 8th or 9th in the order while sluggers usually only drop a spot or two in the order. The higher the player bats in the order the more at bats he will see in a year and the more scoring opportunities he can have. Combine that with the risk of minor leg injuries derailing the player’s ability to steal and it becomes evident that the pure speed player carries with him a much greater risk than the average power hitter.

So, how does one draft to be competitive in SB without compromising the other categories? It is essential to draft speed/power combo players that are more likely to bat closer to the middle of the line-up (2nd-5th). This includes drafting at least one of these players in the first few rounds. It is imperative to get one of the top power/speed threats early in the draft because most of the HR/SB threats later in the draft will adversely affect other categories most notably batting average.

A couple of these speed/power players should be drafted as well as a few that give a stolen base advantage at a position that is historically weak in that area (C, 1B, 3B). This allows a team to concentrate on filling out the rest of the roster with mostly higher average power hitters that will put it in the running for the league lead in the rest of the offensive categories.

A few additional pointers on drafting for speed:

1. When in doubt, choose power over speed. Batting Average notwithstanding, middle of the lineup power hitters contribute in HR, RBI, and usually just as much in runs as do their top of the order teammates. In general, a leadoff-type hitter only contributes in runs and stolen bases.

2. Target elite SB players that might be light on power at the 2B and SS positions where the lack of HR and RBI potential will not be as significant.

3. Drafting multiple pure speed (40+ SB potential, low HR potential) players at the OF position is a huge mistake unless the power gap is made up for at other positions such as 2B and SS.

4. Avoid the temptation to put too much speed in one basket. Drafting one of the top stolen base threats and counting on them for a large percentage of the team contributions to the stat is a mistake. Should that player go down, it will be next to impossible to remain competitive in SB.

5. Consider drafting a pure speedster later in the draft for a bench spot and start them in advantageous steal situations against catchers who struggle to throw out base runners.

6. Keep an eye out for the potential call-up of a speed prospect and pick them up if they are being given significant playing time in a favorable spot in the batting order.


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