Avoiding Speed Traps

Fantasy players who chased stolen bases up with the likes of Billy Hamilton, Dee Gordon and Delino DeShields Jr. really lost out in 2018, as they all fell well short of their projected stolen base projections and provided little production elsewhere. Gordon dropped from 60 stolen bases to 30, Hamilton from 59 to 34, and DeShields had only 20 stolen bases while hitting a woeful .216. As players that provide most of their value from their stolen bases, they were unmitigated disasters. All three have seen their draft stock plummet in 2019; Gordon went from having an NFBC ADP of 28.2 to 110.3; Hamilton from 60.37 to 166.3; and DeShields from 217 (but with a peak of 103, which is where he was closer to going to in the Main Event) to 412.4.

I thought I’d explore a few ways to avoid the speed traps that tripped us up last year. I’ll look for players that do more than just run, and then where we can get late speed by position. The goal here is to avoid paying full price for players that earn their value nearly exclusively from stolen bases.

20-20 Heroes 

The best way to acquire steals without overpaying for the pure steals guys is to make sure that your early draft picks are the ones that provide value across the board. Perhaps that means favoring Christian Yelich or Ronald Acuna over Nolan Arenado or J.D. Martinez (though in fairness, Martinez did have six stolen bases last year) in the first round; or Jose Altuve or Trevor Story over Giancarlo Stanton in the second round. You get the picture. Here’s a list players that were 20-20 hitters last year, along with their ADP from February 1st to the present this year.

(Player/HR/SB/ADP – listed in order of SB’s last year)

Jose Ramirez – 39 – 34 – 4.16
Starling Marte – 20 – 33 – 37.79
Mookie Betts – 32 – 30 – 1.88
Trevor Story – 37 – 27 – 17.11
Tim Anderson – 20 – 26 – 133.19
Francisco Lindor – 38 – 25 – 13.78
Mike Trout – 39 – 24 – 1.16
Christian Yelich – 36 – 22 – 6.85
Javier Baez – 34 – 21 – 15.50
Ian Desmond – 22 – 20 – 140.30

That’s right, there were only 10 “20-20” players in the majors last year, and most of them are going in the first two rounds this year. Anderson and Desmond are the two “hold your nose” picks if you want their power-speed ability, with them hitting .240 and .236 last year respectively.

Can we add any names to the pool by looking at this year’s projections? I’m using RotoWire’s (my) projections – your mileage may vary, feel free to use any source you like for this exercise.

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Trea Turner – 20 – 43 – 8.28
Ronald Acuna – 30 – 23 – 8.34
Wil Myers – 24 – 22 – 104.98
Yoan Moncada – 22 – 21 – 155.06

Turner just missed last year with 19 homers, and Acuna barely missed (26 HR, 16 SB) despite playing in only 111 games. Myers was hurt on multiple occasions last year, and I’m obviously assuming a healthier season to get him back over 20 stolen bases. Moncada is the riskiest of this bunch, especially in terms of the stolen bases, as he netted only 12 last season. I believe that risk is already incorporated in his cost.

Moving the Goalposts

“20-20” is just a number, a pair of selective endpoints. Naturally we have to draw the line somewhere, but while 20-20 sounds great, that necessarily limits the pool of players who can be helpful from other angles. Instead, let’s expand it to include 10-homer, 20-SB guys, as well as 20-homer, 10-SB players. Here are those that we didn’t already mention earlier (like Turner or Acuna).

(Again, Player-HR-SB-ADP, listed in descending order of SBs last year)

Whit Merrifield – 12 – 45 – 30.01
Adalberto Mondesi – 14 – 32 – 40.26
Lorenzo Cain – 10 – 30 – 65.86
Ender Inciarte – 10 – 28 – 139.36
Jose Peraza – 14 – 23 – 97.30
Andrew Benintendi – 16 – 21 – 29.15
Jean Segura – 10 – 20 – 62.26
Yasiel Puig – 23 – 15 – 68.89
Ozzie Albies – 24 – 14 – 59.48
Cody Bellinger – 25 – 14 – 43.78
Bryce Harper – 34 – 13 – 18.29 (but 15.47 as from 3/1-present)
A.J. Pollock – 21 – 13 – 111.56
Charlie Blackmon – 29 – 12 – 27.08
Gregory Polanco – 23 – 12 – 260.48
Aaron Hicks – 27 – 11 – 116.80
Ryan Braun – 20 – 11 – 196.84
Freddie Freeman – 23 – 10 – 21.02
Alex Bregman – 31 – 10 – 13.98
Jurickson Profar – 20 – 10 – 121.62
Didi Gregorius – 27 – 10 – 414.07
Shohei Ohtani – 22 – 10 – 185.39

Ok, that expands our list quite a bit. Did you know that Freddie Freeman had 10 stolen bases last year? Or that Ozzie Albies only had 14? I also didn’t have Ohtani anywhere as a hitter last year and didn’t realize that he had 10 swipes. You’ll note that for the most part you still have to pay for most of these players. If you’re playing the NFBC Main Event, the only healthy (for now) player that’s falling outside of the top 10 rounds is Ryan Braun, and his lack of durability is the reason he falls as well. Go ahead and play around with your endpoints, perhaps you can unearth a few more gems.

Late Speed By Position

Ok, you’re 225 players (15 rounds) through in your 15-team mixed league draft, and you find yourself short on speed. Oh no, what are you going to do!? Here’s where it often becomes a better gamble to go after the rabbits that don’t provide much power. It’s still not the time to go after Jarrod Dyson – you need someone that’s actually going to play. But here are a few players, by position, that can give you 15+ bags, at least according to our projections.

C/1B: Null set. Move along, nothing to see here. I’ve projected Ian Desmond to get 18 stolen bases, but he’s going too high to qualify.

2B: Garrett Hampson has a 190.33 ADP, so he’s a little early for our purposes, especially if he gets pushed up over the last two week of draft season. But even though he might be on the wrong side of a platoon with Ryan McMahon, he already has five stolen bases this spring while hitting .308/.379/.654. Check your league’s games-by-position rules carefully with Hampson. He had eight games at shortstop, seven at second base in the majors, but in the minors it was 61 games at 2B, 41 at SS.

Cesar Hernandez (176.62) stole 19 bases despite playing the second half with a broken foot. The risk factor with him is that he might bat at the bottom of the order following the additions of Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen and Jean Segura.

Honorable mention goes to Niko Goodrum, who I have projected for 14 stolen bases.

3B: Eduardo Nunez probably won’t get the playing time necessary to pile up the stolen bases we’re looking for, but he’s had two 24+ stolen base seasons prior to 2018, when he dropped off (along with his OBP). His 486 ADP reflects that downgrade in status.

SS: Amed Rosario has seen his draft stock soar as drafters noticed his 18 stolen bases in the second half. His ADP of 144.42 reflects that.

Elvis Andrus (184.36) occasionally drops, as his max pick is 274. Shortstop is full of mid-tier values, so sometimes it’s just a matter of preference in deciding which one drops.

I’ve ended up grabbing Jorge Polanco (214.37) frequently – four times, as a matter of fact! I have him for 13 steals this year, which is at least in the ballpark.

Honorable mention goes to Orioles’ Rule 5 draft pick Richie Martin. He’s in an organization that’s going to run a lot, and his draft cost is nil – at 677.82, he’s only getting selected in Draft Champions leagues. He has to hold off Alcides Escobar for playing time, but he has a tiny bit of pop, speed, and a good ballpark to ply his wares.

OF: It’s no surprise that the most late speed options are available here. Instead of paying sticker price for Mallex Smith (104.81 but falling due to his elbow injury), this year’s version of Delino DeShields in my opinion, there are plenty of other viable options as a pure speed play, including the original article in DeShields.

I keep waiting for the Indians to improve their outfield, and find better options than Greg Allen (334.19) and Leonys Martin (390.99), but here we are two weeks from the start of the season with precious few reinforcements in sight. Both speedy outfielders are hitting well this spring, albeit with a combined three walks versus 14 strikeouts.

Both Roman Quinn and Travis Jankowski can flat out fly, but they fall into the Dyson-class of outfielder – break glass only in the case of emergency, as it’ll require multiple injuries in front of them on their real life teams for them to play regularly.

The fantasy world has just about given up on Kevin Kiermaier after a slew of injuries, with an ADP of 345.73, but he remains the starter in center field with tremendous defense and 15-20 potential. He’s a perfect example of a post-hype sleeper.

Kevin Pillar has been a handy “late steals” guy the last three years, but at age 30, the warning signs are approaching. He has to hold off Anthony Alford and Dalton Pompey for the starting center field job, and this is a common age for a speed-based player to fall off.

There’s a few other OF’s that are available in a pinch if you need some steals, though they run the risk of getting the bat blown out of their hands by opposing pitchers. Steven Duggar, Adam Engel and Keon Broxton are essentially free (500+ ADP’s) – for a good reason, but there’s speed upside there if you need it.

The common thread with a lot of these outfielders is that their hit tool is lacking – making them an extreme batting average risk. That’s why we want to avoid most of this tier if possible – if you have to dip into it, limit yourself to just one of these players.