We are only one week into the season, and already there are some surprising stolen base totals. Marcus Semien, who stole 10 bases in 2016, already had three. Chris Owings has increased his SB total each year, but his yearly best has been 21 – this week he’s notched four steals. Brett Gardner stole 40+ bases in 2010 and 2011, but he has been under 25 ever since. This week, he already has five swiped bases. Even Brian Dozier, a slugger first but someone with speed, has three steals.
Then there are the more obvious stolen base threats, and they already have some good numbers. Trea Turner, Billy Hamilton, Mallex Smith, Jean Segura, and Raul Mondesi are known for their speed, and they have at least three stolen bases apiece. Next, you can look at known speedsters who haven’t yet totalled a lot of stolen bases, such as Jose Altuve, who has only one steal this first week but put up nine in April 2016. Manuel Margot, Francisco Lindor, and Odubel Herrera project to get 20+ stolen bases this season, but they’re sitting at only one base right now. Oh yeah, and that one guy who was kinda speedy last year — Jonathan Villar? He only has one swiped bag, but you know he’s good for 40+ if healthy.
It is an exciting first week for speed, but as we know, small sample sizes don’t mean much. Clearly, Gardner’s not going to keep up this pace every week and end up with 100 steals. Yet if there seem to be a few early surprises, and you have the reliable guys from 2016 as well, does that mean that we will see an overall increase in stolen bases after a general league-wide decline for years?
Looking at stolen base attempts per game, by team, there are early indications that more teams are running. Again, I realize the caveat of small sample, but of the top 15 teams in attempts per game, 12 have a higher rate than their 2016 rate. A total of eight teams are averaging 0.8 steals per game or higher right now, compared to only four teams in 2016. Whether those rates will continue is up for debate. I’m sure a few teams will slow down, but other teams will pick up the pace. For example, Milwaukee led the league in SB/G in 2016, but this year they’re ranked 19th.
In short, it’s too early to tell whether there will be a rise in stolen bases, or whether it will be enough to greatly impact fantasy leagues. However, if you’re hurting for stolen bases, there are always options available in the free agent pool. The recent scarcity of stolen bases has somewhat neutralized the stigma the image of a speedster as a one-category contributor. As such, some part-time players who have a lot of speed are at least worth considering in most leagues, and most players projected for 20 steals have value.
Let’s take a look at some of the likely targets on the waiver wire.
Travis Jankowski may not hit versus lefties, and he may not start every day due to multiple options in the Padres outfield. His contact rate isn’t great, and so his average isn’t likely to reach .260, or even .250. However, he has elite speed, walks a lot, and should easily reach 30 SB this year despite a part-time role. He had better contact in the minors, so if he can improve on that, and if he earns more playing time, then 50 stolen bases wouldn’t surprise me.
Manuel Margot is one of the outfielders competing for time against Jankowski. In fact, Margot is probably the safest bet for playing time, and he should be able to put his speed to good use. In his tiny 2016 major league sample, he hit a lot of balls in the ground. In his equally small 2017 sample, he’s hitting more fly balls and offers a hint of power. A fair to above average contact rate and BB% will keep him in stolen base opportunities, and 30 should be within reach – though he lacks the upside of Jankowski.
The Rays have three outfielders that rate as elite speedsters. Kiermaier is the best overall option, but next in line is Mallex Smith. He slaps the ball into the ground and takes off. There’s no real hope for power, but like Jankowski, he can take walks and has top wheels. He won’t have an elite average, but he won’t hurt you. A platoon is a possibility, but he’ll collect opportunities to run. With even 400 at bats, he should net 35 SB.
I thought the Royals were finally going to give a full-time gig to Jarrod Dyson, but instead they traded him and acquired Jorge Soler. Dyson should get at least two-thirds playing time in Seattle, but they have a lot of options, so he may continue to sit against lefties. He has a nearly elite contact rate and a ground ball tilt, but he lacks the line drives and doesn’t seem capable of pulling off a top batting average like Revere used to do. Still, the strong side of a platoon should yield over 300 at bats for him (finally), and so a 400 at bat season could mean 40+ SB.
Speaking of Ben Revere, I still have a soft spot for him. I liked his high BA floor and his speed, but injuries ruined his 2016 campaign, and now he’s splitting time with Cameron Maybin. The at bats will be harder for him to acquire than the other players because Mike Trout and Kole Calhoun are very firmly entrenched in two of the outfield spots. Also, he has always lacked in walk rate. Frankly, he may be a better fantasy speculation for 2018, but half a year could net at least a .270 average and 15 SB.
Jose Peraza has speed and played a utility role last year. This year he should be the primary second baseman, which bodes well for his counting stats. Like Revere, he doesn’t take walks but has a high contact and batting average floor. I’m pegging him for at least 40 stolen bases with full playing time. Hey, if I liked Revere, then I have to root for Peraza because his profile is similar. So far at least, he hits more line drives and fewer ground balls, which makes him a bit safer than Revere’s peak in my book.
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