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The game of baseball is changing in many ways. Almost all of them point towards a decline in stolen bases. In 2018, there were 2,474 bags swiped across Major League Baseball. In the past 40 years there have only been two seasons with fewer stolen bases, both of them were strike-shortened years. But don't tell the Kansas City Royals.
The Royals already had the league leader in steals from 2018 (Whit Merrifield). They also had baseball's most exciting young steals prospect (Adalberto Mondesi). That didn't stop them from adding Billy Hamilton, Chris Owings and Terrance Gore. Scott White likes to say that stealing bases is mostly about intent. For at least one team in baseball, we know what their intent will be. It might be too much to say one team shifts the dynamic in league-specific leagues, but eight of the 11 players to steal 30 bases in 2018 will play in the American League in 2019.
So how do I attack this category? Aggressively. Because so many of the steals specialists aren't great at other things, I'd really like for one of my first three picks to be a great hitter who also steals bases. Mookie Betts, Jose Ramirez, Jose Altuve and Trea Turner are all first-round picks who will give you a head start in steals. Merrifield, Starling Marte and Lorenzo Cain will be there in the third or fourth round. It will be rare for me to play in a Roto league this year and not land at least one of those seven hitters. Often I'll take two of them.
Late in the draft, do not be afraid to put the hammer down. I've heard people say "I've got enough steals" while passing on a good value who steals bases. There's nothing wrong with having a surplus of steals in July. There will almost certainly be a team looking to add speed midseason.
In "real" baseball, the stolen base is a dying statistic, a relic of the past. In Rotisserie leagues I'd argue it's one of the most important. Attack it early and often.
- Whit Merrifield - 45
- Trea Turner - 43
- Mallex Smith - 40
- Jonathan Villar - 35
- Jose Ramirez - 34
- Billy Hamilton - 34
- Starling Marte - 33
- Adalberto Mondesi - 32
- Mookie Betts, Lorenzo Cain, Dee Gordon - 30
What you need to win
Below you'll find the average number of steals by place for the category in 2018. These number are for a standard, mixed, 12-team league. In an eight- or 10 team league, these numbers would be higher. In a 15-team league you could aim lower.
Billy Hamilton as a sleeper for steals? Yeah, it sounds weird. Hamilton has stolen at least 56 bases in four of the past five years, but his production dipped in 2018 and he changed teams. His early consensus ranking has him outside of the top 150 players, which is far cry from where he's been drafted the past four years. But there's reason for far more optimism than that.
Hamilton will be the starting center fielder for the Royals, who figure to be one of the most aggressive teams in 2019. They won't win often, but every indication is they'll run often. In the second half of 2018 they led the majors with 74 stolen bases (only two teams were within 20 of that mark). With a green light, Hamilton only needs a slight bounceback from last year's .236 average to be a top-100 player in Roto. In 2017 he hit .247 and was the 69th best hitter in the format.
Victor Robles only has three stolen bases in 34 career major league games, but you don't have to look far to find reason for optimism. He swiped 129 bags in 384 minor league games. Unlike Hamilton, Robles isn't all steals. He posted a .300 average and an .849 OPS in the minor leagues. As long as Bryce Harper doesn't return to Washington, Robles should have a good shot at winning a starting job for the Nationals.
Robles has the upside of a top-30 outfielder, possibly in the mold of a Mallex Smith breakout from last year. He was a .300 hitter in the minor leagues and has shown good plate discipline in the past. He could jump into that Marte/Cain tier this season, and his early consensus ranking suggests he'll be available in the 10th round.
The last two years should be enough to convince everyone that Jean Segura's 2016 power surge was an outlier. But he has been very consistent as a good source of runs, average and steals. I wouldn't expect the first two to change in Philadelphia, but there's reason to be concerned about his steals.
For one thing, Segura's steals have declined each of the past three seasons. He only stole 20 bases in 2018 and he was caught 11 times, the most since 2013. Maybe more importantly, Gabe Kapler doesn't seem to be a huge advocate of the running game. Cesar Hernandez led the Phillies with 19 stolen bases in 2018, and no one else attempted even 15 steals. Philadelphia ranked 24th in stolen base attempts, which could be because of their roster but should give you pause when considering Segura's upside this season.
Like Robles, Cedric Mullins hasn't shown us much in the major leagues yet as a base stealer. In 45 games last year for the Orioles he stole two bases and was caught three times. But he also had 77 stolen bases in 377 minor league games. Mullins has the speed, and on a rebuilding Orioles team he should get the opportunity. With a good spring, Mullins could find himself in the leadoff role for the Orioles, which would give him sleeper appeal for more than steals.
Magnueris Sierra isn't as far along as Mullins, but man is he fast. He stole 17 bases in 140 games last year, and that was the lowest rate of his professional career. He's also on a Marlins team that needs to play its young players to find out if who they have coming is any better than who is already on the roster. It's likely Sierra will be battling Lewis Brinson and Austin Dean for a starting job in the outfield. Whoever wins those jobs will be an outfield fallback plan for owners in NL-only leagues.