Fantasy Baseball Round Table: Drafting stolen bases
Steals is a category unto itself and can be attacked in a variety of manners. How do you usually plan to get your steals and does it differ via league size and draft versus auction?
Perry Van Hook
Ideally I would like to start with several hitters who are likely to have more than 20 home runs and 15 stolen bases which would give you a solid base and let you add steals with more balanced contributors later in the draft. Unfortunately amongst improved competition we don't find ourselves on that path too often and must at some point plot a different course perhaps trying to get as many steals from your middle infielders as possible regardless of power contributions thus giving you the opportunity to add HR/RBI from the other slots. But often we just have to add a specialist like Juan Pierre or Everth Cabrera who will get us 40- to 50-plus steals but be a drain in most other categories. At least Pierre can offer a good average but of course he comes from a position where you would like more than a two category player while any decent buffers would make a Cabrera a decent choice.
I don't see the addition of steals changing in drafts of any size/format but an auction would make it more likely you could add the steals specialist of your choosing and not have to guess when to take him.
I agree with Perry. The year I won Tout, I got 24 steals from Mark Reynolds and hit on a trio of cheap emerging guys in Nyjer Morgan ($6), Emilio Bonifacio ($7) and Everth Cabrera (FAAB). The problem was that I had too much of a good thing. I ended up with excess steals that I could not trade, finishing with 39 more steals than the second-place finisher in the category. Perhaps I could not engineer a trade because I had a big lead in the overall standings, but I have felt over the years that steals are consistently more difficult to deal away than power. If so, then the converse should then be true -- that they are easier to acquire in-season, right?
Instead of trying to win stolen bases on draft day, I aim to field a roster that's at least middling in the category while more importantly is diverse in swipe sources - even if it's simply aiming for double digits from as many pieces as possible. I consider past years' standings in each respective league (when applicable/available) and gauge a proper target for projected bags coming away from the table.
If an auction room lets costly larcenists fall a bit short of their expected price tags, then I'll take advantage, but league size and format rarely would change my approach. Plus, paying big draft bucks for one or more singular, nearly all-encompassing bandits while scrimping on the category from others can crater your chances in that column if said tunnel-vision thieves miss time or underperform.
Of course, if played correctly, getting lead time on specialists during in-season FAABing will give you more time to identify difference makers - i.e., waiting for guys like Rajai Davis to fall into playing time. Stolen bases paces vary depending on individual and team circumstances, and trying to garner too many in a tight late-season window will be a fruitless exercise.
I'm with Brian: Steals are difficult to deal. I think that's in part because they can be somewhat easy to acquire in-season, as he noted, but I think the fact that base-stealers as single-category contributors result in negative effects in other categories is exaggerated. Any player I project for a significant SB total becomes a money earner because his impact is massive relative to the rest of the player pool. Some teams may be in better position to take on a single-category contributor like this than others, granted, but I think the general perception of base-stealers as drains on fantasy teams is need of deprecation.
Picking up steals during the season is very much about timing and anticipation, at least if you're in a deep league. Stolen base specialists tend to have similar characteristics (questionable on-base ability chiefly among them) and aren't always at the top of the playing time food chain. I snapped up Emilio Bonifacio ($0, 2011) and Everth Cabrera ($0, $1, $2, can't recall, 2012) in Mixed Tout and Darin Mastroianni ($1, 2012) in AL LABR because their respective, emerging PT opportunities. Players like these don't inspire a lot of faith, but two, three, four months later, they've earned $20, $15 or $10 because of their contributions in one category. Frankly, it's nuts that most people generally dismiss them quite easily.
To answer the question, I don't come into a draft expecting to pay the earning price for stolen bases, most of the time; I generally play the middle and target undervalued players, anyway. Brett Gardner is a good deal this year. So is Ichiro Suzuki. Generally, who doesn't prefer to get their stolen bases from a bunch of different sources? I've paid the price for failing to acquire enough stolen bases, in some leagues, and I could stand to do a much better job of assessing the distribution of resources in the player pool, by league. So, in general, does my approach to the category change much, dependent on the type or depth of league? Not really. But do I take the differences by league into account? I'm learning to do so, for sure. As Steve Gardner noted on SiriusXM before the AL LABR auction, there has been a shift in quantity of SBs available, with the AL gaining a significant number and the NL, obviously, losing a significant number. Fantasy owners certainly have to take it into account.
About Todd Zola, MastersBall.com
Focusing primarily on the science of player valuation and game theory starting in 1997, Todd Zola and Mastersball carved out an important niche in the fantasy industry. In 2006, Todd became the Research Director for fantasybaseball.com, and in 2009, he relaunched Mastersball and is now a managing partner.
Todd competes in Tout Wars and the XFL, and has been a multiple-time league champion in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship. He has been a contributor to the fantasy content at MLB.com and SI.com, is a frequent guest on Sirius/XM and Blog Talk Radio and is an annual speaker at the spring and fall First Pitch Forum symposiums.
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