Speed kills on the field and on fantasy baseball battlegrounds. It kills to have stolen base specialists amplify an already balanced squad. On the other hand, overspending in this category on draft day often kills your chances of winning.
Rotisserie Fantasy Baseball 101: The goal is not to finish first in every category, but a relatively simpler aim: finishing somewhere within the top three or four in each column. Attaining ample power goes a long way.
Don't worry, we're not completely writing off steals. Follow an often overlooked approach:
While your competitors are overspending on one-dimensional speedsters in the middle rounds and auction tiers, pounce on well-rounded bats capable of hitting 20 home runs and approaching 20 stolen bases.
- Of the 58 players who stole 16 or more bases this past year (no qualifying player swiped exactly 15), 18 delivered 20 or more homers.
- Of the 51 who took 15-plus bases in '08, 15 mashers also went for at least 20 homers.
- Of the 56 runners who pilfered 15-plus bags in '07, 20 accomplished the same feat for power.
Beautiful bonus: Tulo swiped 20
This shows you the premium on middle-round power-speed combos, given how many of these dual threats are elite players who'll already command attention. Every year injuries alter this field and Ben Zobrist-types emerge, but steady 20-15 producers usually disappear after drafts conclude.
Before we go any further, remove elite double dippers from this discussion - the likes of Hanley Ramirez, Ian Kinsler, Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp, Jimmy Rollins, Curtis Granderson, Brian Roberts and Jacoby Ellsbury already require high dollar signs and provide elite skills outside their thievery.
Our target players came off the board later than the first four rounds on average to provide significant upswing. In the NL they included the Philadelphia Phillies' Jayson Werth (36 homers, 20 steals), the Colorado Rockies' Troy Tulowitzki (32 and a somewhat surprising 20), the Atlanta Braves' Nate McLouth (20, 19) and the Arizona Diamondbacks' Justin Upton (26, 20).
AL players topping the list were the Cleveland Indians' Shin-Soo Choo (20, 21), the Texas Rangers' Nelson Cruz (30, 20) and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim's Torii Hunter (22, 18). Several of them, in both leagues, could've had more if not for DL stints.
Here's why you spend on multidimensional players: How many of you tabbed Willy Taveras (Cincinnati Reds) for his pure speed in the middle rounds? What was your return? .240-1-15 with 25 steals in 404 at-bats and one lost starting job. Those who were banking on another 68-steal season were left with less than half of that.
Sure, a .285-hitting Michael Bourn (Houston Astros) also helped in runs, but you can't say he has double-digit power potential.
Pigeonholing yourself with thieves prone to otherwise sparse numbers in other columns will more often than not leave you yearning for beef. The difference between the steals output from most serviceable middle-round threats is usually minimal, but those who can leave the yard stand out.
Identify these targets, and bump their draft-day value a bit. It's safer to first bank on the 20-homer bats that have potential to sniff 20 steals than vice versa. It's hard to count on last year's winners coming in at better - or at least similar - value, but they should obviously remain on your radar.
Some double-sided threats who may slip a bit in 2010 drafts include Adam L. Jones (Baltimore Orioles); Alex Rios and Alexei Ramirez (Chicago White Sox); Corey Hart (Milwaukee Brewers); and Vernon Wells (Toronto Blue Jays).
Riskier late-round options include Carlos Gonzalez (Colorado Rockies), Drew Stubbs (Cincinnati Reds), Howie Kendrick (Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim), Garrett Jones (Pittsburgh Pirates), Chase Headley (San Diego Padres) and Nolan Reimold (Baltimore Orioles).
Wells: A 20-20 rebound in 2010?
Remember, gradually building up your steals from players who will accrue a balanced stat line will help you keep pace - or maintain an advantage - in the other four offensive categories. It's better to secure your base in three or four offensive categories than just one or two.
As the season goes along, with your foundation in power, you can trade from a position of strength, if necessary, for an elite stolen base commodity to bolster your standing in larceny. For instance, my 2009 K-BAD swap of Adam Dunn for Ellsbury) worked out quite well.
When rounding out your draft core, spread the wealth for stolen base potential. Otherwise, you'll probably wind up trailing the pack.
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About Tim Heaney
Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum competes in Tout Wars and LABR and has won several industry leagues in both baseball and football.
During baseball and football season, hear him every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore. On Thursdays, he visits 106.1 FM WMTI in New Orleans and Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, where he often crashes other shows, as well.
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