Collette Calls: The Need For Speed

Collette Calls: The Need For Speed

This article is part of our Collette Calls series.

Now that the Bold Predictions series is completed, it is time to shift gears into helping you finalize draft prep by looking into the macro-level data and helping you decide how to progress with your plans. I believe how you address steals will be more important than any other category this season. 

Stolen bases are one of the more enjoyable parts of baseball as it is skill vs. skill. The baserunner can read the pitcher's move and do whatever they can to close the 90-foot gap between the bases successfully before the catcher fires the baseball to a defender covering the bag. Rickey Henderson set the MLB record stealing 130 bases in 1982, while Billy Hamilton set the minor-league record with 155 steals between High-A and Double-A baseball in 2012. Before Hamilton set the record, Vince Coleman owned the minor-league record with 145 steals in 1983, edging out Donnell Nixon by one steal that season. As the home run became more prevalent in baseball, managers were reticent to take the change of giving up an out or a potential run putting runners in motion, and the trend has not gotten any better in recent years despite more success in those attempts:

One school of thought is managers are just getting better at picking their spots to run and are not giving away as many outs as their predecessors did. Another school of thought is that teams have put greater emphasis on controlling the running game and are willing to carry

Now that the Bold Predictions series is completed, it is time to shift gears into helping you finalize draft prep by looking into the macro-level data and helping you decide how to progress with your plans. I believe how you address steals will be more important than any other category this season. 

Stolen bases are one of the more enjoyable parts of baseball as it is skill vs. skill. The baserunner can read the pitcher's move and do whatever they can to close the 90-foot gap between the bases successfully before the catcher fires the baseball to a defender covering the bag. Rickey Henderson set the MLB record stealing 130 bases in 1982, while Billy Hamilton set the minor-league record with 155 steals between High-A and Double-A baseball in 2012. Before Hamilton set the record, Vince Coleman owned the minor-league record with 145 steals in 1983, edging out Donnell Nixon by one steal that season. As the home run became more prevalent in baseball, managers were reticent to take the change of giving up an out or a potential run putting runners in motion, and the trend has not gotten any better in recent years despite more success in those attempts:

One school of thought is managers are just getting better at picking their spots to run and are not giving away as many outs as their predecessors did. Another school of thought is that teams have put greater emphasis on controlling the running game and are willing to carry defensive-first type catchers such as Austin Hedges and Martin Maldonado for their ability to make the opposition think twice before sending runners. One has to imagine how much worse Baltimore's pitching would have been last season if their pitcher/catcher battery did not have the third-best caught stealing percentage behind the Show-Me State duo of Kansas City and St. Louis:

The main point is that the league had 50 players steal 20 or more bases in the 2011 season, and that number has declined year after year save one small bump a few years ago:

Now that baseball has been caught red-handed using two different baseballs last season, there is the possibility of a single neutral baseball in play as the owners look for another way to tamp down their costs by lessening the numbers that impact contracts and arbitration hearings. If the long ball declines in 2022, can steals make a comeback? You should proactively consider how you will approach rostering steals in your drafts. I don't specifically speak to auction strategy in this piece because you have more control over how you would like to allocate your dollars and force the action while a snake draft leaves you with decisions to make between your picks each round.

Our projections account for 1,992 stolen bases, and 2,725 stolen base attempts, this upcoming season. If that holds, it would be a 6.8% decrease in the attempts from this past season. We are projecting 16 players to steal as many as 20 bases, which would further the decline from the graph above should that hold as well. I find it practical to look at how those projected steals are distributed by ADP range; the first graph shows the distribution in ADP buckets of 100 while the second one shows buckets of 50:

Over one-third of the projected steals pool is gone by pick 100, which would be in the front half of the ninth round in a 12-team league and the back half of the seventh round in a 15-team league. Over half of the projected steals are out of the pool by the time you get to the 200th pick in a draft, which is the back half of the 16th round in a 12-team league and the front half of the 14th round in a 15-team league.  

I include the 50 grouping in the table because it speaks specifically to some popular strategies going on in drafts. If you go "pocket aces" and open your draft with two starting pitchers, and target a closer or a power hitter with your third pick in a 15-team draft, you have already cast aside 22% of the projected steals. You must then look to build up your steals throughout the later rounds to make up for what you passed on. I speak from experience on this as I tested out this strategy for the first time this year opening with Brandon Woodruff and Walker Buehler in a 15-team Draft Champions and was forced to spend the rest of my draft looking to pick up speed as I went along in an attempt to reach my target of 120 steals:

Round

Player

Projected SB

3rd

Francisco Lindor

16

5th

Brandon Lowe

5

6th 

Nolan Arenado

2

7th

Giancarlo Stanton

1

8th

Akil Baddoo

16

9th

Josh Bell

0

11th

Amed Rosario

13

13th

Andrew Benintendi

11

15th

Harrison Bader

11

16th

Bobby Dalbec

3

17th

Elias Diaz

0

20th

Luis Arraez

2

22nd

Cesar Hernandez

3

23rd

Danny Jansen

0

TOT

 

83

I fell short in my efforts to reach that total, and used reserve picks on Lorenzo Cain (18), Rougned Odor (4), Kyle Isbel (9), Tony Kemp (7), Chad Pinder (2), Taylor Walls (8) and TJ Friedl (4) in an attempt to make up the difference. It was actually this draft that led me into digging further into the situation to see what I would do differently with a similar approach or any draft where I did not take more steals early and was forced to find them later. As I looked at how projected steals played out against ADP, a few names popped up that I would like to discuss:

If you were to take Adalberto Mondesi as your fourth-round selection, you should be off to a nice start. However, anyone who has rostered Mr. September in recent seasons knows how frustrating the other five months of the season can be with him. There is a reason why he is where he is despite him standing alone as a game-changer in steals after the 50th pick. 

Myles Straw has been hotly debated on Twitter and podcasts of late. He certainly has his flaws as a hitter, but he is projected to hit leadoff for the Guardians this year and will have Terry Francona's lead foot back on the gas pedal as he is hopefully recovered from last year's issues and will be on the bench all season. Straw has already shown he can steal 30 in the bigs (and 70-plus in the minors previously), but the potential for him to steal 40 is why he is being taken where he is this winter despite his offensive limitations. Straw went toward the end of the 10th round in the aforementioned draft, but went at the back of the eighth round in the AFL Writers League in which Jeff Erickson, Clay Link and myself have teams. 

Jonathan Villar is one of 16 players we project with 20 or more steals this season, and he is still going outside the top 250 even with the speed and dual-position eligibility because of his free-agent status. Villar's ADP will jump up a few rounds once a club signs him to a starting role as he is one of just five players with double-digit steals in each of the past six seasons, joining Trea Turner, Jose Ramirez, Starling Marte and Mookie Betts. Villar went with the third pick of the 23rd round in one league and the middle of the 21st in the AFL Writers League. 

Finally, there is Leody Taveras, whose ADP has taken quite a plunge from last year when he was inside the top 200. Taveras has shown little ability to hit at the major-league level, but is also 18-for-19 in his stolen base attempts when he has managed to reach base in his 82 big-league games. He is playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic and has hit .274/.396/.363 with more walks than strikeouts while going 11 of 12 on the basepaths. Taveras has an ADP of 493 and we project him with 21 steals. He went in the 36th round of my aforementioned draft, the same round I took Chad Pinder. I had the chance to correct that in the AFL Writers League, taking Taveras 35.3. 

I really hope that we see a rebound in steals this year if the league is forced to adjust to a different baseball league-wide as steals are an exciting part of baseball and help dispel the notion the sport is full of standing around waiting for something amazing to happen. However, if the league continues its recent trend, expect to be chasing sources of speed in FAAB leagues much as you do saves while being forced into lineup choices in Draft and Hold leagues to take advantage of matchups that may or may not produce the desired outcomes.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jason Collette
Jason has been helping fantasy owners since 1999 at RotoJunkie, Fanball, Baseball Prospectus and now here at RotoWire. You can hear Jason weekly on many of the Sirius/XM Fantasy channel offerings throughout the season as well as on the Sleeper and the Bust podcast every Sunday. A ten-time FSWA finalist, Jason won the FSWA's Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year award in 2013 and the Baseball Series of the Year award in 2018 for Collette Calls.
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