Perhaps the most intriguing of all fantasy baseball categories is stolen bases. It’s a singular stat in that it does not really correlate with any other stat. In other words, no other statistic piggybacks along nor does it dovetail with anything. Furthermore, while a steal involves both skill and opportunity, there are other factors unlike any other statistical category. Let’s focus on that for a bit.

The following all need to be in place for a stolen base to occur:

  • The runner needs to be on base
  • The base in front of the runner has to be open
  • The game situation must be appropriate for a steal
  • The runner needs the green light to run

No other event has that combination of factors. The last two are what really distinguish the steal. No one ever lost a HR or RBI because of defensive indifference. No team has a philosophy not to try to score runs.

But the game situation has to be just right and the team’s management must be willing to send runners for a steal to occur. That last statement need some embellishment.

In 2013, steals were down by about 600 as compared to 2011 and 2012. I did a study on this for Baseball HQ and concluded:

  1. While injuries were a factor, they didn’t account for the entire decline
  2. There was less of an influx than normal with respect to younger players that run
  3. Managers were much more selective giving the green light

This last factor was corroborated in a recent column in the Providence Journal.

So what does all this mean for the fantasy baseball player, especially keeping with the objective of this space being to identify players with long and short term categorical impact?

LONG TERM

Stolen bases will continue to be subjected to increased scrutiny. Team management will probably be even more diligent when picking opportunities to run. As such, the best candidates to rack up steals in the long term are players with better success rates and/or playing for organizations that are a bit behind the times and don’t put as much credence into the run-expectancy matrix that helps discern where a steal an effective ploy.

The benchmark considered acceptable is a 75 percent success rate. If you’re looking for a player to pad your seasonal stolen base total, be leery of those with success rates under 75 percent.

Team philosophy is a little more difficult to judge. A team may have a high stolen base total because their philosophy is to run or it may be elevated due to the presence of some capable base stealers. A team like Boston isn’t a running team, per say, but when Jacoby Ellsbury was healthy, the Red Sox were among the league leaders in steals because Ellsbury’s success rate granted him permission to run.

With the reminder that there have been both managerial and personnel changes that will influence 2014 tendencies, here is how the 30 MLB teams have fared in terms of stolen bases from 2011-2013.

  2011 2012 2013 AVE
Angels 135 134 82 117.0
Astros 118 105 110 111.0
Athletics 117 122 74 104.3
Blue Jays 131 123 112 122.0
Braves 77 101 64 80.7
Brewers 94 158 142 131.3
Cardinals 57 91 45 64.3
Cubs 69 94 63 75.3
Diamondbacks 133 93 62 96.0
Dodgers 126 104 78 102.7
Giants 85 118 67 90.0
Indians 89 110 117 105.3
Mariners 125 104 49 92.7
Marlins 95 149 78 107.3
Mets 130 79 114 107.7
Nationals 106 105 88 99.7
Orioles 81 58 79 72.7
Padres 170 155 118 147.7
Phillies 96 116 73 95.0
Pirates 108 73 94 91.7
Rangers 143 91 149 127.7
Rays 155 134 73 120.7
Red Sox 102 97 123 107.3
Reds 97 87 67 83.7
Rockies 118 100 112 110.0
Royals 153 132 153 146.0
Tigers 49 59 35 47.7
Twins 92 135 52 93.0
White Sox 81 109 105 98.3
Yankees 147 93 115 118.3

When you are researching for players to help for the rest of the season, ask yourself:

  1. Does the player carry a success rate of at least 75 percent?
  2. Does he play for a team that historically runs?
  3. If #2 is no, does the team have a history of allowing runners with an adequate success rate to run?

Personally, if I’m looking for some long term help in steals, I trust that Padres, Royals and Brewers will run. I avoid Braves, Cubs and Cardinals. The Tigers with new manager Brad Ausmus will be interesting to track. Under Jim Leyland, they hardly attempted a pilfer. It’s early Detroit looks to be running a ton more as they already have 17 steals, good for ninth best and already almost half of the 35 they swiped last year.

SHORT TERM

Once we complete introducing all the categories, the primary purpose of this bandwidth will be to identify players with a greater chance of snagging some bags over the next few days. Here, we want to focus on a pair of factors germane to the here and now:

  1. How adept is the opposition catcher at nailing would be base stealers?
  2. How well do the opposing pitchers hold runners on and limit running?

If you’re not already aware, both of these stats are readily available for free. My favorite source is ESPN.com. You can go back and look at past seasons numbers for both catchers and pitchers as well as track how they are doing this season.

START HERE for the catcher data

START HERE for the pitcher data

A couple of catchers to avoid are Yadier Molina and Matt Wieters. Someone to pick on is Welington Castillo.

Any time Anibal Sanchez is on the mound, there’s a good chance base runners will be flashed the steal sign. Ditto for John Lackey. On the other hand, even Billy Hamilton should think twice if Mark Buehrle is on the hill.

In the spirit of highlighting some latent steal candidates this weekend, here are some names to consider.

Sam Fuld and Pedro Florimon, Minnesota Twins: The aforementioned Sanchez toes the rubber against the Twins on Saturday and the Tigers in general are poor at defending the steal. Minnesota is middle-of-the-pack when it comes to running so far this season.

Scooter Gennett, Milwaukee Brewers: Jean Segura and Carlos Gomez will run against anyone but even Bernie Brewer may attempt a steal against the Cubs and the previously discussed Castillo.




Comments

Todd Zola 

Actually, I intended to paste in a table -- I'll regenerate and add it. Thanks for the catch and sorry for the omission.

costarican chata 

thanks for the pitchers' and catchers links' . appreciate that . however , this one is missing : "... here is how the 30 MLB teams rank in terms of stolen bases from 2011-2013."


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About Todd Zola

Affectionately known as Lord Zola, Todd was the 2013 Fantasy Sports Writers Association recipient of the Fantasy Baseball Article of the Year, Web. He's been with Mastersball since its inception in 1997 and presently Todd writes for the ESPN Insider and Baseball HQ. Todd is a frequent guest on SiriusXM and is a regular on HQ Radio. He's a veteran of Tout Wars and LABR as well as a multi-time NFBC champion. Follow Todd on Twitter @ToddZola

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