Stolen bases, like saves, can be a difficult chase for even the most dedicated of fantasy owners. In fact, I think they can even be tougher. One can study usage patterns and success rates to get a sort of ‘feel’ for who the manager might trust in close-and-late situations, but stolen bases — at least as far as the research I have/haven’t read — are less predictive. They can come in droves, or they can trickle in a few every week, or if you’re Billy Hamilton, it’s an all-out assault.
I took a look at some potential sleepers on the stolen base front a few weeks ago. Today, let’s take a peek at some possible underwhelmers as it pertains to base thievery.
Rajai Davis – OF – Blue Jays
Currently a man without a starting spot, Davis is unlikely to see enough time on the field to repeat his task as the second-best base thief in the major leagues. Of course, he’ll probably see some time late in games as a situational runner, and potential defensive replacement, but that’s not likely predictable enough to make him worth a roster stash. Secondly, Davis doesn’t really hit. His career wOBA is .306, and he’s spent the past two seasons beneath that mark. Entering his age-32 season, it’s probably good to stay away.
Everth Cabrera – SS – Padres
I know the prevailing wisdom is that Cabrera will hit in front of the pitcher and probably pretty much have no restrictions on the basepaths, but like Davis, Cabrera simply can’t hit. With a .290 career wOBA — not to mention he’s a dreadful fielder — Cabrera teeters on the brink of whether or not he’ll actually hit enough to swipe the bags. Now I completely understand the objections. His wOBA in 2012 was .291, and he managed to swipe 44 bags (third in MLB).
Emilio Bonifacio – 2B – Blue Jays
The 2013 Jays are going to be a team of bangers again, but I think it’s possible they’ll still maintain a semblance of stolen base propensity with Jose Reyes and Bonifacio in tow. With that said, I’m not entirely convinced Bonifacio won’t be platooned with Maicer Izturis in some sort of sick and twisted plot to use two top-60 stolen base threats for the greater good of the real team while taking a dump all over fantasy owners. But don’t shoot the messenger, this is just how I see it.
Juan Pierre – OF – Marlins
I think a lot of people are thinking Pierre, who may well hit atop the Marlins batting order, will run wild because the team’s offense is likely to be so bad, but I’m just not convinced. For one, Pierre is moving to a park which literally stunts everything a left-handed hitter does offensively. Secondly, Pierre just doesn’t look like a full-time player anymore. His best seasons in recent memory have come in those which he’s batted fewer than 500 times. Those seasons are interspersed with 700 plate appearance seasons which saw Pierre struggle to maintain a .300 wOBA. Add to this that Pierre will be entering his age-35 season, and I think there’s serious decline potential here. Finally, if the Marlins are routinely behind in games — and it seems like this is a decent bet — a lot of times that can shut down the running game unless the contests stay close. I think Pierre could be a nice low-upside guy, but again I think the steal prospectors in your league are going to be all over him.
Dee Gordon – SS – Dodgers
I’m not convinced the Dodgers will stick with Luis Cruz at the hot corner, but I’m convinced he’ll hang long enough for the club to not get Gordon stolen bases soon enough for him to be a draftable asset. Furthermore, like many on the list, he’s got a long way to go to prove he can hang at the big league level offensively. The Dodgers were middle of the pack steals-wise last season, but I think they’re also a team that will trend downward, as most playoff teams last year were in the lower-half of the stolen base ledger, and this looks like a playoff club. I’m not saying any of these individual theories — opportunity/hitting/playoffs — is a winner on its own, but I think the three conspire together to make Gordon hands-off unless at least one of those three are knocked out.
Jason Kipnis – 2B – Indians
Kipnis wowed a lot of people and probably won a few some valuable fantasy points by stealing 31 bases last season. And while Kipnis was a reasonably efficient base thief in the minors (75%), he didn’t even steal that many bags in parts of three seasons down on the farm. I think it’s a bit of a double-edge sword with Kipnis. The Indians obviously want to groom him as a middle-of-the-order hitter, and last season when he didn’t take that next step forward as a hitter, they were able to massage some added value out of him when he stole at a better than 80% clip. Personally, I think he improves as a hitter and becomes more of a middle-of-the-order bat — the kind that rarely steals many bases — while a guy like Drew Stubbs picks up the slack on the stolen base front for the Tribe.
Darin Mastroianni – CF – Twins
Mastroianni is a trendy pick as a sleeper this year — heck, even I tabbed him as such a few weeks back — but tread lightly. For one, there seems to be a bit more steam that Aaron Hicks could make the club out of spring training. Secondly, if Mastroianni is just keeping the spot warm, he may only provide owners with about a third of a season of value. Finally, nobody is quite sure if he can hit. If a .303 wOBA is a ‘pleasant surprise’ of a season for you as a hitter, well…
Alexi Casilla – 2B – Orioles
It’s not as much about Casilla’s likely spot on the bench for the O’s — he should get playing time behind Brian Roberts and Ryan Flaherty — or that he doesn’t hit much, but that Buck Showalter just doesn’t send many baserunners. Last year the Orioles were dead last in the majors with 58 steals, joining the Tigers (59) as the only two teams under 70 steals.