Fantasy Baseball: 3 Base Stealers to Target
It won't come as a surprise to learn that stolen bases are a commodity that is in short supply in modern baseball.
In fact, last year's Major League total of 2,280 stolen bases across all teams was almost 200 fewer than in 2018 (2.474) and almost 250 fewer than 2017 (2,527). The total of 2,280 was the fewest MLB has seen in a non-strike shortened season since 1973 (2,034) -- you know, when there were six fewer teams than are playing now.
While we may not need as many steals to be competitive as in years past, the fact remains that our fantasy teams must secure some solid foundation of stolen bases as more and more Major League teams hold up the stop sign and wait for batting lineups to move baserunners along via hit or walk rather than risk a valuable out.
This piece will look at three speedsters who still have the opportunity to do some real damage on the basepaths this season, despite the depressed stolen base environment: One from the early rounds, one in the middle of the draft, and one sleeper in the later rounds. In doing this, my goal will also be to not straddle you with one-category base stealers who force you to play catch-up in all other offensive statistics. The Jarrod Dysons (406 ADP), Delino DeShields Jr.'s (454), and Dee Gordons (284) of the world can all be drafted late, but they will contribute very little elsewhere.
All ADP information comes from FantasyPros.
Starling Marte (ADP 29th) - Marte's stolen base total dropped from 33 in 2018 to 25 in 2019. In fact, his 25 stolen bases were the lowest in a full season for his entire career. But what that drop in total steals does not reflect is the drastic improvement in his success rate on the basepaths. In 2018 when he stole 33 bases, he was also caught 14 times -- most in the league -- for only a 70% success rate. Last year, Marte was much more selective in his attempts, only getting caught stealing six times, raising his success rate to almost 81%.
Moving out of Pittsburgh for the first time in his career, it will be interesting to see what impact (if any) there is on his stolen base potential. On one hand, the Arizona Diamondbacks have ranked middle of the pack in MLB both of the past two years with about 0.64 stolen base attempts per game. On the other hand, Marte replaces Jarrod Dyson in center field and Dyson attempted 53 stolen bases over the past two season in the desert, roughly 26% of the Diamondbacks total in 2018-2019. With a spot solidified at or near the top of the lineup for 2020, Marte will hopefully be given the freedom on the basepaths that Dyson enjoyed during his time in Arizona.
None of the major projection systems list Marte lower than 25 stolen bases, assuming an average of 140 games played in 2020 (perhaps optimistic at this point). Considering he blossomed into a true five-category stud in 2019 and the lack of consistent base-stealing threats these days, Marte should easily live up to his late third round price tag.
Danny Santana (ADP 133) - The season starting on a delay may end up being a positive thing for Danny Santana in terms of his role in 2020 -- however many games that ends up being. During the early weeks of Spring Training, there were rumblings about a centerfield positional battle between Santana and hot prospect Nick Solak. Rangers manager Chris Woodward has come out since and said that Santana will be the primary center fielder in Texas. The probability is high that there will only be an extremely shortened Spring Training once games are announced to resume, so Santana shouldn't face the grind of a competition from Solak he would have otherwise.
Armed with this information, we can use Santana's 2019 as a baseline from which we can begin to build a stolen base projection. Santana stole 21 bases and hit 28 home runs in his 130 games played last year, totaling 511 plate appearances, far and away the most trips to the plate in his career. If he can reach or top that number of games in 2020 (or at least that same percentage of the whole season), he has one of the best combinations of role and team to take advantage of stolen base opportunities. Projected to bat fourth or fifth, Santana plays for the team that attempted the most stolen bases per game last season -- 1.04 per game, including 1.25 per game at home.
With players like Solak and Elvis Andrus in the lineup for 2020, it would be in the Rangers' best interest to continue giving the green light when these players get on base. As a team, they ranked seventh in 2019 with a 78% stolen base success rate. Santana would benefit greatly from this aggressive approach, as his speed score ended up in elite territory last season -- second in the Majors among qualified players, ahead of players like Trea Turner and Starling Marte. Fresh off a season where he was successful on 77% of his own attempts, Santana legitimately has a shot to repeat the pace that makes him one of the few remaining 20/20 candidates in baseball.
Garrett Hampson (ADP 194) - You may not know much about Garret Hampson, but trust me when I tell you he is a very fast man. Finally earning a shot with the Colorado Rockies in the final two-thirds of 2019, Hampson accumulated 15 stolen bases in only 72 games started. His other-worldly speed undeniably led to that total, as he quickly stood out as an outlier among his peers, especially at second base.
According to Baseball Savant, Hampson's sprint speed (30.1 ft/sec) ranked fourth among all Major League players last year, and his speed from home plate to first base ranked 19th (4.06 seconds). But for as good as those numbers are, they really begin to stand out when you compare him to his peers at second base, Hampson's primary position in 2019.
That outlier green dot all the way to the right is Hampson, almost one foot per second faster than any of his peers at the position.
Although a young player (25 years old), Hampson has always been known to be a phenomenal base stealer. Between 2016 and 2018 he averaged 41 stolen bases per years through the Minors before making it to Colorado.
As he did last year, Hampson will likely have to fight for playing time in a talented Rockies lineup. But Hampson can play all over the diamond and comes into 2020 eligible at second base, shortstop, and outfield.
Projection systems vary widely on his output for 2020, likely because of an unknown role. All projection models that have him playing 100+ games, however, predicting more than 20 stolen bases on the year. Combine that with a healthy average in the .260-.270 range and a fistful of runs, and Hampson looks like a steal in the 20th round.