Chicks dig the long ball. I know that to be true because my girlfriend—who magically became interested in fantasy baseball after I qualified for a championship that resulted in a free trip to the Bahamas for us—asks me each morning, “Get any dongs last night?” When I get a lot of dongs, I make a lot of money. No dongs, not as much money, ergo chicks dig the long ball.
With almost all of my batter selections—GPPs or cash games—I want someone who is capable of going deep with some regularity. Even in head-to-head and 50/50 games, I think it’s okay to take on risk if the potential reward is asymmetrical, and I think that’s indeed the case even with pretty volatile home run hitters like Evan Gattis.
But there’s another type of player I’m willing to roster, and one I’ve targeted more and more of late: the base-stealer. Like power hitters, base-stealers have high ceilings. When the fantasy value of a stolen base is the same as a double, there’s certainly a reason to target these guys. Further, one of the overlooked aspects of a stolen base is that it comes in addition to other fantasy production. Unless a guy got on base via an error, he gave you at least two fantasy points when he originally got on base. Thus, a stolen base is really worth a minimum of seven points in most cases.
And stolen bases can come in bunches. When a guy like Billy Hamilton is in a great spot to steal a bag—whether it’s due to the pitcher’s motion or a poor throwing catcher—he can often rack up at least a pair of steals, and sometimes more, in a single game.
On top of all that, I think you can make a pretty strong case for stolen bases coming at a cheaper price than home runs. It’s easier to find a low-priced speedster with stolen base upside than a cheap power hitter.
With that said, I have some data on historic stolen base and caught stealing rates. This is from a spreadsheet that was recently sent to me by Jim Sannes (an absolute stud with fantasy data and analysis, by the way…follow him on Twitter).
The blue line represents the percentage of stolen bases over the past five seasons that have come via players at each spot in the batting order. To try to control (somewhat) for talent levels when it comes to swiping bags, I also included the percentage of times caught stealing. Unsurprisingly, early-in the-order batters have a higher stolen base success rate than late-in the-order hitters (as represented by the blue line exceeding the orange line).
I don’t think there’s any doubt that leadoff hitters are generally the best base-stealers as a whole. I also think it’s pretty intuitive that they’ll get the most shots at stealing a bag based on their spot in the order and the fact that they always have at least one shot to get on first base with no one else on.
But I didn’t think the difference would be so substantial; leadoff hitters steal way more bags even than No. 2 hitters, despite batters who hit second being about as successful in terms of steal rate. Certainly there’s a selection bias at work with teams placing their top base-stealers—and those who will take off the most—in the leadoff spot. However, there’s also a ton of value for a base-stealer to hit at the top of the order.
I think this is important information when we’re searching for cheap value base-stealers. The spot in the order matters for every player, but it is way more vital to a base-stealer than a power hitter. Whereas the difference in expected production probably isn’t monumental for a power hitter batting No. 4 versus No. 5, it is quite large for a base-stealer leading off versus hitting second.
A lot of MLB teams rotate who leads off for them (Tigers, Twins, A’s, Dodgers, Indians, Orioles, Rays, and others) and there are a handful of players who move all throughout the order. When a player like Alejandro De Aza is leading off for Baltimore versus hitting eighth, that is a sensational difference in his fantasy value—even more so than what the additional plate appearances represent. If you’re looking for cheap upside, it makes sense to target a batter who moves up to the leadoff spot, due to both the increase in plate appearances and the improved base-stealing ability.