Brad Johnson

Saves and Steals

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All About Steals: NL Edition

Wednesday, March 21, 2018


For the last seven weeks, we've been deeply focused on relievers. The coverage kicked off with the All Bullpen Review followed by closer evaluations of the NL East, AL East, NL Central, AL Central, NL West, and AL West. It's time to switch gears to the “steals” portion of Saves and Steals. Let's focus on all players likely to swipe 10 or more bases. Buckle up, we have a lot of names to discuss.

 

As always, I welcome any and all criticism or suggestions. Think I missed somebody? Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @BaseballATeam.

 

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NL EAST

 

Philadelphia Phillies

 

Known Factors: Odubel Herrera, Cesar Hernandez

Upside Plays: Scott Kingery, Roman Quinn

 

Despite one of the more athletic rosters in the league, the Phillies project to produce a bottom 10 stolen base total. The reason can be found in their known factors. Herrera and Hernandez have a long history of base running snafus. Last year, Hernandez led the team with 20 attempts (15 steals). Herrera made only 13 attempts (eight steals). Both players can contribute to the category, but they certainly won't carry your team. Hernandez has a small chance to flourish under the new managerial staff.

 

Potential reinforcements sit on the periphery of the roster. Kingery is thought to be major league ready, but he's blocked by Hernandez. He possesses easy 30 steal speed. Across two levels in the minors last season, he stole 29 bases in 34 attempts. Quinn hasn't lost any speed to his myriad injuries. If he's ever healthy and granted an opportunity, he could be among the league leaders.

 

Atlanta Braves

 

Known Factors: Ender Inciarte, Ozzie Albies

Upside Plays: Ronald Acuna

 

Since his debut in 2014, Inciarte has stolen between 16 and 22 bases every season. He's curtailed attempts in recent years. His career best 22 swipes in 2017 required 718 plate appearances. By comparison, the 19 bags he stole in 2014 took only 447 plate appearances. It's still safe to bet on around 20 steals. Albies was seriously efficient last year. He stole 29 bases in 32 attempts split between Triple-A and the majors. As with Inciarte, I'd bet on 20 steals.

 

Acuna has league-changing potential. His five-category blend of talent could carry a club. Let's not ignore the downside – especially on the stolen base front. Last season, he swiped 44 bases in 64 attempts. That's a modest 69% success rate. If you focus on the upper minors, he went 30-for-47 – a 64 percent success rate. We can anticipate plenty of attempts. Actual success may be an issue.

 

Miami Marlins

 

Known Factors: J.T. Realmuto, Cameron Maybin

Upside Plays: Lewis Brinson, Magneuris Sierra, Braxton Lee

 

Since he's a catcher, it's cool that Realmuto steals about 10 bases a year. He's a good way to make up for no-speed sluggers like Khris Davis. Maybin obviously isn't a paragon of consistent production. Expect a low batting average and on base percentage. He also rarely stays healthy for a full season. When on the field, plan for a 10 home run, 30 steal pace with middling run production.

 

Keep an eye on the prospects. Brinson may break camp as the Marlins leadoff hitter. Long billed as a potential five-category monster, he hasn't shown much base running prowess in recent seasons. I anticipate an up and down season with only 10 steals. Sierra and Lee are speedy, no-power hitters. Sierra tends to draw rosier scouting reports, although I prefer Lee from a purely fantasy perspective. He could hit for a high average.

 

New York Mets

 

Known Factors: Jose Reyes

Upside Plays: Amed Rosario

 

Reyes looks like he could be a tidy little streaming target this year – somebody you pick up off the waiver wire for one or two games at a time. He'll fill a super utility role, making his playing time heavily dependent on injuries. He'll still manage a 30 steal pace when he plays – about one swipe every 20 plate appearances.

 

Rosario had an ugly debut as a painfully over-matched 21-year-old. He may yet emerge as a future star once he adjusts to major league pitching. Even with a .271 OBP last season, he managed seven steals (10 attempts) in 170 plate appearances. Reaching base more often could lead to 30 swipes. He has 15 home run pop too.

 

Washington Nationals

 

Known Factors: Trea Turner, Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Adam Eaton, Michael Taylor

Upside Plays: Victor Robles, Brian Goodwin

 

The Nationals don't lack for speed. Players like Harper and Rendon could steal anywhere from five to 15 bases. That's not why you drafted them - the base running is a bonus. Taylor may struggle to regularly crack the lineup. His 2017 breakout relied on a .363 BABIP. A slump may open the door for others to grab a share of the playing time. When in the lineup, anticipate a 20 steal pace. Eaton may ease back into his old habits. Expect about 10 to 12 steals.

 

Obviously, Turner is the gem. Barring injury, 40 steals feels like a floor. He has the potential to reach the elite 70 steal plateau. One factor working against him is the quality of the Washington offense. There's some incentive to ensure very few outs are made on the bases. Robles, the future of the Nationals outfield, looks like an easy 20 steal threat. Goodwin could make for a useful streaming candidate if he ever finds a predictable role.

 

NL CENTRAL

 

Cincinnati Reds

 

Known Factors: Billy Hamilton, Jose Peraza

Upside Plays: Nick Senzel

 

Hamilton is the gold standard in empty steals. He's seemingly always beset by injuries. It's prevented him from crossing the 60 steal plateau in the majors. Interestingly, he's stolen 56, 57, 58, and 59 bags in the last four seasons. Will the pattern continue? Peraza was billed as a scouting grade faster than his actual speed. He's capped at a 25 to 30 steal pace over a full season. The bigger issue is his playing time. Although he currently lines up as the starting shortstop, it appears to be a short term role.

 

Senzel is a natural athlete which is partly why the club is trying him as a shortstop. The Reds are also a try-hard team when it comes to stealing bases. I could see him taking 10 bags in 15 attempts.

 

Milwaukee Brewers

 

Known Factors: Lorenzo Cain, Jonathan Villar, Christian Yelich, Ryan Braun, Travis Shaw, Domingo Santana, Orlando Arcia

Upside Plays: Keon Broxton

 

The Brewers may lead the league in steals this year. You aren't drafting Braun, Santana, or Shaw for the SB category, but it's nice they can provide some support. Arcia's best category is steals, but he still only projects for 10 to 15. Yelich has an exaggerated reputation as a base thief. Expect another 10 to 15 swipes.

 

Cain and Villar are the carrying forces. Despite his status as a thief, Cain has yet to reach the 30 steal plateau. It's unlikely to happen in his age 32 season. Still, it feels safe to bet on more than 20 steals along with slightly improved power output. Villar is a volatile alternative. Playing time is far from assured. Even with regular action, he may range anywhere from 25 to 50 steals. Keep an eye on his walk and strikeout rates.

 

Broxton is an inconsistent hitter with 20 homer and 20 steal ability. He's hopelessly buried on the Brewers depth chart. Watch for injuries to the starters.

 

St. Louis Cardinals

 

Known Factors: Tommy Pham, Kolten Wong, Dexter Fowler

 

Wong and Fowler aren't total zeroes in the stolen base department. Neither will they carry your roster. Both look like candidates to take 10 bases. By comparison, Pham may snag between 20 and 30 bags if healthy. He has a gritty, hard-nosed playing style which has led to injuries in the past. He also has a degenerative eye disease called keratoconus. Risks aside, I'm vaguely reminded of Charlie Blackmon's breakout.

 

Chicago Cubs

 

Known Factors: Javier Baez, Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Ian Happ, Jason Heyward

 

Here's a list of five Cubs who may steal 10 bases plus/minus a handful. With the exception of the mysteriously terrible Heyward, these are all power-first guys with a hint of speed.

 

Pittsburgh Pirates

 

Known Factors: Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco, Josh Harrison, Adam Frazier

Upside Plays: Austin Meadows

 

Harrison, Frazier, and Polanco are all guys who will settle somewhere around a 10 steal pace. It's useful but not game breaking. Marte could rebound after a truncated season. He stole 47 bases in 2016 before missing a big chunk of 2017 to a PED suspension. He also struggled when on the field. An improved OBP could spark another 40 steal campaign.

 

Meadows has shown 20 steal ability in the minors. Unfortunately, he's yet to demonstrate a major league ready bat. An opportunity may arise during the season.

 

NL WEST

 

Arizona Diamondbacks

 

Known Factors: Paul Goldschmidt, Chris Owings, A.J. Pollock, Ketel Marte, Steven Souza, Jarrod Dyson

 

The humidor could have a major influence on the Arizona offense. Given their impressive team speed, we may see a shift towards even more stolen base attempts. Goldschmidt – and to a lesser extent Pollock and Souza – are the premium names. One of these years, Goldy is going to stop running. I'm not saying it'll be 2018. It's merely an increasing risk. Pollock is a safe source of 20 steals with some five-category upside. Souza offers a similar profile with 10 to 15 steal speed.

 

The freemium alternatives are Marte, Owings, and Dyson. We know Dyson will run wild. He typically nabs about 30 bases in 300 plate appearances. A fair chunk of those come as a pinch runner – something fantasy owners can't really exploit. We've heard about Marte's speed for years, but it doesn't really show up in games. Plan on 10 swipes. Owings has been forced into a super utility role. With the humidor slowing down his hard ground ball contact, he'll need his speed more than ever.

 

Los Angeles Dodgers

 

Known Factors: Cody Bellinger, Chris Taylor, Yasiel Puig

 

Once again, the Dodgers are set to perform as a station-to-station ball club. Bellinger and Puig like to show off their athleticism on occasion. Neither should be viewed as a serious source of steals. Anything you get from them is a bonus. Taylor probably needs to take 15 to 20 bags to reward owners for his current ADP. A decline in BABIP could cut into his opportunities. Conversely, he's well positioned to receive more plate appearances this season.

 

San Francisco Giants

 

Known Factors: Andrew McCutchen

 

This is a sluggardly team. McCutchen might push upwards of 15 steals. I assume he'll be trying to show off his fitness in preparation for his run through free agency. Even with Cutch's help, the entire club might not manage 30 steals.

 

San Diego Padres

 

Known Factors: Wil Myers, Manny Margot, Cory Spangenberg, Freddy Galvis

Upside Plays: Travis Jankowski, Franchy Cordero

 

I'm worried about Myers' health in the outfield. In an effort to stay on the field, we may see fewer stolen base attempts. Margot is supposed to be a 30 steal threat, but we've yet to see him approach his upside. Last year, he managed only 17 steals in 24 attempts. Spangenberg and Galvis are solid streaming options if your middle infield depth has completely collapsed. Both have just enough power and speed to offer some upside.

 

Jankowski has a fourth outfielder's skill set reminiscent of Scott Podsednik (remember him?). Like Podsednik, a surprise season as a starter could deliver a big stolen base total. Cordero only projects for about 10 steals, but he's much more likely to be given a clean shot at a regular job.

 

Colorado Rockies

 

Known Factors: Ian Desmond, Charlie Blackmon, DJ LeMahieu, Trevor Story

Upside Plays: David Dahl, Raimel Tapia

 

Let's address LeMahieu and Story first. They'll produce about 10 steals. You're picking LeMahieu for his on-base ability. Select Story for his power. A rebound from Desmond could come with 20 stolen bases. He's stolen 13 or more in eight straight seasons – including 15 in just 373 plate appearances last season. Blackmon honestly shouldn't be attempting steals. Over the last two seasons, he's gone 31-for- 50. A 62 percent success rate is unconscionable ahead of hitters like Nolan Arenado.



You can read more from Brad Johnson on Rotoworld, FanGraphs, and RotoBaller. Find him on Patreon and Twitter @BaseballATeam.
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