This article can be found (soon) at RotoInfo.com. Photo left courtesy of the Washington Post.
For years the steal has been an overlooked fantasy stat. Why not? The steroid era made us all fall in love with the big boppers who could rack up the home runs, RBI and runs totals and we stocked our teams with big run producers with little other redeeming value (I am looking at you, Jermaine Dye).
Getting specific players to fill specific categories is not necessarily a bad thing. Balance is overrated in fantasy baseball. A team should definitely be crafted to be stronger in some areas over another, but that does not mean you completely neglect other categories. A lineup full of home run hitters tends to not steal a lot of bases and so on.
During a fantasy draft, the place you do not want to pick up category specific players is in the first four to five rounds. Good talent is always available well into the fifth round. Take the best player at the premium positions and be patient. The old saying is that you cannot win your fantasy baseball draft in the first (couple) of rounds, but you can lose it.
Where you win fantasy baseball is by exploiting market inefficiency in the middle rounds and finding the key sleepers in the late rounds or on the waiver wire. This is where the category of steals comes in.
In ESPN’s free league, the average draft position (ADP) of Carl Crawford is 10th. Jacoby Ellbury is 20th. Both of these players do three specific things for you – steal bases, score runs and hit for average (though Crawford threw in a bonus 15 home runs last year).
Ellsbury – 691 plate appearances, .301 average, .355 on-base percentage, 94 runs, 8 home runs, 70 stolen bases
Crawford – 672 plate appearances, .305 average, .364 On-base percentage, 96 runs, 15 home runs, 60 stolen bases.
Now take a look at three young outfielders with ADPs in the middle rounds.
Player A – ADP 84, 493 plate appearances, .286 average, .365 on-base percentage, 74 runs, 12 home runs, 22 stolen bases
Player B – ADP 135, 533 plate appearances, .307 average, .369 on-base percentage, 74 runs, 3 home runs, 42 stolen bases
Player C – ADP 158, 390 plate appearances, .305 average, .360 on-base percentage, 65 runs, 3 home runs, 41 stolen bases
Outfield, by definition, is the deepest category of in fantasy baseball. Yes, it is nice to have guys like Crawford on your team but the 10th pick in a draft may be better spent on taking someone at a position where there is a bigger drop off after the elite players. Joe Mauer (ADP 13) would not be a bad player at the 10th spot because there are not any catchers worth drafting at value after him for about six rounds.
So, what do players A, B and C give at better value than going after Crawford or Ellsbury in the top rounds? All three hit for average, have high stolen base totals (or potential for more) and score enough runs that they will not kill you in that category.
Players A, B and C (in order) are Andrew McCutchen, Nyjer Morgan and Rajai Davis.
If you went for power and production near the top of the draft, sprinkled in some pitchers along the way and took these three players, you should be able to come close to winning the stolen base category and have trade leverage late in the season on any team that lags in that category.
In a value bet, these three are good for your money. They provide multi-category (average, stolen base) bang that can lengthen your roster and put you in the middle to top of several offensive categories. Remember, in fantasy you can win a league without winning a category but having strong performances in almost all categories definitely helps. You can lead by a mile in home runs but you do not get more points for how big your lead is.
Dan Rowinski is a Fantasy Baseball Columnist for Rotoinfo.com. If you have any questions or comments feel free to e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter at Dan_Rowinski.
You can help Sports Chutney by visiting Amazon to look for some baseball related books. My favorite, as always, is anything from Baseball Prospectus. Baseball Prospectus 2010 now available.