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March 29, 2010

Fantasy Beat

Steal This Post

by Craig Brown

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If the cliché is correct and chicks dig the long ball, then who digs the stolen base? Certain small-ball managers and fantasy players, that’s who.  

Everyone wants a burner, the guy who can swipe 50 bags and basically hand you a top-four finish in the stolen base category. The problem is, there are just a handful of players that you can count on to consistently rack up those kind of numbers. Instead of overpaying for a premium stolen base guy, think about buying steals in the later rounds and the waiver wire—where a handful of guys with 20-steal potential can be found.

The following players have a sub 200 ADP and are projected by PECOTA for at least 20 steals this season. They’re ideal for a late round flier or a post-draft waiver wire pick-up.

Drew Stubbs
PECOTA: .239/.315/.353, 9 HR, 48 RBI, 70 R, 26 SB

There’s no doubt Stubbs is a tantalizing talent. One thing that makes him intriguing is his stolen base total has increased each season since he made his debut in the Pioneer League.

2006: 19 SB in Rookie League
2007: 23 SB in Single-A
2008: 33 SB in High-A, Double-A and Triple-A combined
2009: 46 SB in Triple-A

For good measure, he added 10 steals in his late season call-up for the Cincinnati Reds, giving him a grand total of 56 for the entire season. Stubbs was impressive enough in his audition with the big club that he entered camp with the starting center-field job his to lose.

And it certainly looked as though Stubbs was going to cough up that starting job when he stumbled through the first half of the spring, hitting just .100 with two hits in his first 20 at bats. However, he’s warmed up, pounding three home runs and grabbing 11 hits in his last 23 at bats in games thorough Saturday. He also finally attempted his first steal of spring last Friday.  

Stubbs’ hot spring finish officially punches his ticket for the starting CF job in Cincinnati where his speed means he’s likely to hit leadoff for Dusty Baker. Long-term, that’s not the best spot for him in the lineup given that he strikes out too much to be effective at the top of the order—he whiffed once every 4.25 plate appearances in the minors. The strikeouts will ultimately hold down his batting average which in turn, will put a damper on his overall fantasy value until he develops a consistent power stroke. Short-term, he's going to steal bases and score runs.

Although he wings and misses too often, Stubbs has shown fair selectivity at the dish—he’s walked in 12 percent of his plate appearances in the minors—so he does have the ability to get on base at a decent clip. And once he gets on, his speed is most certainly a weapon—and an asset to your fantasy team.

If the Reds are patient with Stubbs and don’t do something foolish—like send him down to the minors during his first prolonged slump—he’ll smash his PECOTA steal projection.

Scott Podsednik
PECOTA: .277/.342/.376, 6 HR, 49 RBI, 69 R, 23 SB

Podsednik had been leaking OBP over the course of three seasons before stemming the tide with a .353 on base percentage in 2009. That marked only the second time in the previous six seasons he’s posted an OBP better than .350.  And it wasn’t a coincidence that last year was the first time since 2006 he finished with more than 20 steals. (He finished with 30 thefts in 43 attempts.)

Podsednik doesn’t walk (he owns a career walk rate of 8.1 percent) so his ability to get on base is far too dependent upon his ability to hit for a high average. That normally doesn’t work so well. Last year, Podsednik hit .304, his best average since he was a rookie for the Brewers in 2003. With a 1.15 GB/FB ratio last year compared to a career rate of 1.05, he was still hitting plenty of balls on the ground, except for the first time in a long time, a higher number of those worm burners found their way through the infield. His .341 BABIP for 2009 makes him a candidate to regress in 2010.  

Another factor that works against Podsednik is the fact he’s just not that good of a baserunner. Podsednik has been successful in 75 percent of his stolen base attempts for his career.  And he’s been below that threshold every season since 2005. Last year, his 1.5 EQBRR ranked him 90th—far below the number posted by his base stealing peers. He hurts his team more than he helps, but it’s a good thing for us fantasy guys that his manager doesn’t subscribe to this site.

He’s far from ideal, but Podsednik will leadoff or bat second for the Kansas City Royals, so he figures to get plenty of chances, and at 34 years old, he’ll take every chance he can find. The Royals are placing value on speed and defense, so when Podsednik gets on base, he’ll be off to the races. Despite the fact his batting average and OBP will likely decline, it’s safe to grab him for the steals and the runs he’ll amass at the top of the order. Just keep your fingers crossed that PECOTA was correct on his average and on base percentage and the fall off from last season isn’t too far.  

Lastings Milledge
PECOTA: .262/.329/.398, 16 HR, 66 RBI, 69 R, 20 SB

Playing in parts of four major-league seasons, Milledge has cracked the 20 steal barrier exactly one time: In 2008 with the Nationals, when he played in a career-high 138 games while amassing 587 plate appearances. Milledge has the wheels, he’s just never given himself much of an opportunity (outside of ’08) to showcase his speed. Now that he’s moved on to Pittsburgh, that figures to change given he’ll be the starting left fielder for the Pirates.  

That’s a positive step for Milledge, but you have to think he could steal more bases if he’d cut down on his hacktastic tendencies that have seen him draw a walk in only 6 percent of his plate appearances which puts the clamps on his OBP. Plus, his walk rate has declined in each of the last two seasons, which isn't a positive. Milledge just doesn’t make enough contact to overcome his lack of discipline, so if you decide he's your guy you’ll have to live with the low batting average and OBP. It comes with the territory.    

Milledge as a steal guy could also be a bit of a gamble as he has mostly hit in the sixth spot for the Pirates this spring and he figures to hit there once the games start for real. That’s really where he belongs in the order.  Plus, with Andrew McCutchen and Akinori Iwamura settled at one and two, Milledge was never going to hit toward the top of the lineup. (He hit second when he first arrived in Pittsburgh, but then dropped in the order.) And although the Pirates are looking to be aggressive on the bases, Milledge is still a bit green when it comes to base thievery and base running in general. For his career, he’s been successful in 35 out of 52 stolen base attempts—a subpar 67-percent success rate. In his lone season of 20-plus steals, he posted a -0.6 EQBRR. The fear is, if Milledge isn’t successful in his opportunities, the Pirates will clamp down on his attempts.

Luckily, the Pirates can afford to be patient with their young outfielder. He doesn’t stand out in any other categories—although he could be a decent RBI guy given his spot in the order. However, if you’re looking for a handful of steals, Milledge fits the bill as a low-cost alternative. 

Craig Brown is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Craig's other articles. You can contact Craig by clicking here

Related Content:  Managers Of The Year,  Stolen Base,  Steals

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