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July 29, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Royalty Running Wild

by Jason Collette

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Do you remember this quote from Spring Training?

“If you got a team that can hit,” Yost said, “why are you at the bottom of the stat sheet in runs scored?  You gotta find a way to make that better.”

And from the start of the season?

“And I knew if we could present more scoring opportunities with our base-running, that would solve that problem. It did in the spring, and it has to this point in the year.”

Or this clip about Billy Butler?

"Billy got one in the intrasquad game the other day, too," manager Ned Yost said. "You can pick your spots in those situations, and we're looking to do that whenever we can."

Yost wants to upgrade the Royals' baserunning this year, taking an extra base on hits and getting more steals -- even from an unlikely source like Butler.

"He's pretty much turned us loose, and if I don't abuse it, we can expand on it," Butler said.

Yost figures that Butler could get up to 10 steals a season by picking his spots.

"I have one in my career, and Ned's going to be a little more aggressive than managers we've had in the past," Butler said.

The Kansas City Royals stole 115 bases as a team last season; they are currently tied with the New York Yankees atop the American League stolen base leaderboard with 104 team steals with 57 games left to play. We all had a nice laugh at Yost’s expense back in late March when he said Billy Butler was going to steal ten bases this season, and while Butler still has nine to go, the rest of the Royals are indeed running. 12 different Royals have stolen at least one base this season, and five Royals are in double figures.  What’s interesting is that Chris Getz leads the pack with just 18 steals.

The Royals did not have a high amount of roster turnover, but here is how each player did last year in the stolen base category compared to this season.

Player

2010 SB+CS

2010 SB%

2011 SB+CS

2011 SB%

Chris Getz

17

88%

24

75%

Mike Aviles

19

74%

12

83%

Jarrod Dyson

10

90%

9

100%

Mitch Maier

5

60%

1

100%

Brayan Pena

2

100%

0

0%

Alex Gordon

6

17%

15

60%

Alcides Escobar

14

71%

21

67%

Jeff Francoeur

1

0%

20

80%

Melky Cabrera

8

88%

18

78%

Wilson Betemit

0

0%

4

75%

Billy Butler

0

0%

2

50%

If a player has suffered a reduction in steals this season in Kansas City, it has been due to injury or demotion. Getz has been put in motion more frequently than last year, Alex Gordon is running a lot more despite an unacceptable success rate, and Alcides Escobar is enjoying playing for a manager that appreciates the stolen base, but Jeff Francoeur and Melky Cabrera blow them all away.

Two of the newer bloods on the roster have attempted 38 steals this year, and both have been successful above the league average rate of 72 percent this season. Cabrera’s fourteen steals are a career high for him and the fourth time in six seasons he has reached double-digits in the stolen base department. From 2008 to 2010, Cabrera stole 26 bases and attempted 31 overall, but under Yost’s tutelage, he is on pace to steal 20+ bases this season while surpassing his attempt total from that three-year time frame. Meanwhile, Francoeur has been a new man in Kansas City.

Francoeur came into the 2011 season with 41 stolen base attempts in a career that began in 2005 with a terrible 56 percent success rate. His previous high for steals in a season was set last season when he swiped eight bags as a member of the Mets. This season, not only is he running much more frequently, he is also doing it much more successfully: 16-for-20 on the year. Anyone that actually targeted Francoeur and Cabrera at the draft table was likely laughed and ridiculed given their historical performances, but they have delivered two of the largest profits in AL-only leagues this season and have almost assuredly made a difference in mixed leagues where both were either extremely late round picks or free agent acquisitions.

Lorenzo Cain may be joining the fray in Kansas City at some point in the near future, and he is suited to fit right into the track meet on the basepaths. Last season, he attempted 29 stolen bases in Triple-A and has had stolen base totals of 34, 24, and 25 in the minors. This season, he has only attempted 15 steals for the Stormchasers in Omaha, but that frequency is likely to improve if he is promoted down the stretch and is something to keep in mind for those of you that play in keeper leagues as well.

Last season, the Royals attempted 165 stolen bases in 2,339 stolen base opportunities (8 percent) despite a below-league average 70 percent success rate. This season, the team has already attempted 137 stolen bases in 1534 stolen base opportunities (9 percent) at an above-average success rate of 74 percent. The Royals are once again near the bottom of the standings in the league, but they are also doing that while preparing for long-term success. The pitching talent has a ways to go, but their offense has certainly been much more entertaining to watch this season as Yost is trying to do what he can with an offense that lacks true and consistent power. He continues to show a willingness to press the issue on the bases, even in the face of a low success rate, as is demonstrated by Alex Gordon, who is just 10 for his last 22 in stolen base attempts dating back to last season.

 While it is debatable how effective it is for Yost to give away outs while sending some runners who fail at that rate, the fact of the matter is that his style has been a fantasy gold mine for people that were looking for cheap skills. We laugh when players come into camp in the “best shape of their life,” but we also tend to laugh off crazy predictions by managers made in pre-seasons press conferences. Yost said what he meant and meant what he said and for those that were willing to listen, they have found some very cheap sources of speed this season. Maybe next season, fantasy owners will pay closer attention to some of the ramblings from Florida and Arizona as they look to find the next overlooked source of value for draft day.

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

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