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June 5, 2013

Sporer Report

Speed Killed

by Paul Sporer

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I’m not big on mantras. Catchphrases are way cooler. But if there is one mantra/axiom/adage/proverb I espoused this draft season, it was, “Focus on power, there is tons of speed available in smaller chunks.” In 2012, there were 1.33 steals per game. That was down slightly from 2011’s 1.35, but both were up markedly from the 1.22 that held steady from 2009 through 2010. In 2011-2012, there were about 300 more steals in the league than there were in 2009-2010. Plus, they were more evenly distributed.

The 2009 season saw Jacoby Ellsbury lead baseball with 70 stolen bases, and Juan Pierre was just two off of that mark when he led the majors the following year. Michael Bourn and Carl Crawford joined Ellsbury at the top with 61 and 60, respectively, in 2009, before dropping to a trio of 42s (Nyjer Morgan, B.J. Upton, and Matt Kemp). Pierre was the lone member of the 60-steal club in 2010, but Bourn (52) and Rajai Davis (50) were still great, followed by Carl Crawford and Brett Gardner at 47, and then another trio of 42s (Upton again, Ichiro, and Chone Figgins) bringing up the rear of the 40-plus club.

Bourn was the lone member of the 50-plus and 60-plus clubs in 2011 with his 61, as Gardner and Coco Crisp just missed at 49, while the top eight was rounded out by a quintet of 40s (Kemp, Ichiro Suzuki, Cameron Maybin, Emilio Bonifacio, and Drew Stubbs). Last season didn’t land anyone in the 50-plus or 60-plus clubs with Mike Trout’s 49 leading the charge, followed by Bourn’s 42 and then just two more members in the 40-plus Club: Jose Reyes and Ben Revere. Despite the second-highest overall rate of the 2000s last year, it was the first time the 60-plus club has been vacant since 2002. But with the increased rate, you can understand why I was so certain that speed would be available in the draft. Stolen bases have been on the rise since 2006, save a small dip in 2008, and then of course last year’s negligible drop (the 0.02 totaled to 50 stolen bases).

It seems I’ve led you astray.

The league is averaging just 1.06 stolen bases per game so far this season, easily the lowest it has been since 2005 when it was at the same rate. The elite end is actually in better shape than last year. Current paces give us three 50-plus members (Everth Cabrera, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Nate McLouth), with Cabrera pacing toward a mid-60s finish to reinstate the 60-plus club after a year off, as well. The biggest losses are in the back-end, your supplemental guys throwing in 10-20. After nearly 70 players swiping 10-plus bases a season ago (69 to be exact), we are pacing toward just 59 this year. Unfortunately, those 10 plus the five 20-plus guys that we are slated to lose are exactly the kind of guys I was thinking you could target while eschewing the Cabreras and Ellsburys of the world.

Here is a breakdown of the last five years individually, the 10- and 15-year marks, and the 2013 Pace compared to 2005 when the rate was the same.

If 2013 does end up mirroring 2005, then those of us who were hoping for those 10s and 20s to add up and keep us competitive could be in even more trouble, as those pools dried up even more compared to 2012 than our current pace shows. Those who invested in the elite, meanwhile, would be better off than they originally thought on draft day.

Okay, here’s the good news.

Stolen bases are the easiest offensive category to fix. If you have a major power deficiency, trading for Mark Trumbo alone during the All-Star break isn’t likely to solve your problem. He needs to be step one, but you likely need at least one more trade plus your current guys to get on track. If a league member of yours secured the services of Ellsbury, but also scooped McLouth late as bench fodder only to see him evolve into this stolen-base stud, then he is likely willing to deal one of them, as he’s almost certainly built a substantial lead. Ellsbury is currently pacing toward 59 stolen bases, leaving 38 in the tank for him. Even the slowest teams can only be so far behind the pace at this point, and adding Ellsbury alone is going to make a serious dent in your problem if not solve it entirely when combined with contributions from your existing roster.

If you built a team that was figuring to have a team leader with around 18-20 stolen bases, but there would be several guys contending for that top spot, chances are you’ve been disappointed with your output to date. Check on the league’s SB leader and see if there is a deal to be made, because barring a drastic shift, I don’t see the league all of a sudden making up those bases. Unlike power, which seems to rise with the weather, the stolen-base trend shows no such pattern. Last year’s per-game pace on this date was 1.32.

By the way, as for my adage regarding power, I stand behind it—if for no other reason than the fact that regardless of how much speed is available, power is still the most valuable asset in the game, because of the multi-category impact of a home run. That said, I have to go now. I need to start mapping out some trades with that power to supplement my lagging stolen-base totals across my many leagues.

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

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