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March 21, 2014

The Darkhorses

Stolen Bases

by BP Fantasy Staff


One of the fun ways we all try to outsmart our opponents in fantasy is by searching for hidden value in players who, for one reason or another, we suspect have the ability to outpace their projections (and, relatedly, their draft cost). Our Darkhorses series features staff picks for players who could very well outpace their PECOTA projections for the year and provide the top overall production in one of the standard five-by-five categories. We’ve all picked one player currently projected by PECOTA to fall outside of the top 10 and one longer-shot player currently projected outside of the top 25. We’re taking a look at offense this week and pitching next week. To read the earlier editions in this series, click below:

Batting Average
Home runs
Runs Batted In
Runs

Ricky doesn’t play ball anymore unless Ricky feels like playing ball. But here are some players capable of posting league-leading stolen base numbers in his stead.

Outside the Top 10

Dee Gordon, 2B/SS (Dodgers)
Sure, Gordon stole only 10 bases last season, but with only 106 plate appearances to his name, that’s not half bad. Ditto 2012, when he swiped 32 bags in 330 plate appearances. This is to say it’s not unreasonable to expect Gordon to steal a bag for every 10 or so plate appearances he receives. That being the case, if Gordon can hold down an everyday job in the majors—be it at second or in an increasingly brittle outfield—he should approach something like 60-plus stolen bases. He’s been able to steal at this rate despite being, by all accounts, a terrible baseball player who is bad at getting on base. Can you imagine if he hits? Jacoby Ellsbury led all of baseball with 52 poaches in 2013, so if Gordon did snag 60-plus, there’s a good chance that he’d end up atop the leaderboard—as long as Billy Hamilton can’t hit, that is. – Craig Goldstein

Leonys Martin, OF (Rangers)
After Martin hit .359 at Triple-A in 2012, it looked like all systems were go for him to take over center field in Texas last year. And when he came out of the gate batting .293 with 16 steals through June, it appeared that he was poised for an immediate breakout. He faded in the second half, however, as his impatience caught up with him en route to a .238 close to the campaign. He’s demonstrated the ability to hit for a strong average for part of a season, and he’ll have to sustain that to drive his walk-deficient OBP. Martin stole 36 with a .313 on-base percentage last year, so if he can boost that OBP into the .330-.340 range, he’ll have a chance to steal 50-plus bags and lead the league. – Wilson Karaman

Jonathan Villar, SS (Astros)
Stolen bases are as much about experience as they are about raw speed. Unless a player has Hamilton’s speed, it helps to have an extensive knowledge of pitcher motions and what situations are ideal for swiping bases. Villar has the raw speed, but as his slightly elevated caught-stealing total in limited playing time last season (eight in 26 attempts) suggests, he still has to acquire the knowledge required to steal bases efficiently. Villar leading the league requires two scenarios to play out. One, Hamilton has to be bad enough at getting on base to warrant a demotion, and two, Villar has to learn quickly. At the very least, the tools are there for an AL SB crown. – Mauricio Rubio

Adam Eaton, OF (White Sox)
Do I truly think that Eaton can steal enough bases to top the SB leader board? Absolutely not. However, I don't think there are many better under-the-radar 30 SB threats who won't kill your average than Eaton, who has an aggregate ADP of just 226 right now (courtesy fantasypros.com). Eaton's best year on the basepaths came in 2012, when he stole 42 bases between Double-A, Triple-A, and the majors. Never a terribly efficient baserunner—Eaton was thrown out 14 times in 2012 and went just 5-for-7 last season—the White Sox' probable leadoff man will need to refine his skills if he's to be given the green light as often as fantasy owners would like. I believe in Eaton's ability to get on base, though, and the South Side Sox are going to need to manufacture some runs this year. He won't touch the likes of Hamilton, and even Everth Cabrera and his ilk are out of reach, but if Eaton steals 30-plus bases this season it won't come as a shock to me. – Ben Carsley

Starling Marte, OF (Pirates)
Marte swiped 41 bases in his first full season, coming up only 11 steals shy of Ellsbury’s league lead. Marte had never stolen that many bags in the minors before, but he accomplished the feat in 135 games at the major-league level. The 25-year-old is expected to be the Pirates’ everyday leadoff hitter, which should translate to more stolen base opportunities. If he can find his way into 20 more contests in 2014, he could realistically reach 50 steals. The only roadblock might be an expected drop in his on-base percentage, which stood at .343 despite a 4.4 percent walk rate in 2013. – Alex Kantecki

Ben Revere, OF (Phillies)
More than one person I follow on Twitter thinks that Ben Revere is adorable. Furthermore, he was a top-five stolen base guy in 2012 and was well on his way to being a top-10 guy in 2013, racking up 22 steals in 88 games, before he was injured. I think he’s currently being drafted and bought at a bargain, and since he hasn’t yet turned 26, I see no reason for his speed to regress. – Jeff Quinton

Eric Young, Jr., OF (Mets)
If Young keeps the job over Juan Lagares, he’ll run with regularity. Hamilton would have to flame out in order for this to happen, but 500 at-bats from Young could otherwise get him a stolen base title quite easily if Cabrera didn’t beat him out. – Mike Gianella

Elvis Andrus, SS (Rangers)
The 2013 season was an interesting one for Andrus, who struggled mightily in the first half to the tune of a .242/.300/.280 line with 19 steals at the All-Star Break. However, he was an entirely different player the rest of the way, and one of the most valuable for fantasy purposes, hitting .313/.369/.405 with 23 steals in just 64 games. This led to a career-high 42 steals on the season, thanks in part to a significant improvement in success rate (84 percent, up from his 74 percent career rate to that point). If Ron Washington and the Rangers remain as aggressive on the basepaths in 2014 as they were the previous year, Andrus has an outside shot at 50-plus steals, which could lead the league (non-Hamilton division). – Bret Sayre

Desmond Jennings, OF (Rays)
Jennings has already exhibited big speed and stolen base prowess, with at least 20 in each of his three seasons and a 31-for-33 year in 2012. And that was in 132 games. We know the Rays aren’t afraid to push down on the pedal, particularly with their most adept thieves, and thus it wouldn’t be hard to see Jennings stay healthy, blow by 50, and lead the league in a season where Hamilton proves unable to hit enough to hold down a starting spot. – Paul Sporer

Outside the Top 25

Anthony Gose, OF (Blue Jays)
Yes, I agree: A 7.5:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio is a hurdle. But hear me out. Gose is one of the fastest players in baseball. While he’s never hit in the majors, he has done so in the minors, which means there’s a chance that he’ll make enough adjustments to get on base. He walked in more than 10 percent of his plate appearances in 2011 and 2012 at Double- and Triple-A, respectively and he even managed a nine percent clip in his 189 PA debut at the major-league level. If he can get back to walking and even match his .259 batting average from 2013, Gose should get some chances to steal thanks to his immense defensive value (range plus mid-90s arm as a high schooler=good CFer). The best-case scenario is that Gose could run wild on the basepaths as he did in 2011, when he stole 69 bases in Double-A. It’s a long shot, but finding guys who can steal over 40 bases 25 spots into a stolen base ranking isn’t the easiest task in the world. – Craig Goldstein

Alcides Escobar, SS (Royals)
News about Escobar’s shoulder ailment is a cause for some concern, but assuming he shows himself to be healthy, Escobar makes for a fantastic bounceback candidate in his age-27 season. The shortstop has a borderline-pathetic 4.3 percent walk rate for his career, and it bottomed out at 3.0 percent last year. Perhaps some of his impatience stemmed from frustration, though, as his meager .264 BABIP checked in about 40 points below his career average entering the year. If he rebounds back to league-average territory, he’s a 30-plus stolen base threat, and if he manages to luck his way into a .320-.330 BABIP year, his elite stolen base efficiency (92 percent the last two years, 83 percent career) will put him in position to challenge the league leaders. – Wilson Karaman

Jimmy Rollins, SS (Phillies)
Rollins is currently in hot water with skipper Ryne Sandberg, and there’s an outside chance that his playing time will be limited to avoid exercising a vesting clause that would pay him more if he gets to 434 PAs. He’s also older and losing speed, and he stole only 22 bases in 28 attempts last year. So why am I picking Rollins here? Because I believe in F-U seasons when the context is right. Rollins was an elite basestealer with a really good understanding of the art of the stolen base. I think there’s a chance that he’ll be motivated to make it nearly impossible to bench him so that he can get to his escalator clause. Look, it’s a long shot, but this series isn’t called “Dark Horses” for nothing. – Mauricio Rubio

Drew Stubbs, OF (Rockies)
PECOTA projects Stubbs to swipe just 18 bases this season, which is reasonable, because when PECOTA was published, Stubbs was projected to receive just 337 PA. But two days ago, the Denver Post's Patrick Saunders reported that Stubbs has won the everyday center fielder job in Colorado, meaning we should see him as more than just a short-side platoon option and late-inning defensive replacement. Stubbs stole 40 bases in 681 PA in 2011 and 30 bases in 544 PA in 2012 before netting jut 18 in 481 PA last season. While I'm not pegging him for 500-plus PA just yet, it wouldn't surprise me to see Stubbs challenge for 30-plus bags once again. If Coors Field can accentuate Stubbs' power as well, he suddenly becomes a more interesting fantasy option, even if his average is unlikely to surpass .240. – Ben Carsley

B.J. Upton, OF (Braves)
Upton’s debut in Atlanta couldn’t have started and finished any worse. After signing a five-year, $75.25 million contract to be the Braves’ everyday center fielder, the elder Upton fell flat on his face, slashing .184/.268/.289 with nine home runs and 12 stolen bases. The nine homers were his fewest since 2008, and the 12 steals were his fewest since 2006. Upton is a decent bounceback candidate if for no other reason than he can’t possibly be that bad again. Fredi Gonzalez’s Braves attempted only 95 stolen bases in 2013—and were successful 67 percent of the time—but Upton has a career success rate of 76.7 percent. Should Upton get his batting average closer to something that resembles a major leaguer’s, the 29-year-old couldreturn to being a nuisance on the basepaths. Last year was the first time since 2007 that he didn’t steal 30-plus bags. Let him run, Fredi (assuming he gets on base first). – Alex Kantecki

Jarrod Dyson, OF (Royals)
If he were the strong side of a platoon, Dyson would be more of a mainstream pick than a dark horse. While he’s clearly a backup as of today, he’s only a Lorenzo Cain injury away from a starting gig. The Royals also like to rest Cain because of his fragility, which leads to more Dyson steal attempts. Dyson stole 34 bags in only 84 games last season; when he plays, he’s an elite basestealer, and it’s only the uncertain playing time that puts him this far out of the picture. – Jeff Quinton

Alex Rios, OF (Rangers)
This doesn’t seem likely, since Rios has probably passed his speed ceiling, but he’s a Jacoby Ellsbury injury away from contending for a SB title. Rios was fourth in the majors in stolen bases last year, only 10 behind Ellsbury. A higher finish in 2014 is unlikely, but it isn’t as outlandish as it sounds at first blush. – Mike Gianella

Austin Jackson, OF (Tigers)
Jackson could surprise some by reversing a three-year decline in this category. First of all, he's done a poor job of staying healthy lately, playing in just 137 and 129 games in 2013 and 2012, respectively. Jackson is entering his age-27 season, so it's not a matter of his getting much slower of late, but the stolen base hasn't been an integral part of Jim Leyland's philosophy. With a new manager may come new opportunities, and if articles like this are any indication, Jackson may see more green lights in his near future. I would not be surprised to see Jackson return to 20-plus steals, with an outside chance to go even higher if he can get his on-base percentage anywhere near his 2012 level (.377). – Bret Sayre

Norichika Aoki, OF (Royals)
Aoki moves from the top SB team in the NL to the top one in the majors (though his former team actually made more attempts). In short, he’s still going to be allowed to run… a lot. He needs to get back to his 2012 efficiency (79 percent) if he wants to make a real run at the title, as last year’s 63 percent clip simply won’t get it done even with a ton of attempts. He’s shown a great on-base percentage in his first two seasons stateside, so that shouldn’t be an issue here. – Paul Sporer

BP Fantasy Staff is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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Fantasy Article The Darkhorses: Runs S... (03/20)
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