Don't overpay for steals! Instead, put these prolific thieves on your 2015 fantasy squad.
Having had the privilege of competing in the CBS Expert Leagues the past couple of years, I started my auction prep-work around this time each year, since those leagues typically auction in February. Along with my research on relievers, as I referenced in my Fantasy Freestyle article from last week, I also spend quite a bit of time trying to identify speed options that might be undervalued come draft day.
As I headed into the AL-Only 5x5 CBS Expert League auction this past year, I went in with a strategy to get either Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout at my sheet prices, buy Masahiro Tanaka at my sheet price, fill out my MI with fantasy-producing starters, and then figure out the rest as I went along. Well, I got Cabrera and Tanaka early as well as some solid middle infielders, and then focused my energy on getting a couple of speed guys, so I would not have to chase stolen bases later in the auction and overpay. The way the dynamics of the auction room played out, I was able to sit back and grab Rajai Davis, Jarrod Dyson, and Craig Gentry for a combined $5. No, that is not a misprint… that was a $5 investment that resulted in 92 stolen bases and $53 in earnings, or a $48 ROI, and I ran away (no pun intended) with the steals category in the league. For some reason, I have found over the years that there is not a lot love for these “one-trick ponies” despite the value they provide. As such, I always target and snatch these fantasy gems.
This position has an obvious one-two punch at the top, but there are plenty of counting-stat bargains available late in drafts.
Today we continue our positional tier rankings. Last offseason, Derek Carty tackled the tiers by himself; this spring, we've decided to attack them as a team. Players at each position will be divided into five tiers, represented by the number of stars.
Five-star players are the studs at their respective position. In general, they are the players that will be nabbed in the first couple of rounds of the draft, and they'll fetch auction bids in excess of $30. Four-star players are a cut below the studs at the position. They will also be earl- round selections, and they're projected to be worth more than $20 in most cases. Three-star players are the last tier in which players are projected to provide double-digit dollar value in auctions, and two-star players are projected to earn single digits in dollar value in auctions. One-star players are late round sleepers and roster placeholders. As was the case with our positional rankings series, the positional tiers aren't simply a regurgitation of the projected PECOTA values.
Ryan Braun and Mike Trout top a list that is teeming with high-upside talent.
The Baseball Prospectus fantasy team has been rolling out its positional rankings over the past couple of weeks, and will conclude the process next week. Each team member assigned to cover a position will create an initial top 15 (more for outfielders and starting pitchers) on his own. He will then send that list to the rest of the team for discussion, at which point we will debate the rankings, both in terms of each player's specific placement and the merits on which he was included in the top 15. This back-and-forth debate will yield the final list, which will be presented by the original author with notes on the pertinent players. We encourage you to bring your opinions into the fray using the comment section below.
Today, we continue the rankings with a look at our top 25 outfielders. Comments on the outfielders ranked 26-50 will follow on Friday.
Catchers can't throw anyone out anymore. Why is that, and should we be worried?
At the end of May, Rob Neyer wrote a piece about baseball’s ever-rising strikeout rate, which reached yet another new high this season. In that piece, he called Ernesto Frieri a canary in a coal mine—the coal mine, in this case, being the major leagues, and the toxic substance being strikeouts. Instead of keeling over in his cage, Frieri had started striking out everyone: when that piece was published, he’d struck out 23 batters in his previous 11 innings, without allowing a hit. For some, Frieri’s feat was just kind of cool. For Neyer, it was the latest reminder of a creeping strikeout menace that has already proved harmful to the health of the game. You can disagree with Neyer’s stance on the trend toward more strikeouts—Sam Miller and I did, on our podcast in September—but you can’t deny that the trend is there. Frieri is the face of it for Neyer; probably some other pitcher is the face of it for you.* It has many possible faces, which was precisely Neyer’s point. Ten years ago, there were 26 relievers who pitched at least 50 innings with at least as many strikeouts; this year, there were 61.
*The face of it for me was Jason Grilli, who struck out 1.5 batters per inning after striking out half a batter per inning six years ago.
The slide step is intended to help pitchers, but would they be better off without it?
The classic Greek sabermetrician Plato said that “necessity is the mother of invention.” True to form, the slide step was borne from the need to suppress stolen bases at a time when the game was experiencing a record surge of thievery, but I submit that the strategy carries heavy costs that fail to outweigh the perceived benefits. The slide step invention is in dire need of an intervention.
The slide step is an artifact of the 1980s, a time when players such as Rickey Henderson and Vince Coleman were surpassing 100 stolen bases with regularity, terrorizing pitchers with constant distractions on the base paths. Since the Dead Ball Era, there have been 18 player-seasons that surpassed the 80-steal threshold, and 15 of those performances occurred in the 10-year stretch from 1979—1988. Henderson and Coleman were the last players to accomplish the feat, having tallied 174 steals between them in the '88 season, and were responsible for 10 of the 80-steal seasons between them, but the base-swiping explosion was hardly a two-man show (see accompanying chart). Today's top rogues of the base paths typically top out around 60 to 70 steals, with Jose Reyes' 78-steal tally of 2007 sticking out like a hitchhiker's thumb on the decade's SB leaderboard. For example, Michael Bourn has led the National League in stolen bases for three straight seasons, though his career-high is “just” 61 steals (accomplished twice). As Henderson told Harold Reynolds after the Mariner second baseman stole 60 bags in the 1987 season, “Rickey stole 60 at the break!”
Youth and speed dominate this week's Keeper Reaper list
Yet another week passes with more potential keeper names for The Keeper Reaper to examine. The season is winding down just as the offseason for keeper league owners is heating up. Here again are the format categories that we are considering, for reference:
Jason updates his earlier look at stolen base trends in the majors
Last month, I penned an article looking at early stolen base trends at the team level around the league. The inspiration? Poking fun at Royals manager Ned Yost for predicting the plodding Billy Butler was going to steal ten bases this season. Now that we have more data to play with, we can go back and revisit that data to see if those early trends are holding up (and which players are being affected by it).