keyboard_arrow_uptop

A half-dozen teams have new managers in 2015. While that fact may have already crawled its way out of our collective consciousness in the first couple weeks of the year, new managers do have some impact on fantasy baseball production. Perhaps most directly, changes atop the totem pole in the dugout can lead to strategic differences on the base paths. In other words, the frequency with which a team runs on the basepaths can change with a new manager.

The Detroit Tigers are a prime example of this. In 2013 with Jim Leyland at the helm, the Tigers stole the fewest bases (35) in Major League Baseball. After Leyland retired and Brad Ausmus became skipper, the Tigers ran wild. Their 106 stolen bases a year ago ranked seventh in the league. Coming into Wednesday’s games, they had stolen the second-most bases in baseball. Different managers, different strategies.

Although it’s early in the 2015 campaign, we can perhaps determine if any managerial changes have positively or negatively affected a team’s running game. As such, we can then relate those overarching changes to individual players and their projected fantasy value.

The new big-league managers in 2015:

TEXAS RANGERS

Year

SB per gms played

2013

0.920

2014

0.648

2015

0.556

The Rangers’ core roster construction hasn’t changed much. Stolen bases are primarily going to come from Elvis Andrus and Leonys Martin. The primary reason that Texas is running more infrequently in the first couple weeks is that neither Andrus nor Martin are getting on base. Andrus is hitting .167/.163/.238 and Martin isn’t much better at .143/.182/.143. Can’t steal bases from the dugout, after all.

Overall, it does not appear much has changed. Rougned Odor has shown improved plate discipline in the first couple weeks and should be a source of steals now that he’s batting up in the order, but the main running will come from Andrus and Martin. If they continue to struggle at the dish, the Rangers will have deflated stolen-base numbers. In many ways, it’s as simple as that. In our brief look this April, it doesn’t appear there’s any appreciable difference between Jeff Banister and the departed Ron Washington.

TAMPA BAY RAYS

Year

SB per gms played

2013

0.451

2014

0.389

2015

1.250

This is the type of movement fantasy owners want to see. Joe Maddon had traditionally been conservative on the basepaths, reluctant to run into extra outs; however, new manager Kevin Cash appears to have unleashed his players. Desmond Jennings already has four stolen bases after only swiping 15 bags a year ago. Brandon Guyer could be a sneaky source of steals in deeper leagues, as he’s going to play against lefties and already has a pair of steals. It’s easy to forget that he’s a year removed from grabbing 22 bags in Triple-A. If Cash is going to run more, Guyer could be an unheralded beneficiary of that change in strategy.

Furthermore, Steven Souza was a popular sleeper pick for fantasy owners who coveted his power/speed production in the minors. He stole 26 bases in Triple-A. The Nationals have only stolen two bases in 2015, so it seems he landed in a better place for fantasy owners. He should have an opportunity to run all year. The 25-year-old has two stolen bases and launched a monster home run on Tuesday evening.

Other potential low-end beneficiaries: Tim Beckham, Logan Forsythe, and Kevin Kiermaier.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

Year

SB per gms played

2013

0.383

2014

0.531

2015

0.500

Nothing to see here from Chip Hale. The Diamondbacks ranked in the middle of the pack a year ago and are there once again in 2015. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Arizona’s running game is that 6-foot-3, 245-pound Paul Goldschmidt has half the club’s stolen bases. Guys like Chris Owings, Nick Ahmed, and A.J. Pollock should steal a handful of bases this year; however, it doesn’t appear that we should adjust their preseason projections in either direction due to the change in manager. Just more of the same in the Sonoran Desert.

HOUSTON ASTROS

Year

SB per gms played

2013

0.679

2014

0.753

2015

1.000

It’s tempting to ascribe the jump in Houston’s stolen bases to Jose Altuve, but he only has two of the team’s eight steals. More likely, the Houston Astros are more active on the basepaths for two different reasons: (1) their 26.2 percent strikeout rate leads the American League and they’re forced to advance runners in other ways than by putting it in play; and (2) the club will enjoy a full season of George Springer and Jake Marisnick in the outfield. They have a history of stealing far more bases than Dexter Fowler or Robbie Grossman.

It’s too early to tell if Hinch has the Astros running more often than in previous years because his roster is more conducive to stolen bases or if he’s bringing a more aggressive philosophy to the dugout. My inclination is to believe the former. That is to say, I don’t believe fantasy owners should be targeting guys like Jed Lowrie or Luis Valbuena with the rationale that the Astros will be more of a running team this year.

CHICAGO CUBS

Year

SB per gms played

2013

0.389

2014

0.401

2015

0.857

Now this is interesting. With the Tampa Bay Rays, Joe Maddon had established a history of not running much on the basepaths; however, since joining the Chicago Cubs, he has them stealing more bases than they have in recent years. Five different players have at least one stolen base. Even guys like Chris Coghlan and Tommy La Stella, who aren’t speed guys on the basepaths, already have a stolen base. Perhaps we should expect Cubs hitters to run more often, meaning guys like Coghlan, Dexter Fowler, Arismendy Alcantara, and maybe even Starlin Castro become more attractive to fantasy owners?

On one hand, Maddon hasn’t shown a propensity to send a lot of runners in recent years. It could be a mere small-sample size issue, and the Cubs will lessen their activity on the bases as the months go along. However, I wonder if Maddon is simply shifting his managerial strategy to the National League. With the pitcher batting instead of the designated hitter, perhaps Maddon believes he needs to run more than he did in Tampa Bay.

It’s just idle speculation for now, but it is a trend to watch in the coming week or two. If Maddon continues to be aggressive on the bases, some of the lower-end players in the Cubs’ everyday lineup become more attractive. Someone like Chris Coghlan or Arismendy Alcantara will carry more value. Even Matt Szczur could be a cheap source of steals, if Maddon will use him to run in limited playing time.

MINNESOTA TWINS

Year

SB per gms played

2013

0.321

2014

0.611

2015

0.429

I’ll put my cards on the table: I don’t believe this is a product of Paul Molitor being conservative. I think this is a product of the Minnesota Twins being dreadful on offense for the first couple weeks of the season. They’re hitting .201/.255/.275 as a team and have scored the fewest number of runs (16) of any team in Major League Baseball.

Quite simply, the Minnesota Twins need to get on base before we can adequately judge Molitor’s philosophy on the bases. Hypothetically, the Twins could be a running team. They lack power throughout most of their lineup and have some speed with Brian Dozier, Danny Santana, Jordan Schafer, and Eduardo Escobar. They’ll need to run and be creative in the running game to score runs. As mentioned a couple sentences ago, though, the first step is getting on base, and the Twins have done that extremely poorly through their first seven games.

Thank you for reading

This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.

Subscribe now
You need to be logged in to comment. Login or Subscribe
Michael
4/16
Joe Maddon's history of not running much was limited to 2013-14. From 2006-2012, Tampa Bay's teams were always in the top three AL teams in steals, sometimes leading the league by a substantial margin.
jimmyb1799
4/16
Thanks for the comment. I tried to limit my scope of inquiry, so I didn't have to deal with massive changes in roster construction. However, that's a great point that shows Maddon's running ways in Chicago may stick.
aea0016
4/16
would SB per base runner (1B+BB+HBP) be a better metric but still easy to calculate? not perfect, but tries to take into account how many opportunities there are
ADprospectus
4/16
Was looking at this subject last night and noticed that, from at least one perspective (percentage change in total bases stolen), the Tigers' shift in base stealing between 2013 and 2014 was the largest of any team's season-to-season change at least in the last ten years by a fair margin.

Comparative numbers here: http://www.banishedtothepen.com/steal-your-face-identity-changes-on-the-basepaths/.
bhalpern
4/16
Of note thought the change was not truly a change in managerial discretion, but rather one of personnel. The ten players on both teams did run a lot more but at a less successful rate: 17 for 25 in 2013 and 26 for 44 in 2014.

The real difference though was the personnel change: 2013 only players stole 18 out of 30 attempts. 2014 only players were 80 for 103. They replaced Avasail Garcia, Jhonny Peralta/Jose Iglesias, and Omar Infante with Ezequiel Carrera, Suarez/Romine, Rajai Davis, and Ian Kinsler. The SB's are baked into those moves.