There were 2,505 stolen bases last season. Sounds like a lot, right?
It might, until you realize there were 4,858 games played. Then it boils down to just over one steal per two games. On a per-team basis, we’re only talking about 83.5 steals per squad. If you use other points of comparison, the metrics change. Trust me, I’m a numbers guy.
Those 2,505 total steals also represent the lowest (non-strike-year) total since 1974, when Lou Brock lead the league with 118 steals and seven players had more than 40 swipes. There are plenty of fast, athletic players in the league today, but so too are there cannon-armed catchers and a litany of pitchers who keep runners off the base in the first place. Those factors have conspired to put steals at a bit of a premium in dynasty leagues, as if you don’t own a Dee Gordon or a Billy Hamilton, you’re likely to be in the hole.
And so, with that bit of historical context in mind, Craig and I are venturing to bring you a handful of players from each league who have yet to steal 30 bases in a season, but who we think are capable of doing so at least once or twice moving forward.
American League (Ben)
The Obvious Picks
Mookie Betts, OF, Red Sox (Previous high: 21)
Unless you have Billy Hamilton/Dee Gordon speed, you need to reach base semi-frequently in order to reach the 30-steal plateau. Fortunately, Mookie figures to be someone who will get on base quite frequently, as evidenced by his approach, MiLB number and .341 OBP in his first full season as a 22-year-old. Betts should serve as Boston’s leadoff man in 2016, which means he might get the yellow light when Xander Bogaerts or David Ortiz is at-bat, but he still figures to get plenty of chances. Something like 35-40 steals is probably Betts’ ceiling, but he’s a player who can hit the 25-30 mark for the better part of the next half-decade.
Billy Burns, OF, Athletics (Previous high: 26)
Billy Burns wasn’t supposed to be able to hit. He hadn’t at any level above Double-A before 2015, and while there was clearly some natural bat-to-ball ability in his profile, he wasn’t going to be strong enough to keep pitchers honest. That might still end up partially true, but Burns rode a .339 BABIP (not crazy for someone with his wheels) to a. 294./.334/.392 average last season, giving him the opportunity to go 26-for-34 on SB chances. At the very least Burns has put himself in contention to receive the type of playing time needed to challenge for 30 steals on a regular basis, and while the odds aren’t great that he’ll do so, it certainly wouldn’t be surprising to see him surpass that number once or twice if his success rate, which was quite strong in the minors, improves.
Delino Deshields, OF, Rangers (Previous high: 25)
A whole lot of what I just wrote about Burns applies to DeShields as well, and indeed from a fantasy POV they’re remarkably similar players to consider investing in. Deshields is three years younger than Burns, and while he didn’t hit quite as well or play quite as much, he did post a higher walk rate. Like Burns he needs to improve his SB% if he wants to threaten for the 30-steal mark routinely, but unlike Burns he has a track record of getting thrown out semi-frequently in the minors. Playing time is likely the real issue here, as Deshields was markedly better against lefties than righties, but given his youth and pure speed, odds are he runs into 30 steals on occasion even if he’s only getting between 300-400 PA a year.
The Darkhor… err… the Deeper Pulls
Aaron Hicks, OF, Twins (Previous high: 13)
It feels like Hicks has been on the verge of a breakout for like 16 or 17 years now. I’m not forecasting such an emergence, but the outfielder did swipe 13 bags in just 390 PA last year and he is willing to take a walk and he does have the speed to steal with frequency. It’s really easy to talk yourself into Hicks based on the tools, and while my head says he won’t be a reliable source of speed for dynasty leaguers, he’s just a bit too tempting to ignore altogether. Maybe I’ll get there by 2018 or so.
I mean, is there anything Lindor can’t do on a baseball diamond? He only swiped 12 bags in 438 PA last season, but he also didn’t walk as much as he did in the minors and was only caught twice. Sure, the .348 BABIP might fall, but Lindor is a player who genuinely could reach base at a .350-plus clip while receiving more than 600 PA on a regular basis moving forward, and he’ll approach 30 steals if that’s the case, even if he lacks top-flight speed.
Jake Marisnick, OF, Astros (Previous high: 24)
I’ve been a Marisnick fanboy for quite some time now. That makes me perhaps too willing to overlook factors like his nine caught steals or his sub-5.0% walk rate or his .273 OBP. Odds are Marisnick won’t get enough playing time to swipe 30 on a regular basis, but the man reached 24 in just 372 PA. If he ends up getting 450 PA because he’s so damn good in the field, and if the bat takes a half-step forward, he could be a cheap source of steals for a long time. He’s still only 24.
A few more names
National League (Craig)
The Obvious Picks
Let us be clear: Polanco did not have a good year. He had a solid stretch in the second half, but on the whole it was a rough go of it for the talented sophomore. What he did do well? Show off his wheels, grabbing 27 bases, though he was caught 10 times. Getting to 30+ should be a breeze for Polanco, either through hitting better (getting on base more) or refining his technique and becoming a little more efficient.
If Inciarte was as successful stealing in 2015 as he was in 2014, you wouldn’t be that surprised at his placement in the obvious section. The reality is that the NL doesn’t have as many options as the AL in this particular exercise, so we’re stretching a bit. Still, if Inciarte can repeat his 2015 season in terms of slash stats while reverting to his 2014 form in terms of success rate, he’ll be right about there.
The reality is that as Heyward enters his prime it is more likely that he slows down rather than speeds up, but seriously the options are bad and Heyward is good. He stole more bases last year than the year prior and uh, maybe there’s a trend? If he doesn’t have a garbage April, he’s on base more often and has more chances, so maybe that will happen? I don’t know, guys.
The Darkhor… err… the Deeper Pulls
What the hell happened here? Pederson swiped at least 26 bases every year since he was drafted, so a 36 percent success rate this year was a bit of a surprisappointment (figure it out). If you’ve ever watched him roam center field you know he has the speed to steal bags, so both his lack of success and lack of running at all, really, is a little odd. It’s fair to point out that the former likely brought about the latter, but that’s still a shockingly low attempt total for a 30+ stolen base talent. Pederson is going to have to hit more to stay atop the Dodgers lineup (or in it) but if he can stay out of the eight-hole, he should see more opportunities and based on his raw talent, more success.
Taylor is something of a modified version of Pederson. He doesn’t pack quite the same offensive punch, but he does swing and miss enough to put him towards the back of the batting order where his speed isn’t as useful. If he can reduce the strikeouts, or really just make more in-zone contact—his z-contact rate of 77 percent was 10 percentage points below the league average of 87 percent—he should be on base more often, and able to utilize his speed a little better.
This is perhaps more of a longshot than either of the names above. Herrera was a great use of a Rule 5 draft pick, but he hasn’t stolen more than 20 bases since 2012, and it’s hard to see him earning significantly more than the 537 plate appearances he logged in 2015, when he netted only 16 swipes. Still, Herrera was caught eight times and if he can improve his technique, he’ll likely get to take more attempts, which could result in 30 bags on a peak year. I know, I didn’t convince me either.
Darnell Sweeney, 2B, Philadelphia Phillies (Previous High: 0)
Sweeney might be cheating but he ended the year in the majors so I’ll take it. I know everyone has a hard-on for Cesar Hernandez, but I think Sweeney is far more likely to get the at-bats at second for Philadelphia, even if his hands aren’t the greatest (understatement). Keep an eye on him if he can wrest the full-time job though, as his plus speed and affinity for contact could yield positive results. He stole over 40 bases in 2013 and over 30 in 2015, so he’s shown the ability to do it off minor-league pitching.
Thank you for reading
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