Cheap Thrills, Speed Kills


Every year, I play fantasy baseball.  Every year I come up with a new strategy.  Generally, it consists of eschewing closers in lieu of snagging some extra steals.  Every year I come up short.  Often this is because I stray from my strategy and take a closer over, say Juan Freakin’ Pierre.  Or Jacoby Ellsbury gets soft ribs.  But I digress.  My point is- speed kills.  If you can win the speed categories (3B, SB, R), I maintain that gives you an edge in most leagues.  With that in mind, let us look at some players you can get on the cheap that are going to bring you serious return by way of speed…

Eric Young Jr.

There are really only two things you need to know about EYJ: 1) He’s eligible at 2B AND OF 2) in limited AB Bill James has him stealing 46 bases.  That right there should probably be enough to warrant a late round pick.  But you being the cunning fantasy owner you are, you want more, don’t you?  I’ll oblige.  CAIRO has him stealing 34 bases in similarly few AB’s and ZiPS has him stealing 38.  Believe whoever you like, all these projections are for around 460 AB.  The lack of at bats is due to the presence of the likes of Ian Stewart and Jose Lopez.  I’ll argue til I’m purple (pun intended… you’ll get it) that EYJ’s talent (i.e. SPEED) will give him a leg up (god I’m on fire with the puns) on one of those two.  Now I’m no math major but if the wise Bill James thinks the kid can steal 40+, scouts all think he can steal 40+, and he suddenly gets 550 AB rather than 450, don’t you think he could steal 50 bases?  Maybe?  He’ll be a target of mine in many a draft as a back 2B/MI – but don’t forget he could be Juan Pierre-esque with 40+ steals late in a draft.  If you have a distaste for Pierre as I do, Young Jr. is your late round gem.  And honestly, if you hadn’t heard about him already, you’re probably gonna miss out on him anyway.

Lorenzo Cain

Lorenzo had one of my favorite catches of the year, smashing into the wall in Cincinnati.  As a former center fielder, it is pretty ridiculous if you go back and watch the amount of ground Cain covers to pull in the line drive.  Seriously, it is worth watching.  I’ll wait…

While this has nothing to do with Cain’s fantasy potential, it  kind of does.  Cain’s speed is going to be a fantasy asset on a bad Royals team.  While I will not preach that any KC player not named Butler or Soria is instantly ownable, Cain will steal you some bases.  I am not basing this solely off of his spectacular catch, but it honestly gives me reason to believe his speed.  Bill James has him at 33 steals in 512 AB.  ZiPS has him at 21 in 484.  CAIRO thinks he’ll swipe 14 in 433.  These all could be low estimates.  If Cain plays decently, he could quickly find himself atop the KC order.  Heck, even if he bats 9th, he will be getting closer to the 500-600 AB’s than 400-500 range.  Given the opportunity, the fantasy community (hah.) seems to think the kid has 30+ SB potential.  I agree.  And in a young KC lineup, he should be given every opportunity to shine.  by shine I mean steal 40 bases.  I wouldn’t advise drafting Cain, but monitor his Spring and start of the year.  If he can manage to hit between .260 and .270, he could easily steal 30+ bases for you.

Peter Bourjos

I wrote up Bourjos here earlier this month.  I suggest you read it, as I am a very talented man.  While you’re at it, read about Jose Tabata, if you want some slightly-more-expensive steals.  Bourjos figures to get a real shot and given that, is a real threat to steal 30+ bases.  So he’s got that goin’ for him… which is nice…

Coco Crisp

If you know baseball, you know Covelli can fly.  The question now is can he get the healthy At-Bats necessary to be a fantasy impact player again.  Crisp stole 32 bases in 328 plate appearances in 2010, good for one steal every 10.25 times he stepped up, when he managed to stay healthy enough to play.  His base-stealing prowess is undeniable.  What could be problematic this upcoming year is playing time, as the A’s OF looks crowded if that’s where the team plans on using Chris Carter and his Thor-Hammer power.  But you know what Crisp can do with merely 400 PA – steal 35 bases.  Once again I look at projections, none of which have Coco getting 500 AB or even 400 AB, but all seem to think he’ll steal 30 bases- including Bill James, CAIRO, and ZiPS.   So what happens if he gets regular at bats at the top of a revitalized A’s lineup?  He could steal 45-50 bases and score a ton of runs is the answer.  Once again, track his spring training and how the AB’s play out to start the season, but I think Crisp is a heckuva pickup candidate in 2011.

Erick Aybar

The Angels love to run.  Aybar figures to hit first in their lineup, or at least near the top.  This seems like a scheme for stealing success (hooray alliteration and rhyme!).  Aybar stole 22 bases in 2010 at the bottom of the lineup and has a 32 steal season in AAA just 5 years ago.  Bill James undershoots here and has him at 19 steals, as does CAIRO which has him at 18.  CBS has him pegged for 20 and I think these are all not taking into account his spot in the lineup and the lineup’s sudden need for speed.  Let me be the first to beg Mike Scioscia “LET ERICK RUN!”  I don’t care if he spells his name in a silly way, given the green light and top-of-the-order at bats, I bet you a box of jelly donuts Aybar can steal 30 bases.  We shall see.  But he will most likely be available at the end of drafts and is worth a flier on a MI spot, a notoriously weak position in the later rounds.

Cliff Pennington

Great name, let me start off by saying.

Moving on, did you know that Cliff Pennington stole 29 bases last year even though he only hit .250?  I did.  But that’s only because of my considerable knowledge on all things irrelevant in all of life except fantasy baseball.  29 bases!  Let me do some quick math… carry the 7… that’s one off of a 30 steal campaign!  Bill James thinks he can match that in 2011 but I think he can do better.  Let me explain.  With a better lineup & favorable spot in the order ( doublecheck), a better BABIP (check) and a better base stealing eye that only a year of experience can give you (uh… check), shouldn’t a player be able to increase his steal total?  Pennington is likely to be the #9 hitter for the A’s, free to run.  His BABIP last year was a decent .296.  It is not unreasonable to think he could improve that, even slightly, and get on base more often, increasing to the .260-.270 BA range and an OBP of around .340.  These are not unreasonable terms and are only slight improvements on what most projections have him putting forth in 2011.  I am optimistic, if for no other reason because I want to believe.  Like Aybar, you could do worse than Pennington at the end of a draft to fill your MI spot.  I expect 20 steals at a minimum and 35 is not unattainable.  Be aware.



So there you have it, some really cheap sources of steals (with an unintentional wild wild west coast skew).  More to the point, these guys provide one quality in spades – speed.  Speed kills.  Speed gets steals.  Speed gets runs.  These categories make or break fantasy seasons.  You want more?  Check out my posts about some other cheap-ish speedy guys: Peter Bourjos, Jose Tabata, Will Venable, and Dexter Fowler.  I am of the firm belief that speed can be the ‘X’ factor in winning a fantasy season.  So draft Juan Pierre if you must.  Waste a pick on Nyjer Morgan.  Spend hours debating whether or not Rajai Davis will produce in Toronto (he will, but he was too obvious for this post).  I’ve outlined for you some guys you can have in the last rounds, as pickups, or for less than a few bucks, if you’re into that auction crap.  What you do with the fountain of knowledge that I’ve supplied is up to you.  Just remember, in fantasy, you want cheap thrills.  And speed kills.





Filed under Cajones, Fantasy Baseball, MLB, offseason, Opinion, outfield, Pickups, Posted, Random Thoughts, Rookies, second base, shortstop

7 responses to “Cheap Thrills, Speed Kills

  1. Chris

    Only problem with trying to win SB’s and R’s is that speed doesn’t equal runs. Adrian Gonzalez scored more runs (87) than Michael Bourn (84), despite having the worst speed score for a 1B on fangraph’s and his anemic Padres’ offense. Unless you’re playing in a roto league, SB’s can easily be punted in favor of HR hitters. This is because a SB is a SB is a SB, it might improve the odds of your player scoring, or he could be left stranded, or he could get thrown out more often via pickoffs and CS. But, a HR is also a R, RBI and a hit, so it’s a four category production.

    With so many bounce back candidates and under rated sluggers out there (Reynolds, Pena, Ortiz, Wells) you should easily be able to snag more than enough position eligibility to fill almost every spot with a slugger. Add those guys in with a top four draft of Tulowitzki, Utley/Uggla/Kinsler, Cruz and Holliday (if you miss Cruz or Holliday Ethier and Young may still be available) and you’ve got eight players with 30 HR potential filling in 1B (Pena) 2B (Utley/Uggla/Kinsler/Phillips), 3B (Reynolds) and all three OF positions as well as a Utility slot. In addition, the small speed boost from the list of potential 2B, Tulo, Holliday, Cruz possibly Young means that your better balanced.

    Every time I do a public league I always do something stupid like try to build a team out of guys under 30, or focusing on speed and power pitching, etc. It never works, but when I focus on guys who hit for power? I suddenly start winning. This isn’t to say that a speedster doesn’t have his place (I couldn’t have won my keeper league last year without Bourn), but I never could manage to focus on speed first and win.

    • I think I was unclear. While I have an unhealthy infatuation with speed, I do not mean to say draft guys simply because they are fast. I did my homework. The gentlemen above will all either be undrafted or avaiable in the last 5 rounds. All I’m saying is draft one of them rather than, say, matt lindstrom. You need a balanced team to be good. You need some guys from the scrap heap to provide in a category or two to win.


      • Chris

        I see, makes more sense now, also, are you speaking in terms of a roto draft? H2H category draft or H2H points draft? Those could make a huge difference, but with a draft possibility of Tulo, Crawford, Pedroia/Choo/Cruz/Phillips (all seem to go in the 3rd), J Upton, Kinsler, Ellsbury/Andrus/BJ Upton you should be set with speed and have a solid amount of power to back it all up and start drafting some under-rated pitchers (Liriano, Hanson, Cain, Billingsley, Weaver, Dempster and Latosare all on the board between picks 77-90) . Only concern here for me is Cruz and Kinsler’s injury histories, but, if in Roto, they could post nice enough numbers before their season tanks in July to perform at about Choo’s level.

  2. I’m a head to head guy, so you’re absolutely right.

    Let me say out of those guys, I’d snag choo.

    I like where your head’s at, as I followed a similar strategy in our early league with my High School buddies (don’t forget Nolasco!)

  3. You’ll notice I’m a bit obsessed with this power/speed idea. The ‘Searching for Stubbs’ posts are a direct cause of my fascination this year of guys who can supply both power and speed. however, if you have a guy like mark reynolds on your team as I do, and you don’t think he’s gonna steal 20 bases again, you should look for cheap steals at the end of your draft to complement such a single category player (power) with some speed. or maybe i’m crazy. I could be. I lost last year…

    • Chris

      I was drafting in an odd setup (it was a league rebuild so the original players that I drafted were out of the pool of players from the teams that were vacant, no players that were FA’s at the end of the 2009 season were available until the league wide draft), but managed to get Tulo in the 2nd round and A-Rod in the first. Now that I think about it though, I wish I had gotten an every day 2B earlier as now I have Alberto Callaspo who most likely wont have 2B eligibility in 2012 and was disappointing last year. I also made a key trade that most thought I lost when I gave up Victorino, Freese, and Magglio Ordonez for Lester, Bourn and a third player, but I can’t remember who, within a week Freese and Ordonez were out for the season, and Victorino was hurt, so while I may have gotten hosed in a perfect world, the timing couldn’t have been better. This is a 20 team 7×7 H2H league with OPS, TB, HLD, and L being the extra categories.

      C: Mike Napoli
      1B: Billy Butler
      2B: Alberto Callaspo
      3B: Alex Rodriguez
      SS: Troy Tulowitzki
      LF: Carlos Gonzalez
      CF: Michael Bourn
      RF: Shin-Soo Choo
      BN: Michael Brantley
      BN: Luke Scott
      BN: Jonny Gomes
      BN: Josh Bell
      BN: Tyler Flowers
      BN: Logan Morrison

      SP: Justin Verlander
      SP: Jon Lester
      SP: Clay Buccholz
      SP: Gio Gonzalez
      RP: Jhoulys Chacin
      RP: Justin Masterson
      RP: Clay Hensley
      RP: (finished empty)
      P: Jorge De La Rosa
      P: Jordan Zimmermann
      BN: Carlos Carrasco
      BN: Josh Tomlin
      DL: Kris Medlen

      This team finished first in offense, the only laggard was 4th in SB, and finished 6th overall in pitching while punting HLD and SV. I finished 2nd in the regular season in part because of Tulo and CarGo’s tears in September and won took 1st in the post season. Obviously, for a 12 team league, you’ll want more SB’s than I had (your roster should be much, much deeper than mine) but I went from 2nd to last in SB’s to fourth because of Bourn. I was expecting a little more speed out of A-Rod (a mistake given his hip surgery and age) and Victorino wasn’t stealing much because by the time I traded him he was still on his power streak. I drafted only enough to, in my mind, compete with most teams and beat teams that were avoiding steals all together.

      Unlike my public leagues (this was my first keeper), I tend to try to do fancy stuff like I mentioned before where I chase one stat for fun, or I want to see how awesome I can make a pitching staff and see if it can carry a team, etc… Here though, I drafted for as many five tool guys as I could get, and where I couldn’t find them, I tried to get the biggest bargains in power (Napoli is a perpetual steal). But, because this was a keeper league, youth was a huge factor in my pick ups, with A-Rod and Maggs being the only drafted players I had over the age of 30 (Scott was a FA pickup).

      I also think being a Rockies and Indians fan helped me remember CarGo’s 2009 post season vs the Phillies and his improvements at the end of that season as well as remembering that Choo was good for a 20-20 .300 year which isn’t sexy enough for most people to remember to draft when you’re focused on other things. I mean, how many times was CarGo drafted in the 5th round last year? I don’t think many people outside of Colorado pegged him to be a post-hype sleeper candidate ready to break out.

      Basically, while getting a speedster late is good, you can get away without drafting one IF you can get as many five tool players as possible, this mitigates risk (if Victorino or Choo went down my SB production wouldn’t have hurt as much as it would have if, after the trade, Bourn had gotten hurt). With 2B going a little later than I would have expected in the mock drafts, and many HR/SB combos there, and all the 20/20 candidates in the OF, and guys with enough speed and guile to steal double digits at 3B and SS, you can easily fill a speed role without too much trouble.

      I’ll leave with this bit of advice from THT:

      Let me drive home the point with a quote from my Game Of Inches article. “According to Roto Authority’s [2010] estimates, you can win a 14-hitter, 12-team league by averaging a .282 BA, ~12 SB, ~83 R, ~80 RBI and ~21 HR output per hitter.” In 2010, the average first baseman hit .263/.349/.451 with 25 HR, 85 R, 91 RBI and 3.5 SB. Get the point? ‘Nuff said. – Jefferey Gross

  4. excellent comment. it looks like we’ve arrived at a similar idea for how a team should be put together to at least be in contention- you need to fill up categories. And yes, most of my points have been H2H deeper leagues where I mean to say someone like peter bourjos stealing 30 bases could win you that category enough times to put you over the edge.

    great commenting, love the discussion

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