They said that stolen base totals were down throughout the game, and they were right. In 2015, only seven players reached the 30-SB plateau. That number rose to 14 in 2016, but this was nowhere near the 23 players who swiped at least 30 bags back in 2012. But a large group of fantasy pundits also said that since stolen base totals were down throughout the game, shelling out the extra dollar for one of the elite speedsters would pay off. Grab Billy Hamilton and as long as you don't ignore steals entirely the rest of the way, you would be guaranteed to finish among the top few teams in the category with a very good chance to lead the pack. I've never been much of a fan of this strategy, as an injury to your designated elite speedster could be too devastating to overcome. I'd rather spread the risk, drafting perhaps one 30-plus SB guy but several other players in the 15-20 SB range. Maybe I wouldn't win the category, but I'd be competitive.
Still, my allegiance to the "spread the risk" approach to steals was tested this year, as the numbers were convincing. I wasn't about to draft Billy Hamilton, but I'd be more open to spending a mid-round or late-round pick or $5-10 in an auction on a speed specialist.
Anyway, with the 2017 season reaching the one-month mark, I figured that now was a good time to check in on some of the stolen base building blocks that were said to be well worth the investment.
Rajai Davis (1 SB in 15 games) - My newfound openness to drafting stolen base specialists led me to roster Davis in three of my five leagues, including Mixed Auction Tout Wars, where I purchased him for a reasonable $5. Well, things haven't gone as planned, and that was before Rajai landed on the DL earlier this week with a hamstring strain. It's tough to swipe a significant number of bags when you're getting on base at a .262 clip. But Davis isn't expected to be sidelined for long, so hopefully he can get into a groove upon his return and provide his owners with the 30-plus steals that were once thought to be a lock.
Travis Jankowski (2 SB in 17 games) - Despite his 30-SB 2016 campaign, Jankowski carried risk heading into this season, but the risk was mostly related to playing time. We knew the AVG wouldn't be helpful, but he showed enough on-base ability last season (.332 OBP) to suggest that he would again serve as a reliable speed source. The problem is that although Jankowski is walking at around the same rate as last year, he's managed only eight hits through 50 at-bats (.160 AVG). And it gets worse, as he's now on the DL and out indefinitely with a foot injury that might be a hairline fracture. Although the draft day cost wasn't too steep, Jankowski owners who penciled him in for another 30 steals are surely hurting.
Manuel Margot (2 SB in 25 games) - Margot was all the rage in drafts this spring, a 22-year-old top prospect who posted a .350 OBP in the Minors with 162 steals in 466 games. He would be the everyday centerfielder for the Padres in 2017 and was a legitimate candidate to swipe 40 bags. The funny thing is that he has more homers (3) than stolen bases. There's still plenty of time for Margot to pick up the pace, but he's currently projected for 13 steals, so there's work to be done.
Jonathan Villar (4 SB in 24 games) - I'm not too concerned about Villar, as his surprisingly low .259 OBP (career .330 OBP) is the biggest reason for his lack of stolen base attempts (4-for-5). That should change soon enough, and the three homers have been a pleasant surprise. Maybe last season's 19-HR outburst wasn't a fluke after all. The issue here is that Villar was a top-30 pick in the vast majority of leagues this year, so he will need to approach his 2016 stat line in order to earn his draft day price, and that's a tall order.
Starling Marte (2 SB in 13 games) - Not to make Marte owners feel any worse or anything (I happen to own him in my NFBC Draft Champions league, where no trades or free agent pickups are allowed), but two steals is all you will be getting from him until mid-July thanks to his decision to use a banned substance. Forget about those guaranteed 40 steals. Come to think of it, Marte is actually an interesting trade target if you can acquire him for 50 cents on the dollar, as unlike an injury situation, we know exactly when he will come back. But that probably wouldn't be a smart move for the Marte owner, selling low on an elite talent.
What a mess.
Yeah, it's only April 30th, but the early verdict is that even in 2017, investing in stolen base specialists may not be such a wise investment.