In 1983 Rickey Henderson ran his way to 130 steals for the Athletics, a modern day baseball record (Hugh Nicol actually stole 138 bases in 1887 for the Cincinnati Red Stockings). Others of the modern era have hit triple-digits – Lou Brock, Vince Coleman Maury Wills – but those just aren't numbers we see anymore. Nowadays we're lucky to find guys who steal half as many bags. So why is it that you hear so many people in the fantasy game say 'I don't worry about steals early, I can find them late.' Is that an accurate statement? How should you look at steals for the coming season, and which players should you consider targeting?
As I noted, the days of 100 steals are gone.
The last time someone stole 90 bases? Try 1987 when Vince Coleman swiped 109 bags.
The last time someone stole 80 bases? Try 1987 – Coleman.
The last time someone stole 70 bases? We've seen that happen twice the last few years with Jose Reyes (78 in 2007) and Jacoby Ellsbury (70 in 2009). Those two efforts are the only times it has happened in the 21st century.
So the days of huge steals totals are in the rear view mirror. What can we expect in 2013? Let's take a look at the past few seasons.
In the 21st century big league teams have stolen an average of 2,879 bases per season.
However, the last season that the league didn't pass that total was 2008, and the last two years the league has gone over 3,200 steals per season, the two highest marks of the 21st century. That means steals are easier than they have been in a decade to rack up in fantasy, right? Not so fast.
Remember when I noted above that we just don't have huge steals totals anymore? The days of 100, 90, 80 are gone, and even 70 steal seasons are rare. What about lower levels like 50 and 60 you ask? Here is the data.
From 2000-12 there have been 35 seasons of 50 steals and 14 of at least 60 thefts. Put another way, since the turn of the century there has been roughly one 60 steal guy and two 50 steal guys a season (remember, the 50+ steal guys, that group of 35 seasons, also include the 14 seasons of 60 steals). That's it. Three guys a season with 50 steals is the average per year. However, the reality is that the number is even lower than that many times. Here are the number of 50 steal men each of the last 13 years.
So, surprisingly, even though the last two years have led to the most steals in the majors in the 21st century, we have only one total season of 50 steals in those two campaigns.
This brings up a significant point. Even though steals might be slightly more plentiful right now, we're just not seeing the elite base stealers much anymore. Not only are the upper echelon of thefts no longer looking attainable, but the significant steals totals also don't seem to be as reachable. In the modern game we get a lot of guys stealing 15-20 bases, but not many who are able to significantly trump that total meaning that while steals might be easier to find, getting any real separation is more difficult.
Here are the 20 and 40 steal totals for each of the past 13 years. Listed first is the number of 20 steal men followed by the overall total of players who hit 40 steals.
2000: 42 and six
2001: 44 and five
2002: 33 and five
2003: 26 and six
2004: 27 and five
2005: 27 and seven
2006: 35 and 11
2007: 42 and eight
2008: 37 and nine
2009: 46 and seven
2010: 35 and eight
2011: 50 and eight
2012: 48 and six
As expected, there are more guys stealing 20+ bases than there were a few years ago, but the number of elite base stealers, and let's be honest it's a disgrace to be using 40 steals as an “elite” number, has remained pretty consistent. If you're in a 12 team league the data suggests the at least a third of the teams will not have a 40 steal man on their roster.
So who are the major players and where do you have to select them on draft day? Some thoughts.
* ADP numbers from MockDraftCentral.
Guys in the top-100
These fellas not only hit, but they run too.
Mike Trout (3.10): Led baseball with 49 steals last year though it's hard to think he will be able to replicate his 91 percent steal percentage.
Matt Kemp (4.0): From 2008-11 he averaged 32 steals a season.
B.J. Upton (24.0): For five straight seasons he's stolen at least 31 bases.
Starlin Castro (38.1): Has gone from 10 to 22 to 25 steals in his three seasons. He's always getting caught though (66 percent success rate).
Jose Reyes (44.0): He's not the runner he once was but he's still gone for 30, 39 and 40 steals the past three years despite averaging 140 games a season.
Jacoby Ellsbury (47.5): Jacoby Ellsbury averaged 60 steals in 2008-09 but he stole only 39 bases in 2011, his last healthy season.
Michael Bourn (70.5): He's stolen at least 41 bases in 5-straight seasons. In that time his total of 257 steals is 52 more than anyone else (Juan Pierre).
Desmond Jennings (83.9): In 132 games of injury filled work Desmond stole 31 bases. He's certainly got a 40 steal season in him if he can stay healthy, but that's a huge IF.
Angel Pagan (106.7): His total of 29 steals last season for the Giants was a three year low (37 and 32).
Jimmy Rollins (107.1): Has stolen 30 bases in each of his last eight seasons of at least 130 games played.
Shane Victorino (125.7): Has hit 30 steals in two of the last three years including a career best 30 last season.
Elvis Andrus (130.4): After 3-straight 30 steal seasons he dipped to just 21 in his fourth season.
Carl Crawford (135.5): When he's had at least 550 plate appearances he's never failed to steal 46 bases.
Coco Crisp (138.9): The past three years this veteran has averaged 40 steals a season.
Cameron Maybin (145.9): Fell from 40 to 26 steals last season as his OBP fell to .306.
Alejandro De Aza (148.5): Stole 26 bases in his first “full” season, but even so he missed 31 games.
Ben Revere (187.5): A younger Juan Pierre. No power at all (zero homers), and he drove in only 32 runs in 511 at-bats. He stole 40 bases though, a year after 34 thefts in just 117 games.
Carlos Gomez (200.1): Stole 37 bases last year after 3-straight seasons of less than 20. Expecting a full repeat is aggressive, but he has the speed to steal 40 if it all breaks right.
Brett Gardner (217.5): In his last two healthy seasons, 2010-11, Gardner stole 47 and 49 bases.
Alcides Escobar (217.9): Not many seem to realize that he's averaged 31 steals the past two years.
Adam Eaton (222.1): The rookie hopes to hit leadoff for the D'backs. He stole 38 bases in 119 games at Triple-A in 2012.
Ichiro Suzuki (227.1): He's stolen at least 26 bases in each of his 12 big league seasons. Two of the last four years he's failed to reach 30 thefts though.
Juan Pierre (227.3): Will hit leadoff and play every day for the Marlins. Aging, but he still stole 37 bases last season in just 439 plate appearances.
Emilio Bonifacio (227.2): Will play a super-sub role in Toronto. He's stolen 70 bases in his last 216 games.
Drew Stubbs (236.4): His average is awful, and he strikes out too much, but he's always stealing bags (30 or more in his three full seasons).
Billy Hamilton (236.8): The all-time single season steals leader stole 155 bases last season in the minors. He's learning to play the outfield so we might not see him in the bigs until later in the year.
Chris Young (252.3): He's had three 20/20 seasons and in his last two healthy campaigns he's stolen 28 and 22 bases.
Everth Cabrera (252.8): The NL leader in steals with 44 is outside the top-250 overall, when he plays shortstop?
Peter Bourjos (259.5): Only three steals last season cause of a wonky hip, he's just a year removed from 22 thefts.
Justin Maxwell (261.6): The Astros' outfielder has 20 steals in 612 career plate appearances.
Rajai Davis (297.8): For 6-straight years he's swiped 22 bags. In three of those season, including three of the last four, he's been at 41 or better.
Players Ranked Lower than 300 Overall
Jemile Weeks (304.0): He may have hit a sickly .221 last season, and his role is uncertain, but he's averaged 22 steals per 500 at-bats.
Wil Venable (315.4): He's stolen at least 24 bases three years running despite averaging only 442 plate appearances a year.
Dan Mastroianni (319.5): Could find himself in the Twins' outfield on a daily basis. He stole 31 bases in 97 games between Triple-A and the big leagues last season.
Eric Young Jr. (outside the top 450): Can play infield and outfield. In his career he's swiped 62 bases in only 601 at-bats.
Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive on Sirius 210 and XM 87, Monday through Friday at 5 PM EDT. For more of Ray's analysis you can check out BaseballGuys.com or the BaseballGuys' Twitter account where he tirelessly answer everyone's questions.
Rounding The Bases - Todd Zola Looks At The First 10 Rounds of a Likely 2014 Fantasy Baseball Draft
Master Fantasy Baseball Notes From Todd Zola - Looking Ahead To The 2014 Fantasy Baseball Season
Rounding The Bases - Master Fantasy Baseball Notes From Todd Zola
The Farm Report: Minor League Baseball Coverage From A Fantasy Perspective (20 Prospects for '14)
2013 Fantasy Baseball Waiver Pickups: Week 24
The Farm Report: Minor League Baseball Coverage From A Fantasy Perspective (September Call-Ups)
2013 Fantasy Baseball Waiver Pickups: Week 23
Rounding the Bases: A Day For the Little Man
Rounding The Bases: Morse, Willingham On the Move?
The Farm Report: Minor League Baseball Coverage From A Fantasy Perspective (Roster Expansion)
2013 Fantasy Baseball Waiver Pickups: Week 22
Rounding the Bases: Five Surging Pitchers & Hitters
Rounding the Bases: Rookies, Veterans & Roster Movement
The Farm Report: Minor League Baseball Coverage From A Fantasy Perspective (Pitching Help On The Way!)
2013 Fantasy Baseball Waiver Pickups: Week 21
Master Notes From Todd Zola - Taking A Look at Starting Pitching In Keeper Leagues
Rounding the Bases: Small Names, Big Production?
Rounding the Bases: A First for Stephen Strasburg and the (Near) Final Round-Up
The Farm Report: Minor League Baseball Coverage From A Fantasy Perspective (Hitting Help On The Way!)
2013 Fantasy Baseball Waiver Pickups: Week Twenty