by Ray Lin
As Billy Hamilton and Dee Gordon owners well know, speed is something that can swing leagues. Unlike power, though, stolen bases don’t come from nearly as many players making it an extremely rare commodity.
In fact, over the past 30 days there were nearly twice as many players who hit 5+ home runs (45) than there were who stole 5+ bases (23). There is hope for those in search of steals: of those players who’ve had at least a handful of jacks over the past month, nearly all of them (86.7%) are owned in at least 89.2% of ESPN leagues. For steals, only 56.5% of them are as widely owned.
There are a number of reasons why there are roughly a dozen speedy players floating around on the waiver wire — lack of a permanent starting job, painful batting average, etc. — but that doesn’t change the fact that steals are steals, however you get them.
Here’s a look at a handful of those players with at least 5 steals over the past 30 days, all of whom are owned in well less than half of ESPN leagues.
Denard Span, Was OF (6 SBs in past 30 days, 35.6% owned)
He won’t offer you anything in the power department, but Span has very quietly been a much-needed offensive sparkplug in a Washington outfield without Bryce Harper. In the past month, Span is tied among fantasy outfielders for the 4th-most runs scored with 19. Of those who have crossed home plate 19+ times, none have stolen as many bases as Span. He won’t do OBP-leaguers any favors with a .319 mark, but standard leaguers won’t complain about his .284 average over the past 30 days. Until Monday, Span had a six-game hitting streak going during which he had four multi-hit contests and hit .400 overall. You could do far worse for a 3rd/4th outfielder if you need steals and runs.
Alejandro De Aza, Cws OF (5 SBs in past 30 days, 26.8% owned)
Unlike Span, De Aza will actually help out in the power department (5 HR on the year) to go with double-digit speed. It’s rare that a borderline 20/20 guy last year (17 HR, 20 SB) would be found sitting on the waiver wire, but that’s because he’s been killing owners in batting average (.216). Those who can swallow that brick of a batting clip and are desperate for a cheap power-speed combination could do much worse than him. A good sign of his approach at the plate of late is his .392 OBP over the past 30 days. Look for his average to settle closer to .250 by season’s end.
James Jones, Sea OF (10 SBs in past 30 days, 16.7% owned)
The Mariners have been a bit of a surprise this season, currently carrying a winning record and tied for the 4th-best record in the AL after an abysmal 2013. A big contributor to the team’s success has been Jones. The rookie from Brooklyn has been on a blazing 35-steal pace while hitting.285. He has always been considered a player with great tools, often getting compared to former Mariner Adam Jones. After getting picked by Seattle in the 4th round of the 2009 draft, Jones has exhibited a patient eye at the plate in the minors (.363 OBP) and solid speed (99 SBs across 4 minor league levels). He should continue to run the rest of the year, but one thing to be cautious of is his accuracy — even though he’s been 12-for-13 in thefts in the majors, he was caught on nearly a third of his attempts in the minors.
Drew Stubbs, Col OF (5 SBs in past 30 days, 7.2% owned)
Injuries to Michael Cuddyer and Carlos Gonzalez have opened up regular playing time for Stubbs, which has made him a decent source of steals for NL-only teams. The former first-round draft pick has had plenty of fantasy relevance before as a low-average, power/speed combo guy (averaging 18 HR and 34 SB every 600 ABs). He had a terrific month of May (.368-.413-.579) but has tailed off considerably in June with a .250 average. Even so, with both Cuddyer and Gonzalez are out of commission for at least another month Stubbs will get as many ABs as he can handle. He’ll have to improve against righties (.640 OPS vs RHP) in those at-bats, but the counting stats should still be there.
Craig Gentry, Oak OF (8 SBs in past 30 days, 0.5% owned)
He’s tied for 8th in the majors with 15 steals and plays for the best team in baseball, but most people probably wouldn’t consider a 4th outfielder on his own team a fantasy asset. Yet Gentry has been exactly that. He’s been just as impactful in the stolen base department as Brett Gardner and Brian Dozier, and he’s done so without getting caught a single time. In AL-only leagues he’s been a no-brainer, but Josh Reddick is currently rehabbing at Triple-A and should be returning from his knee injury soon. Coco Crisp (neck) and Kyle Blanks (calf) have been dealing with recurring injuries, so Gentry will still get at-bats here and there.
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