In this week’s 2022 Fantasy Baseball Trends column, we will look at some reasons why stolen bases across major league baseball might be on the rise one-third of the way through the 2022 season.
Stolen bases remain Fantasy Baseball's most elusive category. A stolen base savant remains the Holy Grail of Fantasy assets as the base swipe has been in short supply in recent years.
They are different than their cousin on the pitching side: the save.
In a game decided by three runs or less, someone is likely to get the save, it's just a matter of who. Stolen bases are never a guarantee, and Fantasy managers have learned that lesson in recent seasons.
2022 Fantasy Baseball Trends: Stolen Bases Are On The Rise...For Now
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After Sunday's games were played, 1,620 out of 4,858 major league baseball games were completed in the 2022 season. That number represents exactly 33.3% of the total this year, so it's an interesting time to begin extrapolating out some numbers and trends we have seen through the first two months.
With 813 stolen bases through those 1,620 games, that is a pace of 2,439 for a full season. If we were comparing that number to the 1990s, it would look downright miniscule. But if 2022 ended with 2,439 total steals, that would be almost 200 more than we saw in 2021 and 2019 (and 2020's full-season pace was 2,393).
A full season of 2,439 steals would almost equal 2018's 2,474 in the year before we started hearing about "rabbit balls" and seeing home run numbers go absolutely crazy.
Why, then, after a three-true-outcomes decade are we seeing an increase in steals this year? We have seen steals sharply decreased since 2012's 3,229 total steals. Just nine seasons later, more than 1,000 steals would be chopped off that 2012 total.
We have been told that teams now like to play station-to-station and wait for the big inning. It makes sense why teams don't want to run into senseless outs, but there must be a reason why steals are trending up.
The Stolen Base Overreaction
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When we start to parse into when these stolen bases have happened in the 2022 season, we see some interesting trends compared to the past two months of previous seasons.
As you can see from this chart of the past nine seasons, no other season has seen a month-to-month change quite like 2022. The April number of 303 explodes to 435 in May. Yes, the season began on April 7th, but that's still just a full month's pace of 379 steals.
My opinion on why the sudden spike in steals in May? Teams began overreacting to the offensive numbers that came out of April. At this points five weeks ago, we were comparing the 2022 season to 1968 and discussing how it had been decades since he had seen averages and slugging percentages this low.
When teams looked at the run-scoring environment, they must have become convinced that the bigger innings would be few and far between this year, so they began manufacturing runs.
Well, April's league-wide slash line was .231/.307/.369, but that jumped to .246/.313/.398 in May. May also saw 330 more home runs clear the fences than did April.
The early returns on June steals now that we are seeing an improved offensive environment? Major league offenses are on pace for 375 steals this month, or 60 less than in May. The trend is course-correcting again.
How Do We Handle Steals on Our Fantasy Teams?
In May, a full 21 players had at least five stolen bases. Compare that to 15 in 2019 and just 12 in 2021, and you can start to see that month may have been an outlier in the long line of years showing us speed is going extinct.
Will players like Bobby Witt, Jr., Julio Rodriguez, Tommy Edman, Trea Turner, and Myles Straw still provide value with their speed and their legs? Of course! but we should temper our expectations that steals will continue on an upward trajectory.
Take a player like Cedric Mullins, for example. With a .304 on-base percentage in April, he amassed three successful steals. That on-base percentage dropped to .292 in May, but he had eight steals in that month. So far in June? Zero. With overall runs increasing from 2,557 in April to 3,719 in May, and the rumor circling that the baseballs have been switched again, we may see more wait-and-hold strategies.
If you have a comfortable lead in steals or feel like you have a player who might be affected by this speed slow-down, this might be the time to sell your speedsters and build the other aspects of your team.
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