In fantasy baseball, the manager tendencies we tend to focus on most are their bullpen usage and which pitchers earn the coveted saves (and/or holds in some leagues). We rarely discuss the effect of managerial philosophies related to aggressiveness on the basepaths, even though it directly impacts how players accumulate stolen bases and the value that provides to our fantasy teams regardless of format. If your league counts steals in any way, it helps to know which players may be affected.
Few players in baseball have the trust and green light from their manager to decide for themselves when they run, so most stolen base attempts are dependent on a decision from the dugout. This is an important and underutilized factor when analyzing steals and projections for fantasy purposes, as it gives the manager a greater degree of influence over player SB totals than any other fantasy statistic for hitters. For players with continuity at manager, we feel confident projecting that player’s year-end SB total to fall within an expected range. Change the manager though, and that same player’s projected range could be meaningfully altered.
Whether you play in roto or points formats, correctly assessing which players will finish above or below their stolen base projections can give you an edge on your competitors, and a change at manager is the simplest yet most influential variable to account for. Here’s how a change in the dugout could impact some Top 300 players’ fantasy value on the bases.
ADP data via NFBC 12-team Online Championship drafts from March 2022
Rate+ represents how often a manager’s team attempted to steal 2nd base, scaled to 100 = league average (via Baseball-Reference)
Player SB projections are an average of four free projection systems: ZiPS, Steamer, ATC, THE BAT
Starling Marte OF NYM
2021 Manager(s): Don Mattingly (Career Rate+ 104, 2021 Rate+ 153) and Bob Melvin (Career Rate+ 82, 2021 Rate+ 94)
2022 Manager: Buck Showalter (Career Rate+ 70, 2018 Rate+ 91)
Starling Marte led MLB with 47 steals in 2021, tying a career high and reaching the 40-steal mark for the third time in his career. Curiously, Marte’s SB rate increased under then-A’s manager Bob Melvin, who is far less eager to run than Don Mattingly in Miami. Either way, regression from any career high should be expected, and Marte’s average 2022 SB projection is 32.25.
New Mets manager Buck Showalter is back on the bench for the first time since 2018 and has a long history of a conservative approach to stealing bases. He did once allow Manny Machado to attempt 28 steals in 2015 and Jonathan Villar attempted 24 steals in only 54 games in a partial season under Showalter in 2018, so perhaps the doom and gloom surrounding the pairing of Marte and Showalter is at least somewhat overblown; however, Buck’s approach to speed and Marte’s risk of missing games due to injury dampens the enthusiasm for another 40+ steals in New York. Meeting the projection of 32.25 should prove possible though, as Marte has already gone 2/2 on his SB attempts in his first three spring training games thru 3/30. The possible edge in drafting Marte isn’t that he’ll beat the projection in SB, it’s that he has a real chance to meet the projection when many fantasy players think he’ll fall short due to Showalter.
2022 Projection: 32.25 SB
O/U: Just right
Trevor Story SS/2B BOS
2021 Manager: Bud Black (Career Rate+ 113, 2021 Rate+ 109)
2022 Manager: Alex Cora (Career Rate+ 94, 2021 Rate+ 57)
Trevor Story in Colorado was a fantasy goldmine. He benefited from the enviable combination of Coors Field’s BABIP-ballooning thin air and manager Bud Black’s enthusiasm for swiping second base. Story surpassed 20 SB in his last three full seasons in Denver. Now playing for Alex Cora in Boston, the positive BABIP effects of Fenway should soften the blow to his batting average, but Cora’s apparent reluctance to running may put a bigger dent in Story’s SB hopes.
Or maybe not? Boston didn’t exactly feature any burners on the 2021 squad, but the 2018 Red Sox had some deft base stealers (Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr.) and Cora ran them to a Rate+ of 130 that season. If Cora’s more recent conservative lean was indeed personnel-driven, then perhaps the speed outlook for Story looks a little rosier than first blush. He still boasts 89th percentile speed after all and has been efficient stealing bases in prior years.
The advantage to be gained here is drafting Story at a potentially discounted price while your league mates think leaving Coors will kill much of his value. Other than the batting average, Story may not see much drop-off at all. Just be wary of where he ultimately slots in the batting order. He hit sixth in his first spring appearance (in a lineup with Opening Day vibes) which could naturally reduce his SB attempts with the bottom of the order behind him, though he could slot in at second against LHP.
2022 Projection: 21 SB
O/U: Slightly UNDER
Marcus Semien SS/2B TEX
2021 Manager: Charlie Montoyo (Career Rate+ 83, 2021 Rate+ 100)
2022 Manager: Chris Woodward (Career Rate+ 148, 2021 Rate+ 143)
Those who believed Marcus Semien had peaked with the bouncy ball season of 2019 were shocked by his ridiculous 2021 campaign. On the bases though, Semien did what he always has and that’s steal 10-15 bases with remarkable consistency. The 15 SB were a career high, but hardly an outlier. Semien has averaged 12 SB over his past six full seasons (excluding 2020) and has stolen at least 10 bags in each of those years.
Under Chris Woodward, the Rangers have been one of the most run-happy teams in baseball. The combination of Semien’s consistent SB floor and 87th percentile sprint speed joined with the Rangers’ propensity to run gives Semien excellent odds to exceed his SB projections and maybe even set another career high. Regression is coming to lop off a chunk of those 45 HR, but it’s possible some of those could end up in the SB column instead.
2022 Projection: 11.5 SB
Francisco Lindor SS NYM
2021 Manager: Luis Rojas (Career Rate+ 81, 2021 Rate+ 83)
2022 Manager: Buck Showalter (Career Rate+ 70, 2018 Rate+ 91)
Francisco Lindor makes the list as the only other Met besides Starling Marte projected to steal more than 10 bases in 2022. He stole 10 in 125 games last year playing for Luis Rojas, who let the Mets run at a well-below average clip in his two seasons at the helm. As noted in Marte’s write-up above, new manager Buck Showalter, despite his career-long aversion to steals, has actually let his most skilled baserunners run wild at times. In a different era (was 1999 really that long ago?) Buck even had Tony Womack attempt 85(!) steals in one season with the Diamondbacks. Lindor isn’t as fast or proficient as Marte, so his is a more questionable case and it remains to be seen whether Showalter will buck his trend of grounding all sub-sonic baserunners.
As a veteran with a track record, it’s possible Lindor has earned the right in Showalter’s eyes to run until he proves he can’t. Though his legs have declined from his youthful peak, Lindor still possesses above average 68th percentile sprint speeds and a solid aptitude for pilferage, having stolen 22/27 bases in 2019 with 65th percentile sprint speed. Batting third isn’t ideal for swiping bases, but Showalter may not want to immediately restrict an important part of his veteran shortstop’s game regardless of lineup spot. Lindor’s days of 20+ SB may be over, but the current projection feels appropriate.
2022 Projection: 14.5 SB
O/U: Just right
Javier Báez SS/2B DET
2021 Manager(s): Dave Ross (Career Rate+ 116, 2021 Rate+ 125) and Luis Rojas (Career Rate+ 81, 2021 Rate+ 83)
2022 Manager: AJ Hinch (Career Rate+ 111, 2021 Rate+ 122)
Javier Báez has been a real-life enigma his entire career at the plate. Outside of the shortened 2020 season, he has somehow maintained a solid batting average and power metrics despite some of the worst plate discipline and contact skills in the game. The one fantasy skill of his that’s never faltered though is his speed. Báez has stolen 10+ bases in all five of his full seasons, topping out at 21 in 2018. Splitting the 2021 season between the Cubs and Mets, Báez SBA rate dropped roughly 17% under Luis Rojas in Queens. Heading into 2022 with new manager AJ Hinch, Báez should once more enjoy extra freedom on the basepaths. Hinch and Cubs manager Dave Ross are similarly aggressive at stealing a bag.
2022 Projection: 15 SB
O/U: Just right
Bobby Witt Jr. SS KC
2021 Manager: Played in minor leagues
2022 Manager: Mike Matheny (Career Rate+ 79, 2021 Rate+ 130)
The only rookie to make the list, Bobby Witt Jr. belongs here for good reason. After amassing 38 SB (in 50 attempts) over 161 minor league games, Witt seems positioned to make the Royals’ Opening Day roster as their starting third baseman. He has also made most of his spring appearances hitting second in the batting order and could very well slot there regularly once the season begins.
We can ignore manager Mike Matheny’s career Rate+ of 79. In his two seasons in KC, Matheny and the Royals have attempted more steals than any other team in baseball. With Whit Merrifield, Adalberto Mondesi, and others, the Royals are a team built for speed and Matheny takes advantage. Witt’s fleet footedness should fit right in with the club mentality and hitting second all season could help him smash playing time projections. Add in early-season eligibility at third base and the pieces are falling into place for Witt to amass a lot of fantasy value and blow away his ADP.
2022 Projection: 17.5
Oh, there’s also this…
What do you think? pic.twitter.com/zeucU094HR
— MLB (@MLB) March 23, 2022
Avisaíl García OF MIA
2021 Manager: Craig Counsell (Career Rate+ 122, 2021 Rate+ 114)
2022 Manager: Don Mattingly (Career Rate+ 104, 2021 Rate+ 153)
Here we begin to dive deeper down the ADP ranks with Avisaíl García. He has always had high sprint speeds (88th percentile in 2021) despite his size and it’s notable that his career high in steals came under aggressive manager Kevin Cash in Tampa in 2019. García went 10/14 on the bases that year in only 125 games. Craig Counsell in Milwaukee likes to run as well, but García started only 119 of his 135 games played.
Now with the Marlins and another running manager in Don Mattingly, García finds himself in line to play and start most every day and possibly reach a new career high in both PA and steals as a result. If similarly stocky yet sneakily speedy Jorge Alfaro can snag eight bases for Mattingly in 92 games, García could surpass his SB projection by August.
2022 Projection: 8.5
Tommy Pham OF CIN
2021 Manager: Bob Melvin (Career Rate+ 82, 2021 Rate+ 94)
2022 Manager: David Bell (Career Rate+ 95, 2021 Rate+ 57)
Those who drafted Tommy Pham while he was still a free agent had to be pleased when he inked a one-year, $7.5M deal with the Reds. By joining a team with a weak outfield group after the trade of Jesse Winker, Pham should be in line to start most days and amass plenty of plate appearances. Pham has two seasons of 25 SB and four in double digits but has never played in a hitter’s park like Great American Ballpark. He has struggled with batting average the past two seasons, but his usual plate discipline has remained intact. Any boost to his OBP from playing in a better home park could help increase his opportunities to steal bases.
Manager David Bell’s Rate+ of 57 last year may not seem ideal for Pham’s SB projection on the surface, but the primary starters on last year’s Reds team had very little speed. Only Jonathan India reached double-digits in steals, so maybe the lack of running was more personnel than David Bell. After all, Bell’s Rate+ in his two previous seasons was 126 and 119. It seems likely Bell would let a good base stealer like Pham test out his speed more frequently, similar to how Buck Showalter has always allowed his speedy runners to steal.
2022 Projection: 13.5
2021 Manager: Jayce Tingler (Career Rate+ 154)
2022 Manager: Bob Melvin (Career Rate+ 82)
Our first outlook for an entire team begins with the Padres, who hired away Bob Melvin from the A’s to become their new manager, replacing Jayce Tingler. It’s a stark difference in styles as Tingler was one of the most aggressive managers in baseball during his two seasons in San Diego, and Melvin has a far more conservative history on the bases. This definitely dings the outlooks for every Padre who steals bases, especially since so many of them fall into that 6-15 SB range in projections. Only Fernando Tatis Jr. had projected for more than 20 steals, and after his wrist injury and lingering concerns over the health of his shoulder, slowing him down on the bases to protect his health could be the plan in place when he returns in a few months.
Fantasy-relevant players affected by the managerial change:
Fernando Tatis Jr. – With two separate injury concerns, may have been slowed down even with Tingler
Manny Machado – Still projecting for 10+ SB after 12 last year, but safer to bet the under
Trent Grisham – The most likely Padre to steal 15+ from the lead-off spot, but needs full season of health
Ha-Seong Kim – Due for more PT after Tatis injury so should steal more bags in ’22 anyway
Jake Cronenworth – Has the sprint speed to add more SB, but likely won’t under Melvin
Jorge Alfaro – Uncertain playing time and the move from Mattingly to Melvin limits SB upside
Jurickson Profar – Projection is 9.5 SB and career high is 10, definitely bet on the under
2021 Manager: Mike Shildt (Career Rate+ 107)
2022 Manager: Oliver Marmol (no MLB experience)
The Cardinals are the first of two teams with brand-new rookie managers. With no MLB managing experience to look back at, we can’t be sure how Marmol will approach stolen bases. What we do know is that Marmol spent the last five seasons as a first base and then bench coach with the Cardinals, so he has continuity within the organization. Perhaps this makes it more likely he immediately assumes a style similar to departed manager Mike Shildt. Somewhat troubling though is that the Cardinals have only stolen two bases total in spring training through 3/31.
Without certainty we should keep our expectations in line with the projections when it comes to Cardinals stolen bases. For players like Tyler O’Neill, Paul Goldschmidt, and maybe even Harrison Bader, all of whom can earn fantasy value without steals, their outlooks shouldn’t change all that much. The Cardinal whose fantasy value is most dependent on the steal is Tommy Edman. A more conservative approach to drafting Edman specifically for his speed seems the prudent move here in late draft season.
2021 Manager: Bob Melvin (Career Rate+ 82)
2022 Manager: Mark Kotsay (no MLB experience)
The other new manager with no previous MLB experience is Mark Kotsay with the A’s. The Kotsay hiring was less impactful for fantasy purposes since Oakland has very few players projected to run much anyway. Only a handful of A’s are projected to get close to 10 SB this year, and only one is presently relevant outside of AL-Only or deep leagues: Ramón Laureano.
If early spring training results are any indication, the A’s have attempted 10 steals as a team, putting them firmly in the middle of the pack overall. Should regular season Kotsay mirror spring training Kotsay as an average base stealing manager, the A’s outlooks wouldn’t need any adjustments.
(Photo by Icon Sportswire) Adapted by Shawn Palmer (@PalmerDesigns_ on twitter)