When we started the Grand Theft Baseball league at the beginning of the season, we were tentatively excited. Obviously we knew that adding the thefts would add some kind of a wrinkle and would make each matchup a little more intense, but boy, we had no idea what we were in for. Every Sunday felt like we were all thrown in a pressure cooker, people were celebrating last-minute shifts in the categories in their favor and then cursing as the tide shifted back the other way. No one felt safe. Creating our lists of unprotected players got harder and harder every week as the lists grew longer and longer. I’m pretty sure most Sundays I was sweating literal bullets.
There were few pains worse than losing a player right after stealing him. It happened to almost all of us. Three of us lost Cole Hamels within two weeks after the theft, two of us lost Alex Colome within a two week stretch, and it only got worse as the season went on. Brandon Lundberg stole Yordan Alvarez in Week 14 and lost him again in Week 16. Dave Cherman stole potential NL MVP Cody Bellinger and lost him right before the playoffs. Grand Theft giveth, Grand Theft taketh away.
Breaking Down the Grand Thefts
Some really interesting patterns emerged that actually can tell us about how the fantasy baseball season went as a whole this year. I think everyone can agree that this season in particular, consistent starting pitching was really hard to come by. We recognized that in GTB, so when it came time to decide who we wanted to steal after our victory, we had almost as many starting pitchers stolen as we did all hitters combined. Once you include relief pitchers into the mix, pitchers were taken 57% of the time. Good pitching was incredibly important this year, and our best teams made sure to take some whenever they could. In fact, I think most teams left better hitters unprotected in favor of protecting weaker pitchers. I was in the camp of just taking the best player available each week and not worrying so much about position, and I ended up far below the league average in pitcher thefts. I took pitchers 43% of the time, and that was buoyed by my strategy changing at the end of the season as I geared up for the playoffs, taking two pitchers in the final two weeks.
It was a bit curious to see outfielders outpace infielders by a good margin. There were 10 more outfielders taken than infielders, which I thought would have been more of an even split. I think it was most likely because of positional eligibility, as outfield is one position with three spots whereas infield is broken down into the four individual positions. It may have been an easier fit into lineups to take an outfielder instead of perhaps taking a better player who is only second base-eligible when you already have a good player there. Catchers weren’t valued hardly at all, which doesn’t surprise me. The only catcher of note who was stolen was Gary Sanchez, taken in Week 16; every other catcher was taken before Week 6 with the majority actually being taken in Week 1. If we had been more aggressive at the start with the number of players we had to leave unprotected, I would bet that Sanchez would have been the only catcher taken.
GTB Award No. 1: Most Thefts
Think of this section like the bonus stars at the end of a way-too-long game of Mario Party (if you play a game with anything more than the minimum allowable number of turns, I applaud your patience). These awards probably won’t change the outcome of the league, but it’s fun to see who landed on the most green spaces or who won the most coins in mini games. For this award, I wanted to see purely who stole the most number of players from their opponents.
Nathan Mills crushed all of us, stealing a whopping 17 players in 21 scoring periods. He didn’t get his second loss until Week 13, showing just how much of a snowball effect can be created when you win. Mills had a seven-week win streak in the middle of the season (from Week 6 to Week 12) and cruised into the playoffs with the No. 1 seed and a completely stacked roster.
In fact, his roster was so unbelievably stacked that he was leaving Manny Machado unprotected for a large portion of the season, simply because he had no room for him under his protection. Mills may not be the King of Thieves, but he was certainly at the very least Stealy.
GTB Award No. 2: Grandest Theft
Not all thefts are created equal. Some of the thefts we had this year wouldn’t have even constituted a shoplifting charge, let alone something that we would consider “grand.” There were a select few, though, that would have made even the Ocean’s 11 crew proud. Let’s take a look at the nominees for Most Valuable Theft:
- Ketel Marte, stolen on April 29, post-theft stats: 26 HR, 82 R, 71 RBI, 7 SB, .410 OBP.
- Eugenio Suarez, stolen on June 24, post-theft stats: 32 HR, 49 R, 57 RBI, 2 SB, .382 OBP.
- Mike Clevinger, stolen on July 8, post-theft stats: 10 QS, 115 K, 2.02 ERA, 1.06 WHIP.
- Shane Bieber, stolen on July 22, post-theft stats: 8 QS, 69 K, 2.35 ERA, 0.89 WHIP.
All three of these players have rightful claims to the award, in my opinion. Suarez has perhaps the most impressive raw numbers, especially considering he hit those 32 home runs in a condensed three-month stretch, not over the course of a full season. He started his hot streak almost immediately after Daniel Port had stolen him, hitting 11 home runs before he had even spent 30 days on Port’s roster.
Marte may not have the same power numbers, but the point in his favor relates to how our protection system worked. Dave Fisher stole Marte in Week 4, when teams only needed to leave seven players unprotected. In the same week that Marte was stolen, so were players such as Matt Barnes and Greg Holland, who combined for just 13 saves post-theft. The fact that Fisher was able to steal a player who put up this level of production at that time is simply unbelievable.
As for Clevinger, well, we were all starved for pitching, and Nathan Mills stole himself one of the most dominant starting pitchers of the second half. His 10 quality starts in just 14 starts put him on pace for 22 over the course of a full season, which would have tied him with Jacob deGrom for sixth, and his 11.6 K/9 would have sandwiched him between Justin Verlander and deGrom for sixth as well. Bieber, on the other hand, didn’t get quite the volume for Dan Wist that Clevinger got for Mills, but Bieber recorded a quality start in every single start after his theft, and his K/9 of 10.8 is right there with Clevinger, not to mention the drastic drop in WHIP.
I put these four nominees up in our Pitcher List Discord channel for our writers and Patreon supporters to vote on, and the winner is Marte! Clevinger came in a close second, and while most of the voters agreed that Clevinger’s run was more statistically dominant, it was the fact that Marte was stolen so early on, when good players really weren’t available by theft, that swayed their vote. Congratulations to Marte and also to Dave Fisher, who was the manager with the foresight to steal him. His seventh-place finish wouldn’t have been possible without Marte.
GTB Award No. 3: Worst Theft
There’s only one nominee for this category because I couldn’t find another player who’s story is sadder than this one. On Aug. 12, I had finally defeated Dan Wist in a long, hard-fought battle that ended in the narrowest of victories. I had quite the stable of players from whom to choose, including Aroldis Chapman (six saves and 0.93 ERA post potential theft), Kyle Hendricks (four quality starts, 2.48 ERA), and Yu Darvish (four quality starts, 2.70 ERA, 71 strikeouts). I could have used some pitching too. But I couldn’t resist the temptation of filling my hole at shortstop with a guy who had a legitimate chance at a 25/25 season, with a strong OBP to boot. Fernando Tatis Jr. was just far too enticing for me to pass him up for someone boring and steady such as Hendricks or a relief pitcher such as Chapman.
That was Aug. 12 that I stole Tatis, and it was on Aug. 14 that the Padres placed him on the 10-day IL and then later announced that he would be done for the season. I had Tatis for all of two days, a two-day stretch where he went 2-9 with one measly run scored.
Related note about this injury: I truly believe that I was a bad luck charm for players I stole. It was like the proverbial monkey’s paw of wishes, where every theft I made came at a terrible price. I stole Joey Gallo on July 1; three weeks later, he went down with a broken hamate bone. I stole Eloy Jimenez on July 8; a week later, he suffered an elbow injury that sent him to the IL. On July 22, I stole Ramon Laureano; he didn’t even last a full scoring period with me before going down with a stress fracture. Then the final cherry on top, Tatis.
Dave Cherman, The King of Thieves
If there’s any evidence of the snowball effect, it’s right here with Dave’s incredible run to close the season. On July 21, Cherman was at his absolute lowest point, in the middle of a four-week losing streak, and in grand fashion too, losing 9-0 to me in Week 15. The four consecutive losses also meant four players lost—and at a point in the season when actually valuable players were becoming available via theft. Cherman lost Hendricks, Carlos Martinez, Alvarez, and Laureano in this stretch. Cherman was below .500 and not a contender. But he knew all he had to do was win one week at a time and he could turn this ship around. And turn it around he did.
It started with a Week 16 victory over Dave Fisher, which led to his theft of Sanchez. Sanchez posted great numbers for Cherman while he was healthy, with a .375 OBP, 10 home runs, 19 runs, and 19 RBI. Then he soundly beat Daniel Port and stole Jorge Soler from him, who ended up being one of his best thefts of the season. Soler was a key part of the championship run, smashing 16 home runs in just two months along with an excellent .394 OBP. Then it was Sonny Gray in Week 18, with six quality starts and a 2.18 ERA down the stretch. And finally his coup de gras in Week 19, stealing Bellinger. By the time the playoffs started, Cherman was on a roll, knocking out Brandon Lundberg in the quarterfinals and stealing Trea Turner from him, and then knocking me out in the semifinals and taking Juan Soto from me.
When Cherman met editor Nathan Mills in the final, their rosters looked like we had been playing in a six-team league. Mills’ lineup boasted no less than six top-50 hitters and six top-50 pitchers, including Verlander, Clevinger, Charlie Morton, Josh Hader, Josh Donaldson, Francisco Lindor, and Marcus Semien. On the other side, not only did we have the aforementioned thefts in Turner, Soto, and Soler but also Anthony Rendon, JD Martinez, deGrom, and Clayton Kershaw. These were some absolutely stacked teams, and it showed in the final matchup.
It was so close that on Sunday we were trying to figure out what the proper tie-breakers would be in a Grand Theft league if it were to end in a tie. But Cherman’s team came through for him on Sunday, and that was that. The 5 seed coming into the playoffs sliced and diced and pilfered his way through the playoffs and didn’t stop until he was crowned the King of Thieves. I couldn’t think of a more fitting way to end the Grand Theft league. Except if it was me winning, of course.
Congratulations to Dave Cherman on his championship! We can’t wait to do this again next year.
Featured images by Justin Paradis (@FreshMeatComm on Twitter)