You have a mid-round draft pick coming up in the fifth round of your upcoming fantasy baseball draft. On the one hand, you can select a 26-year-old player who played in only 35 games last season and has never appeared in more than 102 games in a single season in his six-year major league career.
On the other hand, you can select arguably the most injury-prone player in all of baseball who has only played more than 92 games once in a season (140 games in 2017) in his seven-year career and has missed notable time due to injury in every single season he has played.
To quote Jonah Hill’s character Peter Brand from Moneyball, after Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) asks him if he’d rather get a bullet to the head or five to the chest and bleed to death: “Are those my only two options?”
This debate is not for the faint of heart as drafting either of these players in fantasy drafts this spring will require such an abundant amount of glass-half-full optimism that it would make Ted Lasso proud.
Argument: The King of Stolen Bases
Starling Marte led the majors in stolen bases last season (47) followed by Whit Merrifield (40), Trea Turner (32), Tommy Edman (30), Cedric Mullins (30), and Myles Straw (30).
Side note: shout-out to Myles Straw and his sneaky upside (ADP 133 currently via NFBC).
Meanwhile, Royals shortstop Adalberto Mondesí stole 15 bases in just 35 games in 2021 which translates to a 69-steal pace over the course of 162 games. In the COVID-shortened 2020 season, he stole 24 bases in 59 games (a 66-steal place) which was 8 more than anyone else in the entire league. For reference, that gap of eight steals was the same size as the gap from the player who finished in 2nd place (Jonathan Villar, 16) to the player who finished in 28th place. Mondesí essentially lapped the field in 2020.
In 2019, in just 102 games played, Mondesí stole 43 bases, the second-most in all of baseball (behind Mallex Smith‘s 46) despite missing 58 games. Simply put, he is the very definition of a category-winner in a rare category that has grown increasingly scarce over the past several years as teams by and large run less and less. The dude can fly.
Drafting the 26-year-old Mondesí — and his 60-70 steal upside — in the early/middle rounds allows a fantasy manager to virtually ignore stolen bases for the remainder of their draft and focus elsewhere on fortifying their roster instead of attempting to cobble together multiple players with 20-30 steal potential. Mondesi is the undisputed king of stolen bases at this point. Additionally, he provides valuable position-eligibility as a shortstop while also providing plenty of runs scored and a dash of pop (10-15 homers).
Rebuttal: Is Mondesí a Good Hitter?
Ever since his breakout season in 2018 (.804 OPS, 14 home runs), there has been an increasing amount of evidence to suggest that season was a fluke and that Mondesí simply is not a very good hitter.
A pedestrian .249 batting average, an awful .271 OBP, and a mediocre-at-best .701 OPS over the course of 343 career games played seem to paint Mondesí as the Hulu-premium upgrade to the Billy Hamilton Hulu-basic plan. Fewer commercials. Same underachieving hitter.
For reference, Billy Hamilton’s career numbers: .240 AVG, .293 OBP, .620 OPS in 911 career games.
That breakout 2018 season looks more and more like a high-water mark for Mondesí who has posted numbers well below the league average in each of the categories above for the past few seasons. In fact, his xwOBA and dreadful walk percentage in both 2019 and 2020 ranked in the bottom 10% in all of baseball. Mondesí’s profile as a hitter means he should even be further discounted in OBP leagues.
It’s never a great sign when your own team loses faith in you and during the second half of the 2020 season, the Royals finally conceded that Mondesí was not a great fit at the top of their lineup due to his poor on-base skills. They dropped him to the bottom third of the lineup after a rough first half of the season. To his credit, Mondesí responded with a scorching-hot September in 2020 (.356 AVG, 1.075 OPS in 23 games), causing waves of fantasy managers to buy back in heading into 2021. Still, I filed that away in my memory at the time.
In addition to his suspect performance inside the batter’s box, Mondesí has also been saddled with the dreaded injury-prone label himself over the past four seasons, as he has only once cracked the 100+ games played mark in his career, although to be fair he played in 59 of the possible 60 games during the 2020 season. Two different oblique strains (opposite sides) and a hamstring strain wiped out the majority of his 2021 season, while his 2018-2019 seasons were derailed by shoulder issues that eventually required offseason surgery prior to 2020. Recurring soft tissue injuries in particular, for a player whose value is 100% dependent on his speed, are not ideal.
It seems like players steal fewer bases after they get big contracts, (see Mookie Betts, Yelich, and Altuve) so I’m expecting fewer steals from Buxton and Javier Baez.
That’s a great point Mark, I tend to agree. The Rickey Henderson days appear to be gone forever. Thanks for reading.