Endgame Speed: Running Man Edition

Fantasy Baseball draft season is upon us in all its splendor and glory. Quality cheat sheets are hoarded like the One Ring, sleepers are discussed until they stop being sleepers, and the guys in your auction draft who bid on every player just to drive the price up make their annual pledge of loyalty to the forces of darkness. You know who you are. Going into drafts, everyone’s looking for an edge.

In 2019, looking at MLB offensive trends reveals a disturbing but inescapable reality. Stolen bases are going the way of the dodo bird. While SBs aren’t completely extinct, they’re definitely an endangered species. You need proof? Just look at the numbers, and the picture is grim.

In 2018, Whit Merrifield led all of MLB with 45 SBs, which was the lowest total for the MLB leader since 1963. You read that right. No one in all of Major League Baseball stole 50 bases last season, and only 11 players had 30 or more. There were 2,474 total SBs in MLB last year, which is a steep 25% decrease from the 3,279 total SBs in 2011.

So, what killed the stolen base? I think the decrease in SBs is a simply a reflection of the modern-day MLB offensive philosophy. Teams no longer focus on manufacturing single runs with SBs, bunting, and sacrifices. As MLB continues its trend towards a three-true outcome game (K/BB/HR), SBs are essentially counterproductive. If all teams want is for players to get on base and then wait for an HR, why risk giving up an out with an SB attempt? It’s not that today’s players can’t run; their teams just won’t let them.

The decline of SBs means identifying guys who can produce them, or who have that potential, provides an edge in drafting. I’m not saying you should be reaching for guys, but if you’re considering two players who are otherwise equal, go with speed. Also, since there are fewer 30+ SB players, you can replace them in the aggregate with multiple guys getting 10-15 SBs. Even 5-10 can make a difference.

I’m not just trying to identify “speed guys,” however. I’m also trying to identify players who can contribute in other categories. If you just draft a one-trick pony type who provides SBs and nothing else, you’re essentially trying to win one category by sacrificing the other four. Not good. If you can identify players available later in drafts who can provide SBs and chip in with other categories, you’ve got your edge.

I decided to use the term “endgame” for this column because that obviously refers to the latter rounds of a draft. Wait – did you search for “endgame” and expect something else? Is there something going on with the word “endgame” that I don’t know about? I’ll look into it.

Anyway, the players featured in this column all have average ADPs (compiled from NFBC, YAHOO, ESPN, Fantrax, RTS, and CBS) past 200. These guys should be available in the second half of your drafts, and I think each of them can provide something beyond SBs.

In addition to my enjoyment of Fantasy Baseball, I’ve also watched tons of movies in my lifetime. When I write a column, I like to introduce each player or topic with a quote from a movie I enjoy. Sometimes I think the quotes are relevant to a player; sometimes I just like the quotes. For this column, I’m going with The Running Man. Running Man, speed. Get it? I know that’s a tenuous connection at best, but work with me here.

Released in 1987, The Running Man is actually based on a book written by Stephen King, although he wrote it under the name Richard Bachman. Stephen King is kooky like that. The movie has a really interesting cast, including two future governors (Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse “The Body/The Mind” Ventura), a legendary game show host playing a game show host (Richard Dawson), an NFL Hall-of-Famer (Jim Brown), and a member of Fleetwood Mac (Mick Fleetwood). The movie also features some of the best cheesy one-liners of all time and copious amounts of gratuitous violence. What’s not to love?

If you’ve never seen The Running Man, do yourself a favor and check it out. It could be a great way to unwind after a draft.

Let’s get to it and take a look at some 2019 endgame speed players. As Richard Dawson’s Damon Killian would say: “Without further ado, it’s time to start . . . RUNNING!”

“What happened to Buzzsaw? He had to split.”

Willy Adames, SS, Tampa Bay Rays (Average ADP – 274.4)

Arnold Schwarzenegger is a legend when it comes to movie one-liners connected to acts of violence. For example, he unleashes this gem after killing someone with a chainsaw to the crotch.

Willy Adames is looking like a post-hype sleeper. Heading into 2018, he was one of the Rays’ top prospects and was considered a potential breakout player. His rookie season was a mixed bag, including a demotion in July after hitting .224. After working some things out in the minors, he returned to MLB and hit .305 the rest of the way. Overall, Willy Adames finished 2018 with a .278 AVG/43 R/10 HR/34 RBI/6 SB stat line in 85 MLB games.

Projecting those numbers out to a full season gives you a potential 20 HR/10 SB player. Willy Adames is only 23, and he’s got great speed. He just needs to learn how to use it. The power should also improve.

As an added bonus, Willy Adames has 2B/SS eligibility in Yahoo leagues. He should also have opportunities to lead off against LHPs, which will lead to run-scoring opportunities in addition to the developing power. Willy Adames is someone you want to be looking at for your MI or bench.

“He was a real pain in the neck.”

Orlando Arcia, SS, Milwaukee Brewers (Average ADP – 377.0)

You want to know what to say about someone you just choked to death with barbed wire? Consider your question answered above.

Orlando Arcia is a former top prospect of the Brewers, but kind of got lost in the shuffle of the new golden era of the SS position. He made his MLB debut in 2016, but the Brewers probably promoted him too early. As the Brewers’ starting SS in 2017, however, Orlando Arcia posted a .277 AVG/56 R/15 HR/53 RBI/14 SB stat line. The 80% contact rate was also encouraging for a young player.

Like Willy Adames, Orlando Arcia struggled in 2018 and wound up demoted in July. Also like Willy Adames, he looked better after working on things in the minors and hit .290 after being called back up. Although teams try to avoid demoting young players and risk hurting their confidence, sometimes it really is the best thing.

Don’t bother looking at last year’s stats. They’re just not good. Orlando Arcia will probably never show a ton of power, but he’s already had a 15 HR/14 SB season and he’s still just 24. He’s probably going to hit at the bottom of the lineup unless he catches fire, however, which could limit his chances at counting stats. Still, hitting in that Brewers lineup is a definite plus.

Based on his ADP, Orlando Arcia is probably a last-round flyer. The speed is real and the 76% contact rate in 2018 is solid. If you’re looking for extra SBs, you might want to take a chance.

“How about a light?”

Teoscar Hernandez, OF, Toronto Blue Jays (Average ADP – 331.8)

Who says Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn’t have acting range? He not only throws out one-liners after killing someone, but he sometimes throws them out before killing someone. This one is right before throwing a flare on someone covered in gasoline.

Teoscar Hernandez is another post-hype guy. After being traded as a prospect to the Blue Jays at the 2017 deadline, he was promoted in 2018 and finished with a .239 AVG/67 R/22 HR/57 RBI/5 SB MLB stat line in 134 games.

Although the HRs might grab your attention, Teoscar Hernandez has some serious speed potential. From 2014-2016, Teoscar Hernandez posted three consecutive 30+ SB seasons in the minors. He’s another guy who has speed, but needs to learn how to use it.

Keep in mind there are some concerns with Teoscar Hernandez, as indicated by his ADP. There’s a lot of swing-and-miss in his game (69% contact rate), which will limit his AVG. He also will probably lose playing time if he struggles. The power is legit, however, and he’s shown the ability to generate SBs in the minors. You’re not going to find much more upside with a backup OF.

“What a hothead.”

Kevin Kiermaier, OF, Tampa Bay Rays (Average ADP – 314.6)

Back to post-killing one-liners, this follows the last quote after Arnold Schwarzenegger throws a flare on someone covered in gasoline. It’s ok; he was a bad guy.

Kevin Kiermaier has legit power and speed skills, and is a former Platinum Glove winner. The problem is that Kevin Kiermaier collects injuries like reality tv shows collect unstable people. In five MLB seasons, he’s reached 500 ABs only once.

In 2016, it was a fractured hand. In 2017, it was a fractured hip. In 2018, it was a torn thumb ligament and broken foot. But here’s the thing. All were freak injuries. The fractured hand was from a diving catch, the fractured hip was from a feet-first slide into first base, the torn thumb ligament was from sliding into second base, and the broken foot was from being hit by a pitch. Yikes. I’m not saying Kevin Kiermaier is cursed, but if you see him walking down the street, you might want to cross to the other side before a piano or other large object falls out of the sky.

So why risk drafting Kevin Kiermaier? As I mentioned above, he was a Platinum Glove winner in his one healthy season. In 2015, Kevin Kiermaier played in 151 games and finished the season with a .263 AVG/62 R/10 HR/40 RBI/18 SB stat line. There’s 20 HR/20 SB talent here, and he only turns 29 in April. As a fifth OF/backup, why not? Maybe this is the year he finally stays healthy again. Anything’s possible.

“Don’t forget to send me a copy.”

Manuel Margot, OF, San Diego Padres (Average ADP – 331.8)

Arnold Schwarzenegger further expands his range here by using a one-liner after only maiming someone instead of killing them. After using his court-appointed theatrical agent’s back to sign a waiver (after the agent said “use my back, victim”), he finishes signing by stabbing the pen through the contract into the agent’s back. The agent should be grateful he gets to live. You take what you can get.

Like most of the guys on this list, drafting Manuel Margot is a gamble. He’s got speed and flashes power, and was a popular breakout candidate last year after a solid rookie reason in 2017. Unfortunately, his 2018 season was a worse follow-up than the second season of True Detective. His final stat line for 2018: .245 AVG/50 R/8 HR/51 RBI/11 SB. Ouch. That’s gonna leave a mark.

Hopefully, 2018 was just an extended sophomore slump and Manuel Margot can rebound this season. He doesn’t turn 25 until September, and his 82% contact rate last season suggests the AVG should improve. I’m also guessing that Padres lineup should better after they signed that Machado guy. Although it looks like he’s going to be the Padres’ fourth OF to open the season, he’s the only true CF on the roster and his defense should get him into games. This is another late-draft flyer that could pay off.

“I'll be back. Only in a rerun.”

Ketel Marte, 2B/SS, Arizona Diamondbacks (Average ADP – 251.4)

Arnold Schwarzenegger really flexes his acting muscles here with this bit of subtle humor in an exchange with Richard Dawson. See what he did there with the Terminator reference? Survey says “clever!”

There’s a reason the Diamondbacks gave Ketel Marte a five-year, $24 million extension last year even though he’s never generated big numbers. He posted an 85% contact rate in 2018, a decent 9% walk rate, reached double-digit HRs for the first time in his career, and he doesn’t turn 26 until October. He already has dual eligibility at 2B and SS, and will be playing in the OF this season. That kind of roster flexibility is a major plus.

He only had 6 SBs in 2018, but he also only had 7 attempts. Apparently, the Diamondbacks had an organizational aversion to running. Maybe they put shock collars on their baserunners and installed an invisible fence around second base. Since the Diamondbacks aren’t really playing for anything this season (sorry Diamondbacks fans, but they threw in the towel when they shipped out Paul Goldschmidt), maybe they’ll take some more chances on the base paths.

Ketel Marte should lead off for the Diamondbacks and score some runs because somebody has to in that lineup. A decent AVG along with 15 HRs/20 SBs in 2019 is also within the realm of possibility. There could be a significant profit opportunity here.

“Mr. Spock, you have the conn. Who’s Mr. Spock?”

“Don’t touch that dial.”

Leonys Martin, OF, Cleveland Indians (Average ADP – 341.0)

These were quotes from other characters, and both were meant to be ironically funny. Now, I wonder how many people even get “don’t touch that dial” anymore. I really despise feeling old.

You have to be rooting for Leonys Martin. If not, you might want to figure out what you have instead of a soul. Last year he dealt with a life-threatening bacterial infection, and that’s not an exaggeration. Welcome back, Leonys Martin.                           

Although Leonys Martin never delivered much power, he hit 15 HRs in 2016 and had 11 HRs last season before his season ended in August. He has delivered with speed, including 36 SBs in 2013 and 31 SBs in 2014. He also had 24 SBs in 2016, which was the last time he played more than 100 games.

Leonys Martin is 31 years-old, but the speed is still there. He was also just named the Indians’ starting CF, and should lead off at least until Francisco Lindor gets back. Keep in mind, however, that the AVG will never be spectacular and once he drops in the lineup the scoring opportunities will decrease.

10 HRs and 20 SBs are a decent possibility for Leonys Martin, and you’re probably talking about your last draft pick here. Not to mention the feel-good story potential. Never forget about that.

“Drop dead! Sorry, I don’t do requests.”

Andrelton Simmons, SS, Los Angeles Angels (Average ADP – 224.4)

Who says Arnold Schwarzenegger isn’t a good actor? He’s not just limited to witty one-liners; he also does witty one-line comebacks!

Unlike the other players on this list, there’s not a ton of risk with Andrelton Simmons. You know what you’re getting when you draft him. You might only think of him as a defense-first “better in real life than Fantasy” guy, but you’ll be missing out on a player who will provide a solid and stable return on investment.

Did you know that Andrelton Simmons is one of only five SS to have double-digit HRs and SBs the last two seasons? I didn’t. He also had the best contact rate (92%) in MLB last season, which fully supported his .292 AVG. Although a power surge is unlikely at age 29, you have no chance at an HR when you can’t put the bat on the ball.

Andrelton Simmons isn’t going to give you excellent numbers in any one category, but he should at least provide solid numbers in all of them. He’s got 20+ SB upside, and his defense will always keep him in the lineup. You want players like this on your roster if you’re looking to bring home a Fantasy Baseball championship.

Those are your endgame speed guys for 2019. You might lament the slow death of the stolen base, but you have to accept the reality of things and plan accordingly for your drafts. With the current dearth of SBs across MLB, finding players later in your drafts who can give you double-digit SBs (and also contribute in other categories) can make up for the lack of 30-40 SB players out there.

I hope everyone has a great time at their drafts and enjoys the upcoming baseball season. I’ll leave you with the announcer sign-off during the end credits of The Running Man:

“The Running Man has been brought to you by: Breakaway Paramilitary Uniforms, Orthopure Pure Procreation Pills, and Cadre Cola - it hits the spot. Promotional considerations paid for by Kelton Flame Throwers, Wainwright Electrical Launchers, and Hammond & Gage Chain Saws. Damon Killian’s wardrobe by Chez Antoine, 19th-century craftsmanship for the 21st-century man. Cadre trooper and studio guard’s sidearms provided by Colchester, the pistol of patriots. Remember, tickets for the ICS studio tour are always available for class A citizens in good standing. If you’d like to be a contestant on The Running Man, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to ICS Talent Hunt, care of your local affiliate, and then go out and do something really despicable! I’m Phil Hilton. Good night and take care!”

Until next time, it’s all in the reflexes.

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