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Buying Billy Burns & Delino DeShields

The “elite power is becoming scarce” narrative has been greatly exaggerated by the fantasy community in the last calendar year simply because the data strongly supports the theory. What about stolen bases? We don’t talk about speed at great length in the offseason because it’s “always available on the waiver wire” and predicting stolen base breakouts can be a tougher challenge than finding anyone who actually watched the Entourage movie. Sorry Mark Wahlberg. I’ll be there for Ted 2, I promise.

If elite power is on the downswing, is elite speed in decline as well? The numbers of hitters who have swiped at least 30 bags has declined in each of the past two years since 23 hitters accomplished the feat in 2012. Last season, just 15 batters stole 30 or more bases. It’s also extremely rare to find hitters who consistently post elite stolen base totals year after year. The only players to eclipse 30 steals in each of the past three seasons are Carlos Gomez, Jose Altuve and Rajai Davis.

Some (well, actually most of it) has to with health. It should be a fairly obvious statement to anyone who watches baseball with any regularity that stealing bases is a risky business. Not only is there dramatically increased risk of injury each time a runner goes barreling into second or third, but guys who rely on their legs don’t tend to age gracefully (see Bourn, Michael) once the injuries sap their explosiveness. It makes them much riskier investments in dynasty leagues than hulking sluggers, who tend to last forever, by comparison.

Aside from Billy Hamilton and Dee Gordon, who lead the Majors with 31 and 22 stolen bases, respectively, just 22 players have cracked 10 steals this season with the All-Star break rapidly approaching. I’m not suggesting that with stolen base totals in decline that fantasy owners should start hoarding speedsters , but to avoid getting buried in steals (in a rotisserie league or a weekly head-to-head format), you’re going to have to make up the speed somewhere if you don’t have a Gordon or Hamilton.

This is where both Billy Burns and Delino DeShields, who have each stolen 13 bases this season, factor in. They are likely the easiest to obtain either via trade or off the waiver wire (in the case of DeShields).

Burns garnered national attention in spring training when he was one of the hottest hitters in the game, finishing with a .373 average in 83 at bats. After a brief stint at Triple-A, he has slotted in admirably atop the Oakland A’s abysmal lineup, where he has hit .308/.355/.413 with 24 runs scored and a pair of home runs to go along with 13 RBI and stolen bases. The power is a bit surprising to say the least. Coming into this season, the 25-year-old outfielder had just two professional home runs in his entire career, dating back to 2011. The minor league speed is another matter. He stole 74 bases across two levels in 2013 and followed it up with another 54 between Double-A and Triple-A in 2014.

DeShields was a Rule 5 selection by the Texas Rangers this offseason, where he hit well enough to make the Opening Day roster and had settled into an everyday role in left field prior to hitting the disabled list with a hamstring injury last week.

If it wasn’t for Hamilton’s minor league exploits at the same time, DeShields, who stole 101 bases (yes, you read that right) in 2012, would have garnered much more excitement from fantasy owners in the past. He’s swiped at least 50 bags in each of the last two years before arriving in The Show, slashing .269/.358/.382 with 32 runs scored, 12 RBI and 13 steals this season.

It’s not blasphemy to admit that both Burns and DeShields are not great hitters. Neither are Hamilton or Gordon, but they are valuable fantasy commodities because of the impact they can have on a single category. Burns and DeShields are never going to hit double-digit home runs, and any contributions they make in batting average, runs or RBI are always going to rely on factors largely beyond their control, whether it’s spot in the batting order or an inflated batting average on balls in play (BABIP).

Speaking of BABIP, this is where truly elite speedsters like Burns and DeShields, who are running BABIP’s of .362 and .368, respectively, make their living. The one place where speed tends to pay dividends is in the infield hits department. The dynamic duo has combined for 18 of them so far, which accounts for nearly 15 percent of each players total hits, this season.

Sure, you can bake in some regression in the batted ball department in your rest of season or future projections, but guys like Burns and DeShields are consistently going to be above the league average in terms of BABIP.

We’ve discussed the topic of rebuilding in a dynasty league at length each of the past two weeks on the Flags Fly Forever podcast, focusing mainly on the idea that there is no wrong time to either push your chips to the middle of the table to make a playoff run or decide that it just isn’t your year and start to sell off pieces. It matters significantly more which long-term assets you get back if you’re “dumping” than what you give up. For example, Philadelphia 76ers fans aren’t frustrated because their franchise is “tanking” and constantly accumulating assets. They’re howling mad because the front office seems to be acquiring the wrong pieces when they do make a decision.

Speed demons like Burns and DeShields are likely not going to suddenly evolve into Ricky Henderson and become the singular pieces that carry a fantasy roster to a title. They are extremely valuable back-end of a fantasy roster chips, who are still relatively young, and will provide gaudy stolen base totals if they stay healthy and garner enough playing time.

Burns and DeShields have seemingly materialized out of thin air, transforming into useful fantasy assets overnight, which means that now is the time to acquire them before the rest of the league realizes the type of impact they can have on their own rosters.

George Bissell also writes for Baseball Prospectus. You can follow him on Twitter @GeorgeBissell

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George Bissell

George Bissell

3 Comments

  1. […] explains why they are buying Billy Burns and/or Delino DeShields […]

  2. Hunter
    June 17, 2015 at 6:31 pm — Reply

    So with the topic being elite speed, and later mentioning rebuilding in dynasty….

    Whom else could we target in this scenario?
    R Quinn, Mallex Smith for sure.

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