On to the next one.
I’ve spent the better part of the last week and a half rolling out predictions for items such as AL and NL hits and batting average leaders as well as over/under win total predictions for every club in baseball.
Now, it’s time to focus on the speedsters.
Some may say the stolen base is a dying art form, however it’s very much a big part of the some players’ respective games, and in some case, why they manage to stay in the lineup to begin with.
While I’ve listed three players worthy of backing for the batting average and hits departments, the list of stolen base options at BetOnline is significantly shorter, thus selecting two players makes more sense in this department.
With that in mind, let’s go ahead and grab one of the favorites as well as a value play to pace the American League in stolen bases in 2020!
2 Players Worth Backing to Lead the AL in Stolen Bases in 2020
Mallex Smith, Mariners (+250)
There are two favorites to pace the AL in steals in 2020 and it comes down to the Royals’ Adalberto Mondesi and the Mariners’ Mallex Smith.
Mondesi, who swiped 43 bases in just 102 games in 2019 is the favorite at +125, but I think we can feel good about some additional value with Smith at +250 here.
He played in 32 more games, but Smith led all of baseball with 46 steals a season ago despite a tough year at the plate.
Mallex Smith led the Major Leagues with 46 stolen bases this season, joining Ichiro Suzuki as the only #Mariners in club history to lead all of baseball in steals.
— Mariners PR (@MarinersPR) October 1, 2019
He hit just .227 with a brutal 74 wRC+ and was worth 0.0 fWAR. The latter two numbers put Smith in the doghouse of the organization, but he will almost certainly get a chance for redemption in 2020.
I mean, in 2018 he had a big season for the Rays, hitting .296 with a .367 OBP, 40 stolen bases, a 118 wRC+ and 3.5 fWAR. That’s a wonderful season for your leadoff hitter and something that should ensure Smith of regular playing time to begin 2020.
For what it’s worth, FanGraphs has Smith slated to get 72% of the playing time in center field for the M’s, but also an additional 12% in left field. In other words, they have him pegged to play 84% of the time in 2020.
According to statcast, Smith ranked in the league’s 97th percentile when it came to sprint speed, meaning he’s simply one of the fastest players in the league.
Even in his brutal 2019 campaign, he posted a .300 OBP that ranked ahead of Mondesi’s .291 mark while Smith’s career walk rate of 8.2% exactly doubles that of Mondesi’s 4.1% career mark.
There’s little doubt that Mondesi will swipe plenty of bags in 2020, but I just can’t put my entire faith into a favorite who has never shown an ability to get on base (.282 career OBP in 249 MLB games) and almost refuses to take a walk.
Rather, we can look at Smith as a big bounce-back candidate and while he’s not likely to replicate his .367 2018 OBP, but perhaps we can squeeze in a mark hovering around .330, a number which would surely sit well above that of Mondesi who is deemed to be a little faster in the league’s 99th sprint speed percentile.
Nonetheless, I like Smith and his increased value to pace the league in stolen bases in 2020.
Byron Buxton, Twins (+1200)
There are eight players listed at BetOnline with longer odds to lead in the AL in swipes, however none of them appeal more to be than Buxton and I believe there’s plenty of value here at +1200.
He’s yet to develop into his billing as the No.2 pick of the 2012 MLB Draft as he’s a career .237 hitter with an 84 wRC+. His bat did perk up last season when he hit .262 with a 111 wRC+, so perhaps he will continue his development at the age of 26 in 2020.
That said, most of his 7.4 career fWAR to this point sits in his legs between baserunning and his elite defense in center field where he’s projected to get 80% of the playing time this season for the Twins, as per FanGraphs.
Statcast puts Buxton’s sprint speed in the league’s 100th percentile. That’s right, he’s literally within the league’s top few players in terms of speed as I’ve also seen Washington’s Trea Turner in that 100th percentile as well.
The 2017 season saw Buxton swipe a career-high 29 bases and after a dreadful 2018 campaign in which he spent the bulk of the season at Triple-A, he resurfaced with 14 steals in 87 big-league games a season ago.
Clearly, Buxton has struggled to stay at the game’s highest level, and he’s certainly with his flaws.
His career 29.8% strikeout rate is a big factor in his poor career .292 OBP. That said, he at least bumped that number to .314 in 2019, hopefully a sign of progression from a player who seemingly has all the tools required to succeed in the big leagues.
While the leash could be short if he comes out of the gate slow, it’s not as if the Twins have a full-time centerfielder ready to take his spot. Jake Cave would be the closest option as a replacement, but Buxton’s defense will provide a longer leash than some may anticipate.
With an improved 2019 campaign, Buxton could certainly be viewed as a breakout candidate given his skill set and his age of 26 – the age when many players begin to hit their stride at the big league level.
He’s certainly the underdog behind Smith and Mondesi, but if Buxton can find his stroke this season look for him to give them a run for their money atop the stolen base department in 2020.