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By Dan O'Shea
One of the biggest debates of this year's fantasy baseball season revolves around stolen bases: Are they back in vogue again, or merely more noticeable at a time when we are trying to forget how many home-run hitters have been tied to steroids?
Some observers, like Tim Kurkjian, have made the case that there is not much of an up-tick from recent years, and that the tainted homer is putting the spotlight back on speed.
Personally, I think a number of players who were already gifted speedsters have become more conscious of running this year. Perhaps, teams are being a bit more aggressive, but that doesn't account for the number of times this year a player has stolen home: Four (Jacoby Ellsbury, Jason Werth, Michael Bourn and Kaz Matsui). Stealing home, by the way, is such an impressive feat that I think extra fantasy points should be given for pulling it off.
It's unlikely that steals of home will become all that much more frequent because pitchers and catchers may be more aware now and less likely to be caught napping, but in addition to the steals of home, the other feat that's captured our attention is the multi-steal game. Carl Crawford had six in a game, Dexter Fowler five, Werth four. Even Mark Reynolds, who has perhaps better then moderate speed, but not much better, had four in one game. It seems like players are taking advantage of things they didn't before - stealing third with a right-handed batter up, stealing home against a left-handed pitcher whose back is turned, perhaps stealing earlier in counts before a hit-and-run kick in.
In the new era of the SB, Crawford is the new Rickey Henderson, only better because he never gets caught. B.J. Upton is the new Lou Brock, capable of flashing occasional extra-bases power. Chone Figgins, Ellsbury, Bobby Abreu, Bourn, Jason Bartlett and Willy Taveras are a few of the other names worth mentioning who are on a 40+ SB pace. Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez are dependable stealers who haven't quite hit their stride yet, but have the potential to end up with 40 or more. David Wright, Emmanuel Burriss, Coco Crisp, Brian Roberts, Ian Kinsler, Fowler and Nyjer Morgan all are on a pace to exceed 30 SBs this year.
Whatever the cause, the SB is figuring big this year, and it may have a connection to other important fantasy stat categories, including runs, batting average, hits and walks. It may not help your power stats, but keying in on stolen base leaders could bring you a pretty consistent way of accumulating points in multiple categories on an almost daily basis.
Meanwhile, it's the end of May, and time to hand out a few awards:
* MVP of May: Joe Mauer, C. Carl Crawford has stolen 23 bases in the last month, but Mauer has hit over .440, with 11 HRs and 31 RBIs since returning from a season-opening injury. Great pick-up for those of you who drafted him early despite the injury and used another late spot for a back-up catcher. He appears to be worth the trouble.
* Cy Young of May: Justin Verlander, SP. 5 wins, 60 Ks (!) and a 0.85 ERA have Verlander and the first-place Tigers in 2006 form. Zack Greinke, April's choice, could have won it two months running, but Verlander is a sort of a comeback story too good to ignore.
* Sleeper of the Month for May: Tie between Justin Upton, OF and Trevor Hoffman, RP. Upton has straightened himself out after a horrible opening month. He has 8 HRs and 24 RBIs in the last month and is hitting .376. Hoffman is not an unknown quantity, but I don't think anyone foresaw 11 saves in the last month with a 0.00 ERA after an injury forced him to miss much of April.
* Rookie of the Month for May: Matt Palmer, SP. We'll see how long it holds up, but Palmer was 4-0 with one complete game, 20 Ks and a 4.45 ERA in the last month - not lights out, but he's on a strong team with a solid rotation and bullpen to help him out.
And now, the latest from the fantasy baseball expert wire:
* Fantasy Windup highlighted phenom David Price first start before Price took the mound Monday. His ultimate line: 3.1 IP, 6 Ks, 5 BB, and way too many pitches. The strikeouts are promising, the walks are worrisome, but if Price has been sitting on your bench with an "NA" tag since you drafted him in what was hopefully a late round, it's now time push him into the starting rotation.
* KeeperLeagueGM says the Matt Wieters Watch is almost over, as the Orioles have gotten desperate enough to call up the most highly-touted catcher since Joe Mauer. Wieters comes into a lineup where he should be fairly well protected and given some good pitches to hit. He's worth trading for if you're thin at catcher, but don't be surprised if his owner asks for a top 75 player before Wieters sees one pitch.
* Bleacher Report's Wolf Hunt has a list of pitchers whose records may disguise lower overall value. A favorite of mine, Rick Porcello, made the list. I dropped Porcello when he was 1-3, and he's pitched two gems since, and against sub-par teams, as the Hunt points out.
* Weekly Rundown shines a light on Carl Pavano, the much-maligned (Read "The Yankee Years" if you don't believe me) Indians starter, who now has won four games for a last-place team. Despite past warning signs from Pavano's checkered career, he could make an interesting roster addition right now if you can stash him on the bench. The Indians are likely to improve as we swing toward the second half, and an experienced pitcher who can go deep in games will benefit.
* Roto Arcade has another pitcher worth a grab-n-stash approach: Phil Hughes. The young Yankee SP is much improved from earlier trips to the majors, and his team is the hottest in baseball over the last two weeks, with the look of a group that has figured out how to win again. Hughes at times has had lock-down shut-out stuff, though he's never been able to keep it up for two consecutive games. Those days may be over.
Dan O'Shea's Fantasy Fix appears every Wednesday. He welcomes your comments. You can also read his about his split sports fan personality at SwingsBothWays, which isn't about what you think it is.
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