One of my first thoughts while watching Minnesota Twins plodder Michael Cuddyer steal three bases on Wednesday night was, wow, could I have stolen those bases? OK, perhaps that's true fantasy, but if Cuddyer can do it ... I mean, this is a player that stole seven bases last season, marking a career high. In 11 seasons, more than 1,000 games and 4,200 plate appearances, he has swiped 47 bases. Rickey Henderson he is not.
My other thought, and it's a bit more relevant to fantasy baseball, was why haven't I been targeting not just the speedy types when they are scheduled to face A.J. Pierzynski's Chicago White Sox, but the slower fellows as well. Stolen bases remain less bountiful than home runs -- the major league average for team home runs is 60, pumped up by the New York Yankees, and for stolen bases it is 46 per team -- but looking on free agency in my leagues, I don't see power guys. I see Jason Bartlett and Jason Bourgeois.
If you are, like me, in a daily league or two (or more!), you might already choose starting pitchers based on matchups. Perhaps you select one outfielder over another because of the ballpark or the opposing pitcher. How often do you consider the opposing catcher when it comes to adding and/or activating not just the Juan Pierre types but the Cuddyer ones? And hey, wouldn't Pierre's stolen base percentage be helped by not being on Pierzynski's team? OK, that's mean. I know, I couldn't do a better job.
Here are some thoughts on catchers/teams and their ability to control or not control the running game. Let me add, it seems to me about half the time the catcher can't do a thing about it, though he generally gets blamed. Certain pitchers don't stop the running game. Greg Maddux famously never cared. Right-hander Gavin Floyd, the guy lit up by Cuddyer taking second base three times Wednesday, has been on the mound for 105 stolen bases in his career, and 16 runners have been caught stealing. Hard to believe.
Catchers to target
A.J. Pierzynski, Chicago White Sox: Including the five Twins stolen bases on Wednesday, poor A.J. has thrown out 13.0 percent of base stealers. Last season his percentage was 17.6. And it could be a whole lot worse if lefty Mark Buehrle wasn't so compelled to stop opposing base stealers (they're 2-for-7 this year). Pierzynski and pals allow all this with only four of the five (or six!) rotation members. The White Sox are in Arizona this weekend; Gerardo Parra and Willie Bloomquist, for example, might run wild. Heck, Xavier Nady might.
Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee Brewers: Brewers catchers didn't have much luck last season, either, so I'm banking it's about the pitchers not helping out, but this year Lucroy has extinguished only four of 35 base stealers (11.4 percent). Not good. George Kottaras, recently called back up, hasn't been much more successful. Perhaps David Ortiz will steal a base this weekend. I know Jacoby Ellsbury will.
Francisco Cervelli, New York Yankees: Russell Martin isn't exactly Johnny Bench behind the plate, nabbing 24.4 percent of attempted base stealers, and Cervelli is even worse, as 19-of-21 have been successful. Really, Jorge Posada had a miserable 2010, but this is about the pitchers. And no, Jesus Montero isn't known for his throwing. The Red Sox aren't any better in this regard, which is why Brett Gardner and Ellsbury have so much fun in their five-hour games. Watch Corey Hart, a depressed 2-for-4 in steals this season -- injury hasn't helped -- swipe a pair against knuckleballer Tim Wakefield Sunday.
Catchers to avoid
Matt Wieters, Baltimore Orioles: Until recently, the future prodigy was better than 50 percent at this craft, but still, 42.1 percent is very nice. The Orioles do employ a few left-handers in the rotation, which doesn't hurt. Wieters is blossoming defensively, and we hope the offense is next.
Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals: He's actually not having a good season throwing out base stealers, but in 2010 he was at nearly 50 percent. He has the ability, even if he's struggling. The other thing is runners aren't really attempting to steal. Molina has started 57 games behind the plate, second only to the Florida Marlins' John Buck, so while a 25.8 percent success rate isn't great, he's permitted only 23 steals. Buck has allowed 42.
Alex Avila, Detroit Tigers: Victor Martinez was never competent in stopping a running game, which is why I lauded the move to play Avila regularly and have Martinez generally just hit. He does catch occasionally, and this season he's at 17.6 percent. However, Avila is at 30.2 percent, among the best when it comes to qualifiers. Only Wieters has thrown out more attempted base stealers than Avila. My advice: Don't necessarily avoid potential base stealers when Avila is the catcher, but target them when you know in advance Martinez is behind the plate.