Uncommon Thievery: Power/Speed Threats

Updated: May 16, 2007, 5:29 PM ET
By Brian McKitish | Special to ESPN.com
Remember when Sammy Sosa was a double threat? Power and speed baby, he had it all. There are only 28 players in the history of baseball that are included in the notorious 30/30 club, and Sosa did it twice. If you don't remember his 30/30 status, it probably has to do with the fact that he's managed just 17 total swipes over the last eight years. What happened to the power and speed combination that propelled fantasy teams to championships back in the mid-90s? Sosa's not the first 5-tool player to turn into a 4-tool player as he aged. There are plenty of names we can throw out there: Vladimir Guerrero, Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, Shawn Green and Ken Griffey Jr. to name a few. All of these guys possessed the rare combination of power and speed earlier in their careers, but at some point, they abandoned the speed while sustaining or even improving the power as they increased in age. As fantasy players, we need to further examine this phenomenon to properly project the future speed potential of our current power/speed threats.

As one ages, lots of things start to happen to the body. In particular, those once vibrant legs start getting heavier and heavier. The older the body gets, the more susceptible to injury it becomes. Nagging injuries to the legs and back can play a large part in thwarting stolen base attempts. How, then, do we explain a player like Rickey Henderson taking 66 bases at the ripe old age of 39, or Ozzie Smith nabbing 30-plus bases three times after his 34th birthday? There has to be something else at work here. Why can true speedsters like the aforementioned Henderson and Smith sustain their speed well into their 30s while the power/speed players cannot?

It could be that the smaller, speedier players realize that they need their speed to survive in the league. Since most of their value is tied to their ability to wreak havoc on the bases, they must steal bases and play solid defense, or they won't stick in the bigs for long. Larger power hitters realize that speed is just one asset of their game. If they don't steal bases, so what? They'll just hit 30-40 home runs a year and keep earning a paycheck that way. It's a survival thing. Why should the big power hitters risk injury by stealing bases when they don't have to?

Brian McKitish is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com and is a two-time Fantasy Basketball Writer of the Year, as named by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

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