Cincinnati Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton is unsurprisingly the Major League leader in stolen bases per plate appearance. But up until Hamilton swiped four bases on Sunday, another speedster held the top spot.
This player is ... drumroll, please ... Travis Jankowski of the San Diego Padres.
The 25-year-old is San Diego's everyday leadoff hitter. And while the Padres don't have the most exciting offense, almost anyone who leads off every single day is deserving of some fantasy love. Especially when that player is stealing bases at a higher rate than anyone in baseball besides Hamilton.
While Jankowski is severely under-owned, there are some logical reasons why fantasy owners are overlooking him. He took over the Padres' everyday center-field job when Jon Jay went down with a fractured forearm in late June. Before that, he was used sparingly -- with just 96 plate appearances in the first three months of the season -- so his full-season stats are still unimpressive on the surface.
Additionally, Jankowski isn't exactly a great hitter. He has little power of which to speak, with only three homers in his 1,444 Minor League plate appearances. Moreover, his .260 batting average with the Padres this season is propped up by a .375 batting average on balls in play. Combine that high BABIP with a strikeout rate in excess of 26 percent, and the hesitancy to pick him up is understandable.
On the other hand, Jankowski has been a top-20 outfielder in standard leagues over the past 30 days. In that span, he's hit .275, stolen 11 bases and scored 17 runs. Jankowski also rates as a top-3 outfield option in fantasy over the past seven days -- an admittedly minuscule sample -- going 12-for-23 (.522) with six steals and 11 runs.
If you're in an OBP league, stop reading right now and go pick him up. Jankowski walked 13 times in the past month, and he owns a lofty 14.2 percent walk rate and a .373 on-base percentage on the year. Even in standard leagues, deploying him properly generates major value for your lineup.
Of course, Jankowski struggles mightily vs. lefties (.103/.186/.128 slash line in 2016). That .314 on-base plus slugging is roughly equivalent to an average pitcher's OPS. Seeing as they have nothing to lose -- aside from dozens of meaningless games -- the Padres now typically keep Jankowski in the lineup against left-handers. Smart move if you're a rebuilding franchise; not so much when you're a fantasy owner.
Against righties, however, he's slashing .304/.422/.399. Sure, some of those plate appearances vs. lefties come against relievers. But if you bench Jankowski against southpaw starters, you're getting something relatively close to the line above.
For those concerned about his .375 BABIP, consider that this is pretty much in line with what he did in his two full Minor League seasons. Ignoring his injury-shortened 2014, Jankowski put up a .350 BABIP in Class A Advanced in 2013 (556 PA) and a .383 BABIP between Double-A and Triple-A last year (434 PA).
His speed is legit, as he swiped a ridiculous 71 bases back in that 2013 campaign. And more than just being a dazzling stolen-base threat, Jankowski is one of the best baserunners in general right now. He's created 3.6 runs on the basepaths, putting him in the top 20 in FanGraphs' BsR baserunning metric. Only four players in the top 20 have less than 400 plate appearances, with Jankowski's 211 easily being the least on the list.
Even in standard leagues -- where Jankowski's walks don't directly contribute -- the havoc he creates on the bases helps generate runs beyond his already-impressive stolen-base numbers. Long story short, this is not a player who should be available in over 85 percent of Yahoo! leagues.
If your fantasy team is in need of a boost in either runs or steals, Jankowski can provide immediate help straight from the waiver wire.
A version of this article also appeared on FanGraphs.com