Matthew Pouliot

Strike Zone

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2011 Third Base Overview

Monday, February 21, 2011


I'm not a big fan of the tier concept, but there is one position that tiers up perfectly for me this year: third base. Like most everyone, I have a clear top three in Evan Longoria, Alex Rodriguez and David Wright. But I have the trio so bunched together that there's not even $1 in value separating them.

Longoria - .294/.381/.542, 31 HR, 95 R, 113 RBI, 12 SB in 561 AB
A-Rod - .283/.380/.535, 36 HR, 99 R, 112 RBI, 10 SB in 538 AB
Wright - .296/.380/.511, 27 HR, 96 R, 101 RBI, 18 SB in 595 AB

The three grade out almost exactly the same in my system.

My second tier is four players deep: Jose Bautista, Ryan Zimmerman, Kevin Youkilis (once he qualifies) and Adrian Beltre. That's followed by a rather steep drop to Michael Young, Mark Reynolds, Pedro Alvarez, Aramis Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval in tier three. After that group, which ranges from $16-$18 in my dollar rankings, no other third baseman comes in higher than $11.

Of course, there are some useful players further down. Scott Rolen and Chipper Jones will be worth using in mixed leagues while healthy, and Ian Stewart and the soon-to-be second base eligible Jose Lopez are intriguing thanks to Coors Field. Third base does seem to be short on deep sleepers this year, though. I'll touch on a couple of possibilities down below.

Third base Overview

Underrated


Jose Bautista (Blue Jays) - The guy who topped his previous career high in homers by 38 last year is underrated? Yeah, maybe. A little anyway. I wonder if Bautista might not have been better off stopping at 45 homers last year. 54 is such a silly number that it's easier to write off as a fluke. There was nothing lucky about Bautista's season, though. He has about as much pull power as anyone in baseball, and he achieved his marvelous campaign despite hitting a career-worst .233 on balls in play. My guess is that he'll hit a bit higher than last year's .260 mark and finish with 35-40 homers. I rank him above Zimmerman as the No. 4 third baseman.

Mark Reynolds (Orioles) - He was in the overrated category last year, but I certainly didn't see Reynolds hitting .198 and getting exiled out of Arizona with only two potential setup men as the return. Reynolds' always dizzying strikeout rate soared to a new high last season, but it still took some pretty awful misfortune to sink his average under the Mendoza Line. He'll have to learn a new set of pitchers in the AL, but that might not be such a bad thing, given that these pitchers won't be so familiar with his weaknesses. I'm not really expecting him to bounce back as a stolen-base threat, so he didn't make my second tier of third basemen. However, something like .230-35-90 would probably put him in the top 10 at season's end.

Pablo Sandoval (Giants) - The news is already encouraging, as early reports have Sandoval down 40 pounds from where he ended last season. The Giants were threatening to send him back to Triple-A if he failed to shape up, but it didn't figure to come to that. Maybe Sandoval will never again hit .330 with 25 homers like he did in 2009, but he doesn't need to approach those numbers to be a modest bargain based on where he's being drafted this year. I'm projecting him at .296-21-81 for the season, and if he gets off to a good start and moves back up in the order, he could easily eclipse that RBI total.

Overrated

Ryan Zimmerman (Nationals) - Zimmerman is getting taken in the second and third rounds in mixed leagues, but I have him ranked 44th overall. One issue is that, unlike the big three at third base, Zimmerman is a zero when it comes to steals. I also see him lagging a bit behind in runs and RBI. The likely Nyjer Morgan-Ian Desmond duo at the top of Washington's lineup could be one of the league's weakest one-two punches and trading Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham for Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche hardly looks like a net gain for the Nationals. Zimmerman should be rock solid, but I don't think he rivals the tier-one guys.

Adrian Beltre (Rangers) - Everyone knows what happened last time Beltre followed up a huge walk year: he went to Seattle and hit .255 with 19 homers in 2005. Coming off what ranks comfortably as the second-best season of his career, Beltre was given an $80 million deal to move to Texas. Outside of 2004 and 2010, Beltre has never hit better than .290 or slugged .500. He has an exceptional track record when it comes to durability, and he's moving to another hitter's park after playing in one for the first time with the Red Sox. Still, I think he's more a seventh-rounder in mixed leagues than someone who might go in round four or five. I have him at .280-27-98 in 586 at-bats.

Casey McGehee (Brewers) - Prince Fielder wasn't driving in anyone from the fourth spot, so McGehee was the Brewers' actual cleanup man last year and he did a bang-up job, knocking in 104 runs over the course of the season. It was certainly far more than I expected. Still, I'm far from convinced McGehee is going to last as a regular. Most of his production came against lefties last season, and he's below average defensively at third base. His average should tumble again this season, and he'll likely be a zero in runs scored while hitting ahead of Yuniesky Betancourt and Carlos Gomez. Stay away.

Sleepers

Chase Headley (Padres) - Headley was putting together a nice season in 2010 until a September collapse that saw him hit .196 with 37 strikeouts in 97 at-bats. He'll never be a big asset in runs and RBI while playing for the Padres, but he could hit .270-.280 with 15 homers and 15 steals in his age-27 season. Outside of the top dozen third baseman, I think he's the safest bet to stay healthy and put up solid numbers. Hitting behind Brad Hawpe and Ryan Ludwick isn't such a bad situation.

Edwin Encarnacion (Blue Jays) - Encarnacion just became even more of a gamble with the Jays' decision to sign Scott Podsednik, but he still needs to be the favorite for DH at-bats at the start of the season. Of the Jays' returnees, only Bautista had a higher OPS than Encarnacion's 787 mark last season. Unfortunately, Encarnacion is streaky, and given that he doesn't have any defensive value, there won't be much reason for new manager John Farrell to keep him in the lineup when he's slumping. Encarnacion, though, is a legitimate threat to hit 25-30 homers and provide $15-$20 in value at a bargain price.

David Freese (Cardinals) - Freese has been limited to half-seasons each of the last two years, and it's probably do-or-die time for him as he enters his age-28 campaign. He should come pretty cheap given the lack of power he's displayed thus far as a major leaguer, but if things break right, he might be capable of hitting .270-280 with 15-18 homers and 75 RBI. I'm not all that optimistic it will happen, which is why I rank him 15th among NL third basemen, but I think he has a higher ceiling than guys like Chris Johnson and Casey Blake.

Brent Morel (White Sox) - I'm guessing Mark Teahen will get the first crack at the job, but Morel should develop into the White Sox's long-term third baseman and it's possible he's ready now after hitting .320/.348/.503 in 306 at-bats in Triple-A last season. With his line-drive stroke, he'll probably have some .300 seasons in the majors, though he may not turn into much more than a 15-homer guy. Working in his favor is that he offers a defensive advantage over Teahen or Dayan Viciedo. It's worth keeping an eye on him.

Other thoughts

- Alvarez seems to be pretty appropriately ranked to me. I expect that he'll hit 30 homers in his first full season, but I'm projecting him for a .250 average and modest run numbers in the Pittsburgh lineup. … The Angels will probably go with Maicer Izturis ahead of Alberto Callaspo at third base on Opening Day, mostly because they think he's the best option on the squad to lead off. Given Izturis' problems staying healthy, I have both as $3 players. … I'm not expecting much at all from Marlins rookie Matt Dominguez. He's at least a year away from being ready for the majors offensively, and given his lack of power, he looks like nothing more than a $1 player to me.


Matthew Pouliot is the Executive Editor of RotoWorld.com and has been doing the site's baseball projections for the last 10 years. Follow him on Twitter at matthewpouliot.
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