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Positional Power Rankings: Third Base

Here’s the introduction to the series from Dave Cameron, and here are some caveats: we’re doing our best to guesstimate, the WARs are approximate, there are tiers here that we will try to identify, and the season is a souffle that might rise or might not for any particular team. And yet, the result of all this might be a decent understanding of how the teams stand in comparison to the rest of the league at each position. Surely, at the very least, it will spawn some discussion.

Perhaps we should rethink the defensive spectrum! Perhaps third base is the hardest position! Last year, third baseman had a .707 OPS — worsted only by catchers… and still shortstops. But the .252/.317/.390 collective batting line at the hot corner was just barely better than the shortstops with their .263/.317/.380 ways. That’s not usual.

Still, the decline of the third base position may just have been temporary. There’s a new infusion of youth on the way, and there’s also a fair chance that some veterans bounce back and make the position look more palatable. And don’t forget a couple key position switches coming our way this year — the inclusion of these new offensive third basemen will boost the offensive numbers, and their bad defense may hurt less than it might seem.

Could this year represent a renaissance at the position?

No. 30 — Oakland Athletics

Role Player Bats ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field PA WAR
Starter Josh Donaldson R 0.219 0.289 0.357 325 1
Reserve Eric Sogard L 0.254 0.321 0.347 150
Utility Adam Rosales R 0.234 0.288 0.347 125
Prospect Steve Parker L 0.225 0.294 0.329 100

When Scott Sizemore went down for the season with an ACL tear, this house of cards came tumbling down. What’s left is a converted catcher (Donaldson), two possible utility players and/or backup infielders (Sogard and Rosales), and a meh prospect (Parker). If they went through the entire year with these players, there’s a distinct possibility that they manage to put up zero wins collectively. Of course, the rumor is that the team is already looking for a trade, but since that trade might be with #28 on this list, it may not lead to a much better result from the position. Maybe one of the corner outfielders / first basemen / designated hitters can fake it at third for a year? That would fit in with some of the other teams on this list.

No. 29 — Houston Astros

Role Player Bats ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field PA WAR
Starter Jimmy Paredes B 0.254 0.281 0.376 -3 400 1
Reserve Brett Wallace L 0.258 0.322 0.403 200 0.5
Utility Chris Johnson R 0.255 0.294 0.403 -6 100

So it’s true that some teams are trying out first basemen at third. So the Astros have given last year’s third baseman (Johnson) a first-base glove, and last year’s first baseman (Wallace) a third-base glove. This way, they are ahead of the curve either way. Most likely, though, it will be a former middle infielder with no patience and not much power — and wheels of steal — that will lead them all. He better strike out a whole lot less or he could end up a worse version of Emilio Bonifacio.

No. 28 — Seattle Mariners

Role Player Bats ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field PA WAR
Starter Chone Figgins B 0.242 0.323 0.305 1 300 0.5
Reserve Kyle Seager L 0.267 0.323 0.372 -1 250 0.5
Prospect Alex Liddi R 0.228 0.292 0.387 -2 100

Can we but “TBD” in the lineup card? In what might be a last-ditch move to get some value out of their third baseman, the team is installing Figgins at the top of the lineup and putting a smiling face on the situation. But if all of the options hit their projections, it will be the low-ceiling but much younger Seager that should take the job from the veteran. Liddi might even factor in if the Mariners finally find a trade partner. What if Figgins finds his old walk rate? He might hold on to the job all year.

No. 27 — Colorado Rockies

Role Player Bats ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field PA WAR
Starter Casey Blake R 0.247 0.319 0.396 375 1.5
Reserve Chris Nelson R 0.261 0.303 0.408 75
Utility Jordan Pacheco B 0.262 0.317 0.363 75
Defensive Rep Jonathan Herrera B 0.252 0.319 0.317 25
Prospect Nolan Arenado R 0.266 0.302 0.436 150 0.5

No, not all of these guys can fit on the roster. But yes, all of these guys can figure in. When your starter is a 38-year-old coming off of career lows in most categories, you have contingency plans. Nelson might end up helping out if Marco Scutaro is a full-time second baseman, but Pacheco was supposed to be the utility man. Herrera seemed like a decent backup infielder, too, and has better defense than the lot. Don’t forget one of the hottest positional prospect in baseball — Arenado hasn’t had a plate appearance in Double-A but the team keeps talking about letting him break camp with the team. Most baseball players see some Double-A, though, and the team has financial incentives to take things slow.

No. 26 — Chicago Cubs

Role Player Bats ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field PA WAR
Starter Ian Stewart L 0.218 0.305 0.417 1 500 2.5
Reserve Jeff Baker R 0.25 0.299 0.317 75
Super Utility Adrian Cardenas L 0.272 0.323 0.36 25
Prospect Josh Vitters R 0.26 0.297 0.395 100 -0.5

It’s the Ian Stewart Reclamation Project! The idea is that the team will give Stewart all year to figure things out, with Baker filling in as the occasional caddy against lefties, and Cardenas giving the pair the odd day off against righties. Vitters is still only 22 — even if he doesn’t add patience, if he does add power (and maybe a little glove), he could be the Minor League reclamation project. When dealing in long shots, quantity is important.

No. 25 — Anaheim Angels

25. Angels
Role Player Bats ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field PA WAR
Starter Mark Trumbo R 0.253 0.295 0.437 2 500 1.5
Reserve Alberto Callaspo B 0.276 0.334 0.38 4 175 0.5
Super Utility Maicer Izturis R 0.248 0.314 0.35 25

Mark Trumbo is a sabermetric nightmare. He has gobs of power but no plate discipline and iffy defense. Putting him at third will only exacerbate the situation — and yet, if he can fake it with the glove at his new position, there’s a chance he could… approach the 3.6 wins Callaspo managed there last year. Maybe. With a new, more stat-friendly sheriff-GM in town, this configuration seems highly unlikely, and yet it’s the one that’s being proffered to us. If it’s Callaspo all year, maybe you can move them up a few slots. Third base is not a position of strength for this otherwise contending team.

No. 24 — Baltimore Orioles

Role Player Bats ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field PA WAR
Starter Mark Reynolds R 0.218 0.32 0.461 -10 525 2
Reserve Chris Davis L 0.25 0.299 0.44 -8 25
Defensive Rep Robert Andino R 0.249 0.301 0.358 3 25
Super Utility Wilson Betemit B 0.252 0.316 0.43 -7 100
Prospect Josh Bell B 0.232 0.286 0.383 50

Reynolds would have had the worst third-base glove in the league if there weren’t so many newcomers to his position to challenge him for the title. Still, his competing Oriole teammates either have the same flaws (Davis for the Ks and Betemit with the glove) or are one-dimensional in their own right (Andino). Or, in the case of Bell, they combine the worst elements of the entire group. Reynolds is likely to hold the job all year if nothing changes.

No. 23 — Los Angeles Dodgers

Role Player Bats ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field PA WAR
Starter Juan Uribe R 0.249 0.3 0.401 5 500 2
Reserve Adam Kennedy L 0.258 0.307 0.362 75
Super Utility Jerry Hairston R 0.259 0.319 0.373 150 0.5

Juan Uribe may be emo, and is also a flawed offensive player, but he has a glove that used to work at shortstop, so at least he should fend off Kennedy and Hairston in that regard. What a sentence!

No. 22 — Chicago White Sox

Role Player Bats ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field PA WAR
Starter Brent Morel R 0.261 0.3 0.384 2 575 2.5
Reserve Dayan Viciedo R 0.274 0.328 0.431 -1 75
Defensive Rep Eduardo Escobar B 0.256 0.29 0.344 50

Brent Morel may have had a September for the ages, but it was still just a month. Then again, he has the team’s best combination of offense and defense at third on the team, so he should be relatively safe. The White Sox have already moved Viciedo off the position, so unless Morel slumps or gets injured, he should stick all year. And he might even be okay — but he doesn’t really have the upside to do that September thing all year.

No. 21 — Philadelphia Phillies

Role Player Bats ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field PA WAR
Starter Placido Polanco R 0.278 0.324 0.364 9 500 2.5
Reserve Ty Wigginton R 0.249 0.312 0.399 -4 175
Super Utility Michael Martinez B 0.231 0.277 0.339 25

Double the sports hernia is not double the fun, especially for a 35-year-old third baseman. But Polanco actually has an under-rated combination of defense and contact-hitting ability that can work on a contending team. The danger is that the team feels they need more offense and turns to Wigginton and his minus glove in an ill-fated attempt to revive their old lineup. They probably won’t do that, right?

No. 20 — Cincinnati Reds

Role Player Bats ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field PA WAR
Starter Scott Rolen R 0.26 0.315 0.441 7 350 2
Reserve Juan Francisco L 0.267 0.297 0.48 -2 250 0.5
Defensive Rep Paul Janish R 0.238 0.302 0.327 3 50
Super Utility Todd Frazier R 0.242 0.307 0.423 50

The projections are kind to the 37-year-old Rolen because he was good as recently as 2010, but he’s coming off shoulder surgery and hasn’t quite looked the same since the All-Star break that year. If he breaks down, though, the team might be better prepared than they’ve been in the past. Francisco has a lot of power, and Frazier can help (provided he’s not needed in the outfield more often than not). It’s a wonky shoulder to put a lot of weight on, but they’ll give it another shot.

No. 19 — Minnesota Twins

Role Player Bats ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field PA WAR
Starter Danny Valencia R 0.26 0.305 0.392 1 525 2.5
Reserve Luke Hughes R 0.229 0.288 0.363 100
Super Utility Sean Burroughs L 0.277 0.305 0.362 75

Valencia may not knock your socks off — and the guys behind him are scary in a bad way — but the 27-year-old is likely to stay healthy longer than some of the veterans behind him on this list, at the very least. And even though he doesn’t walk a lot, he also doesn’t strike out a bunch and might manage league-average power even. The Twins are in a middle tier here.

No. 18 — Arizona Diamondbacks

Role Player Bats ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field PA WAR
Starter Ryan Roberts L 0.25 0.333 0.407 2 550 2.5
Reserve Geoff Blum B 0.262 0.316 0.369 7 100
Super Utility Willie Bloomquist R 0.258 0.305 0.348 -4 50

The tatted one might take a step back this season offensively — last year’s power was a bit of a surprise — but he has enough patience, power and speed to be a decent option at the position. If the late-blooming 31-year-old goes down, though, the backup situation is not pretty. Blum and Bloomquist are not the killer ‘B’s you are looking for. Still, there might be a tier break behind Roberts based on his skill set.

No. 17 — Pittsburgh Pirates

Role Player Bats ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field PA WAR
Starter Pedro Alvarez L 0.245 0.323 0.447 -3 500 2.5
Reserve Casey McGehee R 0.262 0.311 0.398 -1 150 0.5
Super Utility Yamaico Navarro R 0.249 0.306 0.371 50

There’s upside and downside in gobs by the three rivers. Alvarez could break out and show all that power with decent enough glove to make it work — or he could whiff his way back to the Minor Leagues. McGehee could then step in with a little more BABIP love and maybe a few more fly balls instead of ground balls and be a decent backup — or he could continue his career trends and be nigh unusable. Even Navarro could be a strong super-utility guy if things break right. This could be the boom-or-bust tier.

No. 16 — Atlanta Braves

Role Player Bats ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field PA WAR
Starter Chipper Jones B 0.26 0.343 0.438 -5 425 2
Reserve Martin Prado R 0.281 0.325 0.417 3 250 1
Defensive Rep Jack Wilson L 0.223 0.303 0.347 7 25

Speaking of booming or busting, the Braves have to be a little nervous that their plan A at the position is now 40 years old. The list of competent third basemen that played into their 40s is a short one. On the other hand, if Prado is only an okay outfielder, he’s probably the best backup third baseman on this list. That counts for a lot, and might even make for an argument that the team should factor in higher… if only their primary option wasn’t so old.

No. 15 — Milwaukee Brewers

Role Player Bats ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field PA WAR
Starter Aramis Ramirez R 0.278 0.34 0.476 -7 550 3
Reserve Brooks Conrad B 0.224 0.297 0.392 75
Defensive Rep Cesar Izturis B 0.248 0.291 0.306 75

Ramirez might seem like he’s been around forever, but he’s ‘only’ turning 34 this year. Even with a little natural aging, he should be above-average this year. His backup has problems on defense, but decent power, and then there’s the prospect, Green. The team got better at an important defensive position when they lost Prince Fielder.

No. 14 — Cleveland Indians

Role Player Bats ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field PA WAR
Starter Lonnie Chisenhall L 0.255 0.312 0.404 2 525 2.5
Reserve Jack Hannahan L 0.223 0.303 0.347 7 150 0.5
Super Utility Jason Donald R 0.248 0.314 0.35 25

The 23-year-old Chisenhall did just enough in his debut to justify this ranking, most likely, and he has upside beyond. He could strike out less and walk more if his Minor League track record is to be believed. With the above-average power and defense that he did show, and the sure-handed Hannahan behind him to help caddy, this team is in a surprisingly good position… at this position. The boom-or-bust tier continues, but when you’ve got good glove behind you, the bust just won’t hurt as much.

No. 13 — St. Louis Cardinals

Role Player Bats ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field PA WAR
Starter David Freese R 0.269 0.323 0.406 1 450 3
Reserve Daniel Descalso L 0.263 0.328 0.378 100
Prospect Matt Carpenter L 0.248 0.342 0.366 200 0.5

The World Series hero might have projections that feel a little light, but it’s better to focus on the bigger sample that says that he has power, patience and defense that’s closer to average than it seems. He also doesn’t rate highly on the injury tool. A full, healthy year would make this ranking seem light, and another two-month injury would have the team reaching for prospect Carpenter to keep from running out backup infielder Descalso every day. On the other than, that was a heckuva game last October.

No. 12 — Kansas City Royals

Role Player Bats ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field PA WAR
Starter Mike Moustakas L 0.274 0.316 0.436 600 3.5
Super Utility Yuniesky Betancourt R 0.262 0.283 0.385 -8 100

Moustakas found his strength later in the 2011 season — which is good because his debut was right in line with most of his Minor League peripherals other than power. There aren’t a ton of sluggers with as little patience and as much ability to make contact as Moose Tacos, so it’s hard to know exactly how he’ll develop. The worst case looks scenario, set by last year’s baseline, seems decent enough. And there’s Betancourt as a caddy!

No. 11 — San Diego Padres

Role Player Bats ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field PA WAR
Starter Chase Headley B 0.27 0.351 0.392 2 600 3.5
Reserve Logan Forsythe R 0.224 0.326 0.322 100

You might consider these last two entries in the list as evidence that the position is hurting, but it’s actually also a testament to teams finding unique answers at the position. The 27-year-old Headley doesn’t have the power of a traditional third baseman, but he does have patience, speed, and at least the upside to provide good defense as part of the package. The (next) future isn’t quite here yet, but Forsythe is a decent fall-back plan in the meantime.

No. 10 — New York Yankees

Role Player Bats ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field PA WAR
Starter Alex Rodriguez R 0.264 0.35 0.474 1 500 4
Reserve Eric Chavez L 0.238 0.288 0.336 50
Super Utility Eduardo Nunez B 0.273 0.312 0.379 -7 100
Prospect Brandon Laird R 0.247 0.286 0.399 50

There’s a tier here. Gone are the days when A-Rod was at the top of his position, but he’s still plenty good enough to represent the difference between a top-tier third-sacker and a middling option. The guys behind him are old (Chavez), bad at defense (Nunez), or not really prospects (Laird), though, so another injury could hurt the team. Then again, A-Rod is trying a Kobe-Bryant-recommended “less is more” strategy this year in Spring Training. Maybe he can stay healthy all year and leapfrog some of the guys ahead of him on this list.

No. 9 — New York Mets

Role Player Bats ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field PA WAR
Starter David Wright R 0.269 0.351 0.447 -8 575 4
Reserve Justin Turner R 0.265 0.327 0.372 -5 150

Mr. Wright is still not 30, so banking on a comeback can’t be wrong. Unfortunately, his defense has slipped to the point that he could come back with his career strikeout rate and power, combined with his always-excellent patience, and still lose a good amount of his value with the glove. With the state of the team’s finances, there’s even a chance that if he plays to this level, he finds himself on another team — there are contenders on the bottom half of this list that could use his help, bad glove or no.

No. 8 — Blue Jays

Role Player Bats ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field PA WAR
Starter Brett Lawrie R 0.275 0.333 0.498 4 600 5
Reserve Edwin Encarnacion R 0.261 0.331 0.457 -4 100

From the old David Wright to the new David Wright. If the 22-year-old Lawrie were older and had a longer, less park-influenced track record of success, he could easily find himself even higher on this list. That said, even with a conservative ZiPs projection, he’s a very exciting youngster with skills across the board. Then, let your eyes start drifting up to the more upbeat projections. Amazingly, he’s even got a decent (if bad-gloved) backup, so the team is pretty set at third.

No. 7 — Miami Marlins

Role Player Bats ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field PA WAR
Starter Hanley Ramirez R 0.283 0.365 0.459 -4 550 5
Reserve Greg Dobbs L 0.25 0.293 0.364 -2 50
Super Utility Emilio Bonifacio B 0.263 0.326 0.347 -2 100

Maybe you could put Lawrie ahead of Ramirez, but that’d be ignoring a long track record of success from the once 30/30 shortstop with tools scouts drool about. Give the 28-year-old veteran some love, a better team, and a little better defensive rating at third base, and he could remind us what we once knew — he’s a star.

No. 6 — Boston Red Sox

Role Player Bats ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field PA WAR
Starter Kevin Youkilis R 0.268 0.374 0.477 -1 500 5
Reserve Mike Aviles R 0.273 0.301 0.417 -4 100
Prospect Will Middlebrooks R 0.247 0.283 0.405 100

The 33-year-old God of Walks is post-peak for sure. His power and health are down from his best season in 2008. But he’s still very good, and there is an argument to be made here that his caddies are better than some of the veterans near him in the rankings. Middlebrooks even provides some long-term upside at the position.

No. 5 — San Francisco Giants

Role Player Bats ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field PA WAR
Starter Pablo Sandoval B 0.299 0.347 0.497 6 600 5
Reserve Mark Fontenot L 0.245 0.308 0.367 100

The Panda played like a gazelle at third base last year, and now suddenly 2010 looks like the outlier in his past. Take that year away, and he’s shown power, contact ability and good glove in a fairly consistent manner. Maybe the girth will lead to a shorter peak — maybe — but the 26-year-old is pre-peak by even the more conservative measures. Watch out if he gets injured, though.

No. 4 — Washington Nationals

Role Player Bats ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field PA WAR
Starter Ryan Zimmerman R 0.283 0.354 0.476 7 550 5
Reserve Mark DeRosa R 0.244 0.3 0.277 50
Super Utility Steve Lombardozzi B 0.265 0.316 0.379 100

He’s still only 27. Yes, he had an injury-riddled year filled with whispers that his oblique issues would plague him as long as he stayed at the position — but Zimmerman only 27. And when he’s healthy, he has patience, power and glove to drool about. DeRosa is no backup plan, but Lombardozzi could provide in a pinch. The two teams ahead of the Nationals in the queue, however, are better set in case of injury.

No. 3 — Texas Rangers

Role Player Bats ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field PA WAR
Starter Adrian Beltre R 0.289 0.329 0.488 12 550 5.5
Reserve Michael Young R 0.291 0.336 0.431 -6 175 0.5

The 33-year-old Beltre is another year older, but he’s taken to Texas and still has power and an excellent glove. When he misses time, as has been his wont in the past three years, the team actually has a decent fall-back plan in Young. The Rangers will get their value out of third base in a different fashion than number two…

No. 2 — Detroit Tigers

Role Player Bats ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field PA WAR
Starter Miguel Cabrera R 0.31 0.406 0.56 -7 575 5.5
Defensive Rep Brandon Inge R 0.222 0.296 0.357 4 150 0.5

Turn his minus seven fan projection at first base into the minus-16.5 he showed the last time he played third base. Take away plate appearances and give them to defensive replacements like Inge. Dock him a little time for injury from running around at third. Miguel Cabrera is so good that he’ll still be the second-best player at his position. Of course, he’ll give away a ton of runs with his glove, but his bat is so good that the move will only dent his value. And a judicious use of Inge might actually make this whole idea work, from the team perspective.

No. 1 — Tampa Bay Rays

Role Player Bats ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field PA WAR
Starter Evan Longoria R 0.274 0.367 0.514 12 625 7
Super Utility Sean Rodriguez R 0.23 0.315 0.391 5 100

If you’re not a Rays fan, do not look at Longoria’s contract. It will just make it hurt worse that the Rays not only have a 26-year-old plus defender with power and patience at third base, but they have him locked up at under-market value. If Cabrera could play a strong third base defensively, or if Beltre could take more walks, they could compete for the title. As is, the Rays are in a tier of their own thanks to their third baseman.