The Unfortunate State of the NL Third Baseman

Scott Rolen is starting at third base for the National League All Stars. This isn’t so much an indictment of the All-Star selection process (although it certainly could be) as it is the sad, sad state of third base in the National League right now.

National League third basemen are currently hitting .254/.315/.373, for a .688 OPS. The only inferior non-pitcher position is the shortstop, at .675. Perhaps part of this is due to injury — Pablo Sandoval, one of the best hitting 3B in the game right now, has only played in 50 games. David Wright has only played 39 games. Ryan Zimmerman has only played 34. The loss of those three star-level hitters has certainly hurt the position, leading to more time for players like Jerry Hairston Jr., Miguel Tejada, and Alex Cora. Also, Brandon Wood plays in the National League now.

Maybe if Chase Headley or Aramis Ramirez or Sandoval were starting at third base for the NL, the poor performance around the league could be easily swept under the rug. With Rolen earning that starting nod with his .276 on-base percentage — .276 on-base percentage! — it’s only magnified. Even Placido Polanco, the original starter, was far from impressive, posting a meager .346 SLG in the first half.

Looking at the leaderboards, aside from the three acceptable choices mentioned above, we have Ryan Roberts, a guy in the midst of a breakout season. We have Daniel Murphy, an injury replacement who has played all of 21 games at third base. And that’s it for players above 2.0 WAR at the All-Star break. Given that 5 WAR is a generally accepted cut-off for All-Star level performance, it seems clear that the NL All-Star starter was bound to look unimpressive regardless of the choice.

Then throw in the sub-replacement players — Melvin Mora, Casey McGehee, Jose Lopez, Jorge Cantu and Chris Johnson, three of whom were opening day starters, all enter the break below -0.5 WAR. As much as the lack of star talent is to blame for the lack of production out of NL third basemen, the presence of such offensive black holes is just as influential.

Maybe some of these players will rebound, and maybe the return of the stars from injury will return third base to it’s former home as a power-hitting position, but right now that seems quite unlikely. Teams are not only concerned with offense out of the hot corner, but defense as well. Although there’s almost no way that the position doesn’t improve in the coming years and even in the second half, chances are it comes with the glove as much as (if not more than) the bat. Don’t be surprised if third base continues to be as powerless as second base in the near future.



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