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Check the Position: Third Base

Over the offseason we’ll take a look at each position on the diamond and see how the past season affected the positional rankings and where there might be some potential bounceback value picks going into next year’s drafts. (See shortstops, catchers, second basemen and first basemen.)

These rankings are for 5×5 rotisserie fantasy baseball. Eligibility was determined by where the player had the most at-bats last year.

thirdbasemen

To be absolutely precise, there should be down arrows next to Alex Rodriguez and David Wright because they used to be in a tier of their own and now have a little company at the top of the leaderboard. Despite his injured hip, Rodriguez basically replicated his 2008 season and an offseason of rest can only help. RJ Anderson and Dave Allen both covered David Wright and his power outage, and both agree the power should return. The only addition that I have, however crude, is that according to the hittracker, Wright would have only lost two of his 2008 home runs had he played in Citi Field that year. With power and speed, those two still rule the roost, if not as definitively as they have in the past. Ryan Zimmerman and Evan Longoria have joined them at the top and there’s not really much to say other than they just don’t boast the speed upside. They’re still pretty good players, though.

Aramis Ramirez used to be in the top tier. He could still be there. But last year just reminded everyone that he’s a 32-year-old third baseman that has dealt with injuries his whole career and is clearly post-peak. He’s fallen into a tier with some exciting names with risk attached. Pablo Sandoval is everyone’s favorite Panda, but as a BABIP outlier (.356 career, .317 career xBABIP) even his most ardent fan has to admit the risk that the batting average falls and leaves him as a slightly under-powered third baseman minus his best tool. There’s no risk with Mark Reynolds‘ power, but there’s also little likelihood of a nice batting average to go with his power/speed combo. As Dave Allen noted, he makes it work, but you’ll also need to make it work by making up for his batting average if you pick him. Dave Cameron showed how Chone Figgins has upped his walk rates through his career and made himself into a better player, but any 32-year-old that makes his living with his feet carries inherent risk. Plus, he offers no power. Gordon Beckham has a nice power/speed package going, but he’ll need to hit more line drives (16.6%) next year in order to get the batting average up. Michael Young doesn’t have the batting average problem, but he has power that oscillates from poor to mediocre.

The final tier is where the veterans go to finish their careers. Ian Stewart is the only upside play of the bunch, and he needs to strike out a little less (32.5% in 2009, 27.6% career) and hit some more line drives (14.1% in 2009, 18.2% career) so that the batting average can find its way to respectable. Obviously, he has power. Chipper Jones is the best of the post-peak guys, but he carries the most injury risk as well. Casey Blake, Mike Lowell, Mark DeRosa and Adrian Beltre can be picked out of the same bag using a blindfold. Admittedly, Beltre will cost the least, but getting him out of Safeco may mean that he will contribute similar stats to the other veterans in this tier.

In general, this is one of the more shallow positions in fantasy baseball. In a roto league, an owner betting on a final-tier third baseman is a step behind. The top two tiers offer some good value, but make sure you get your third baseman relatively early in 2010.