When we do this thing where we categorize players into tidy little compartments it tends to bring out the monsters in many of you. Had I given more attention to some of my cultural anthropology or experimental psychology courses, perhaps I’d have an explanation as to why. But nonetheless intrepid reader, I’ll attempt to put forth my best tiered assessment of the available third basemen to you on draft day.
As you no doubt know, the tiers shift. They move like like an Omar Vizquel with Arthur Rhodes on the mound. But I know that many of you like to aim for top three tier material at as many positions as possible, so perhaps this will help you assuming you haven’t already put together your squads. If you already have and your guy is in tier five, well, condolences.
I’m going to put the tiers in with Steamer projections for three reasons: One, we don’t have any statistics to lean on yet. Two, Spring statistics seem futile to bother with. Three, tell me it’s not a lot of fun to say “Steamer.” And lest you want to argue with me about your league-specific dynasty team with a 40 man roster and why do I refuse to give respect to Stephen Piscotty… well, these tiers are for good old fashioned home cooking 5×5 rotisserie leagues. Okay? Okay.
On to the list!
Shocker of all shockers. The reigning AL MVP comes in a class all his own. In fact, it’s kind of unfair to even have tiers when competing with Cabrera. We should have a “Tier Cabrera” and then a “Tier One”. Note to self for 2014.
With Miggy, you have a legitimate #1 overall pick. He’s a beast in four categories, he’s been incredibly durable, and there might not be another player so completely reliable to provide you with elite counting stats like this. It’s entirely rational to take Mike Trout or Ryan Braun with the first overall pick, but consider me among the many that would dance a special type of jig should Miggy slip to me at #3.
I can hear some of you grabbing for your pellet shooters.
I’m being stingy as hell here, I know. But a couple of things are going on here. Rather amazingly, Adrian Beltre has been more healthy than Longoria, Wright, Sandoval, and Zimmerman over the past two seasons, so despite his age and everything we know about aging curves, it’s hard to look at facts and say with a straight face that he should slot behind them. Also rather amazingly, Beltre has just flat out killed the ball the past three seasons. He’s been worth 19 WAR over the last three years where Longoria, Wright, Sandoval, and Zimmerman register at 16.2, 13.7, 10.4, and 14.2, respectively. Yeah, I know, fantasy isn’t necessarily wrapped up in WAR, but I’m just using it to illustrate a point. So I give the nod to Beltre because he continues to perform and then I give the nod to Longoria in large part due to potential.
If the projection holds true, Longoria will hit the second most home runs of any third baseman and drive in the third highest number of runs. If you’re in an OBP league, you should wear him like a snuggie, just drape yourself in the luxurious walks. If he can avoid another ridiculous BABIP like he saw in 2011, there really shouldn’t be any fear of a batting average south of .275.
Wright pretty clearly belongs in the second tier but he’s already received a cortisone shot this spring, griping about some intercostal muscle which he presumably needs to hit a baseball. If he could reproduce his 2012 line of .306/.391/.492 with 21 home runs and 15 stolen bases, well sign me up. But he’s been awfully volatile over his career relative to the traditional counting stats, and I think the Steamer projection is pretty fair if he can avoid missing any time.
Also dinged up already this spring is the Panda, complaining of an irritated nerve in his arm. If you’ve owned Sandoval over the last two seasons, you know that irritated feeling well because he can’t seem to keep himself off the trainers table, averaging about 112 games from 2011-2012. It’s always nice to take his batting average to the bank, but it’s really hard to rely on much more than 18 home runs or so. He hits high enough in the order to provide RBI opportunity, so if he can stay on the field, that should be a plus category. But he comes with risk.
The whole tier seems like it should be in Jeff Zimmerman‘s MASH report because everyone here but Lawrie has dealt with significant injury issues. Ryan Zimmerman suffered with a shoulder issue, among other ailments, and then went on a tear when the magic of cortisone bled its way into his appendages. He’s gotten that shoulder fixed over the offseason and he’s hit well this Spring, but it seems like you have to prepare for lost time — and the projection reflects as much.
Hanley Ramirez might be an afterthought here since his value is clearly at shortstop, where he ought to slot in a higher tier. In Aramis Ramirez, you have to deal with his notorious slow start, which is going on four straight seasons now. If you take an objective view, he’s been one of the more steadily productive third basemen going on ten years now, save for one stinker in 2009. But he turns 35 in June, I can’t bear to suffer through the power outage in April and May, so I’m probably leaving him to another manager and targeting him in trade come June.
Brett Lawrie is my irrational exuberance pick to outperform his Steamer projections. Freshly off his 23rd birthday, I tend to agree with the ZiPS projection of .185 ISO, pegging him at 19 home runs over 133 games to go with 15 stolen bases. If he can manage 150 games, he ought to be looking at 22-23 HR’s and flirt with 20 steals. Chase Headley rounds out the tier in large part due to his untimely thumb injury which will sideline him one to two months. Even so, it’s interesting to juxtapose the ZiPS projection with Lawrie’s as Headley is projected for 18 home runs and 15 stolen bases with a .268 batting average — pretty much a mirror clone of the Lawrie projection. And that was with 148 games played to 133.
If Middlebrooks can manage more plate appearances than 498, he’ll likely leap up into the third tier. His power potential is quite good, and if he hits somewhere in the middle of the lineup, the RBI’s will come. If you’re a Bill James disciple, Middlebrooks is going to be an All-Star. The projection for David Freese isn’t particularly bullish on his runs and RBI, but the batting average and power seems to be about spot-on at 501 plate appearances. The gem of the group might be Todd Frazier who finally cut down a bit on his strikeouts and posted an eye-popping .225 ISO. If he can push 575 plate appearances, there could be 25 home runs in there on the cheap. Watch out for the value-crushing platoon with Alvarez, as has been whispered this Spring. Martin Prado would slot in here somewhere, but why bother — he’s going to have more value at SS and/or 2B assuming he qualifies based on those glorious handful of games he appeared in last season.
I don’t know, you pick. Youkilis could provide streaky production but will no doubt get hurt at some point, along with everyone else on the geriatric Yankee roster. Machado is his polar opposite — a youngster on the rise with not only good power but decent speed, but we’ve just not yet seen more than a handful of games so far, so who the hell knows. You’re not going to get much more than that projection out of Keppinger, but he’s at least got a regular gig. Chisenhall, Plouffe, and Donaldson all have redeeming qualities but enough warts to make them stag on prom night.
Carpenter will be more valuable as a second baseman, ARod might never play again, and then there’s just a plethora of part timers in there and other piles you really ought not step in. Third base is deeper this season than it has been in the past, but don’t get yourself into the fifth tier to pick your starter.
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