Preseason Third Base Tiers

Tiers seem to unearth the mighty wrath of fantasy baseball enthusiasts, but since we’ve already seen the third base consensus rankings and my general reactions to them thereafter, it’s time to categorize the gentlemen at the five into tidy little compartments of descending desirability.

As you well know, the tiers are not hard and fast — they change (sometimes dramatically) over the course of the first few months of the season. In fact, there’s been movement in these tiers even before I had a chance to publish them! It’s important to remember that these are not keeper tiers — they simply attempt to arrange rough approximations of value in standard 5×5 leagues as you prepare for what might be your final draft(s).

Tier 1
Jose Bautista
Evan Longoria

As opposed to last season, I decided Bautista needed to get used to the idea of sharing some room in the first tier since Miguel Cabrera is likely to join him (and very likely eclipse him) in the first tier within the first month. But because wacky things can happen, we won’t put Cabrera (or Hanley Ramirez or Mark Trumbo) in these tiers until we see the whites of their eyes in our eligibility updates.

Whether Longoria belongs here or not is probably debatable considering he’s coming off a “down” season which saw him hit for a career low .244 (in fact, I had a pretty heated argument with my cab driver in Arizona recently about Longoria, which felt like trying to explain the infield fly rule to a four year old). You’re all smart enough to know that his BABIP is very likely unsustainable at .239 as he owns a career .301 rate. He swung and missed less, demonstrated career high contact rates, he walked more, and his ISO was .251 (above career norms). In many ways, 2011 was one of his best seasons at the dish save for that pesky batting average thing. I like him this year. Very much.

Tier 2
Pablo Sandoval
Adrian Beltre
Ryan Zimmerman
Brett Lawrie
David Wright

I can hear some of you reaching for your pitchforks already. Allow me to explain a couple things. First of all, David Wright finds himself looking up at these four other gentlemen entirely because of his injury. I’m not a physician, and I don’t even play one on TV, but I can’t recall too many torn muscles of the abdomen resulting in happy seasons. I feel the same way about rib cage/abdomen strains (in Wright’s case, a tear) as I do about wrist injuries with hitters — treat it with cortisone, ice, witch doctors, whatever — it always seems to end badly. I hope Wright can prove that wrong.

With Pablo Sandoval, I’ll have to admit that I’m deferring to the group a bit on this one where he ranked third overall. I like Sandoval quite a bit, but I also hear the concerns (many played out in the comments) about his history of underwhelming runs and RBI. He should be good for a great batting average, on base percentage, and 25+ home runs, and for my money, I’ll bet on 80+ runs and 90+ RBI, but that would represent career highs for him — which makes it tricky to rely on.

When it comes to Zimmerman and Lawrie, it’s kind of my head over my heart. I tend to look at Zimmerman as a safer choice to produce across four categories although I’m excited to see what Lawrie can do in a full season. Indeed, if Lawrie is any close approximation of the 2011 version over the course of a full season, he’s going to find himself in the first tier by mid-season. But given that we have just 171 plate appearances at the major league level, it seems a little presumptuous to assume we can project the same production over 600 plate appearances.

Tier 3
Aramis Ramirez
Alex Rodriguez
Kevin Youkilis
Michael Young
Mark Reynolds

Call this your risk/reward tier. I don’t doubt that there will be one, maybe two of these players that outproduce someone in the tier above them, but trying to sniff out the who and the why is the troublesome part. This tier is really just a mine field within a gold mine. All of these players have produced at very high, even elite, levels in the past. But injuries have dogged Ramirez, Rodriguez and Youkilis, and age simply isn’t on their side. Michael Young is 35 and proved he can contribute across three categories without a position to play but the struggle to hit double digit home runs and that he doesn’t run anymore limits his usefulness.

Mark Reynolds is the bizarro Michael Young with his ability to bludgeon the ball but he might flat-out ruin your batting average. He has hit above .260 twice in his career, however — and his last two seasons have been well below his career .310 BABIP. His swinging strike rate was the lowest of his career in 2011 and his contact rates the highest. If he can continue to build on that, and regress to a career level in BABIP, hitting .245-.250 might be a possibility, and he could have a pretty great season. It’s the could part of that which makes him so hard to commit to.

Tier 4
Martin Prado
Ryan Roberts
Mike Moustakas
David Freese
Emilio Bonifacio
Daniel Murphy
Edwin Encarnacion
Danny Valencia
Chase Headley
Brent Morel

I’d considered making this group into two tiers, but that’s really starting to split hairs. There’s a big drop off after tier 3, and I’d really be rather perturbed if one of them was my starting third basemen heading into 2012. Martin Prado looks to rebound after the whole staph infection debacle of 2011, Ryan Roberts seeks to prove that he won’t regress into the abyss of his former career, and we’re all still waiting for the Mike Moustakas parade to begin.

David Freese is the poster boy for “nice little” on the new average spectrum.  He’s never played in more than 100 games and ten home runs is his career high. He’s a good hitter in a pretty solid lineup, but there’s nothing about his offensive profile that will get your heart racing. Bonifacio is facing question marks about playing time — and even if he plays, will he run at such a ridiculous pace? Daniel Murphy is kind of a David Freese 1.2 and Brent Morel played amazing baseball for all of one month in 2011.

I happen to like Edwin Encarnacion this year, as his swinging strike rate was actually respectable last year and his contact rates were up notably while his ISO lagged behind career levels. He might only hit .260, but but I can see 20 home runs and 80+ RBI in there as well. I’ve both advocated for and lamented Chase Headley in the same post in the past, and I’ve wondered (out loud) if Danny Valencia might be worth targeting in your draft — and pretty much agreed with the comments that he’s handy in daily transaction leagues from one side of the plate. I’m not sure you want to burn a roster slot for that kind of profile.

Overall, you might as well take all of tier four, put the names in a hat, shake vigorously, and select one.

And, the rest:

Tier 5
Chipper Jones
Pedro Alvarez
Lonnie Chisenhall
Ian Stewart
Jed Lowrie
Placido Polanco
Scott Rolen
Jimmy Paredes
Chris Davis
Alberto Callaspo
Kyle Seager
Mike Aviles
Juan Uribe
Chris Johnson
Casey McGehee
Wilson Betemit
Sean Rodriguez
Brandon Inge
Chone Figgins

Of the group, if you’re going to take a flyer on folks for bench stashes or general upside, I’d target Pedro Alvarez and Ian Stewart. If you want a decent plug-and-play type that won’t absolutely kill you in 5×5, perhaps look to Placido Polanco for a rebound or Kyle Seager for some upside with an 8 foot ceiling.




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Michael was born in Massachusetts and grew up in the Seattle area but had nothing to do with the Heathcliff Slocumb trade although Boston fans are welcome to thank him. You can find him on twitter at @michaelcbarr.


13 Responses to “Preseason Third Base Tiers”

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  1. AJ says:

    Tier 2 is just as much of a mine field as Tier 3. Wright is injured and has had 1 good season in 3; Lawrie has 150 MLB at bats; Zimmerman and Beltre are injuries waiting to happen.

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    • Adam says:

      I agree. I would put Beltre in his own tier two, but after that its a whole lot of uncertainty albeit with big upside. How is Zimmerman any less of an injury risk than the Aramis/Arod guys at this point? I don’t see much of a difference in any of Sandoval, Wright, Lawrie, A Rod, Youk, Zimm, Aramis. They all have warts but you gotta take one of them or else your going to be left with scraps.

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      • Michael Barr says:

        Adam – ARam has missed significant time four out of the last seven years, and hasn’t played in more than 150 games since 2006. ARod has missed significant time four years straight and his wOBA has declined every season as has his ISO. I give the nod to Zimmerman in large part due to his age although I recognize he’s had his injuries too.

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    • Matt says:

      I think I would have stuck Wright in Tier 3. I would just as soon have A-Rod, as I think he will DH quite a bit this year, which should help him stay fresh and in the lineup a little more.

      The Yankees did bring in Raul Ibanez, however. I’m curious, Yankee fans- how often do you think Alex Rodriguez will DH as opposed to playing 3B?

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      • Michael Barr says:

        Matt – had a mind to put Wright in tier 3, so I agree. I’m really weary of his injury. The rest of Spring is going to be important to track with him.

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      • Matt says:

        Fair enough. Overall, it’s a good list. Tier 2 and 3 are pretty close. I’ve been thinking about 3B as something like this:
        Tier 1: Bautista
        Tier 2: Longo, Lawrie (but I’m really really high on him)
        Tier 3: A-Rod, Sandoval, Beltre, Wright
        Tier 4: Ramirez, Young, Youlk, Reynolds, and Freese (there aren’t many players you can project/expect to post a .290+ batting average)

        This has been a nagging question for me, as I’m trying to decide what to do at third in my draft this weekend. The past few years I’ve been aggressive getting a top third baseman like Longoria, Zimmerman or Bautista early, because I thought this could become a “Golden Era” for third basement. But with the injuries these guys have had, I’m a little leery this year.

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      • Michael Barr says:

        Matt – it’s awfully difficult to predict injuries, but it’s not hard to see the evidence of age on the arc. For my standard league drafts, I’m pretty comfortable with about 8 guys at third base (this includes Cabrera and Hanley FWIW), and all will require picks in the first four rounds.

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  2. Jeff says:

    Gamel has 3B eligibility in most leagues. Would he fall somewhere in tier 4? Where specifically?

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    • Michael Barr says:

      yeah, Gamel currently has no position according to Yahoo – he’s just IF. I’m not sure he’ll ultimately gain eligibility in Yahoo with Ramirez in town. He does appear to have eligibility in Ottoneu though.

      I’d probably slot him right around the Valencia range in the 4th tier.

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  3. Steve Balboni says:

    What, no Juan Uribe, LAD starting 3B? Ned Colletti flew down to see him this offseason and told Uribe that the Dodgers expected more production this year. Maybe that news didn’t make it to your mom’s basement, but I’m all in, bumping Uribe up to #31 among starting 3B.

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    • Michael Barr says:

      Mr. Balboni, all due respect to you as you hit 21 home runs for my lowly Mariners back in 1988, but it may be time to order new spectacles. Juan Uribe is right there behind Mike Aviles.

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  4. Nobel Lawrieate says:

    “as you prepare for what might be your final draft(s).”

    So true, what with the world ending this year and all.

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