Third Base Tiers: June

We’re about a third of the way through the season, and while the proverbial gloves aren’t going to come off, I think I’ll stop coddling some and for others, I’ll be giving credit where credit is due. I wouldn’t say this is a “if the draft were held today” kind of list, but perhaps some amalgam of ranking based on current performance and anticipated performance for the rest of the season. I’ll do my best to tease out a rationale for the higher tiers.

The top tier of third basemen has historically been quite small, in large part due to the dearth of real superstars at the position. But since Jose Bautista has been acting like he might actually be mortal, it’s left room for some others to join him at the top.

Tier 1
Miguel Cabrera
Jose Bautista
David Wright
Hanley Ramirez
Adrian Beltre

Cabrera might not be walking at a rate we’re used to, but his .325/.375/.557 is right about what you would have expected from him at the beginning of the year, with the exception of a few extra ticks on the OBP. ZiPS sees him finishing with 33 home runs and 117 RBI which is just about spot on for his career average. He’s having a terrific season, even if he might be doing it a little quietly by his standards. Bautista is still launching home runs, but he’s had some rotten luck in the batted ball department (.205 BABIP) which has really suppressed his batting average. His expected BABIP based on his hit trajectory is .273 and his career rate is .272 (magic!) and we’ve already seen his batting average start to rise over the last several weeks after a miserable April. I’m including Ramirez and Beltre in the top tier because their output has earned it. Ramirez has 30/30 back in his sights and Beltre looks like he’s got a .300/30HR/100RBI season in him once again.

Tier 2
Edwin Encarnacion
Alex Rodriguez
Brett Lawrie
Mike Moustakas
Pablo Sandoval
Evan Longoria

There’s definitely a case to be made that Encarnacion belongs in the top tier given his rather staggering home run total. If he keeps it up, he’ll obviously land there. But his batted ball data just leaves me looking like a dog hearing a barely audible tone with my head quizzically cocked to the side. Encarnacion has just 9.5% line drives on the season, almost 20% infield fly balls and over 16% infield hits — all nowhere near his career norms. Even if they trend to the middle, it may not affect his home run totals, but it just is head scratching enough that I’d like to see another month before I let the jury out of my own head. Moustakas is the other newcomer to the second tier, and maybe I’m jumping the gun a bit, but his .278/.345/.497 line has me a little giddy although if you trust Bradley Woodrum’s patented DE-LUCKER then perhaps we should temper expectations. Sandoval and Longoria are here due to injury, but will likely jump up in a month.

Tier 3
Mark Trumbo
David Freese
Kyle Seager
Michael Young
Martin Prado
Ryan Zimmerman
Aramis Ramirez

Here’s where things start to get really wacky. I suppose I shouldn’t be completely caught off guard by what Trumbo has done so far, but you look at that .337/.387/.629 line with 12 home runs and I bet most of you wouldn’t kick that out of bed. He’s not likely to keep up this batted ball fortune with a .387 BABIP, but it looks like the sophomore slump has entirely forgotten about Trumbo. The guy that is really giving me the stinkpalm is Kyle Seager. I believe he started the season way down in “the rest” tier, in large part because his role was somewhat in question as the Mariners still clung to a Chone Figgins delusion. And here is Kyle Seager with the fourth highest RBI total of all third basemen, hitting seven home runs and stealing five bags, providing a solid .274/.321/.477 slash line. Safeco Field has really killed him this year, but he’s been a beast on the road to the tune of .315/.348/.551.

On the flip side, we have higher tier stalwarts like Young, Zimmerman and Ramirez slumming it in the third tier. Young is still hitting for average, but he’s not doing his typical runs and RBI in bunches act which used to make his lack of home runs and steals palatable. He’s almost becoming a version of Placido Polanco so far this season. Zimmerman’s .239/.318/.333 line with two home runs over 179 plate appearances is just a hot mess (yep, and then he went out and had a big game last night. You’re welcome Zimmerman owners). And we’re all waiting for the annual Aramis Ramirez July coming out party, which is starting to get to be a tired act if you own him.

Tier 4
Kevin Youkilis
Chase Headley
Will Middlebrooks
Todd Frazier
Chris Davis

Tier 4 is kind of a “Tier 3b” in large part because I couldn’t lump these guys together with what lies below. Since returning from the injury, Youkilis is hitting .261/.346/.435, looking a little more like his old self, but there’s still a ways to go. Even still, he’s not playing every day, which creates problems in non-daily leagues. His replacement, Middlebrooks, wriggled his way into the lineup with six home runs and a .321/.345/.557 line, although it’s being perhaps buoyed by a .394 BABIP. He’s also not playing every day, which makes the two-headed third base monster in Boston rather intractable. Frazier and Davis have both been pleasant surprises, and depending on how June goes, they may continue to see their stocks rise, although I’m suspicious of Davis’ batted ball profile and contact rate.

Tier 5
Mike Aviles
Jed Lowrie
Chris Johnson
Daniel Murphy
Chipper Jones
Placido Polanco
Emilio Bonifacio
Ryan Roberts
Jack Hannahan
Mark Reynolds
Wilson Betemit
Steve Lombardozzi
Sean Rodriguez
Jordan Pacheco

Jones is good when he plays and that’s not often. Aviles and Lowrie both have more value as shortstops, but they’re better than many third basemen. Murphy is still waiting for his first home run, Pacheco has one of the more vacant contents of a .300 batting average, and Lombardozzi refuses to steal a base. Hopefully most of these players aren’t your everyday third baseman.

The rest
Brandon Inge
Alberto Callaspo
Alex Liddi
Lonnie Chisenhall
Taylor Green
Joe Mather
Juan Francisco
Daniel Descalso
Trevor Plouffe
Jose Lopez
Scott Rolen
Pedro Alvarez
Ian Stewart
Casey McGehee
Juan Uribe
Chris Nelson
Cody Ransom
Elian Herrera

That’s right, Chone Figgins — you don’t even make the list.

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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.

16 Responses to “Third Base Tiers: June”

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  1. Dan Z says:

    Whats the rationale behind Brett Lawrie in tier 2? Hes consistently under performed expectations this year and his batted ball profile (especially GB%) is not indicative of a return to power etc. Im curious on that one? I would think both Trumbo and Freese would have to be ranked ahead of Lawrie at this point based.

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    • Michael Barr says:

      Dan – expectations were probably too high. But I still see Lawrie hitting close to 20 HR’s and stealing 20-25 bags while hitting about .280. If he scores 80 runs and drives in 85 or so, that’s a pretty valuable 3B. If he doesn’t pick it up a little in the power department, I could see him slip next month. The batted ball profile is a good point though — the next 100 PA’s will be interesting to track.

      Trumbo’s BABIP won’t stay near .400 all year, so I’m expecting his batting average to look a little more Trumbo-like, but if he continues the HR’s at this pace, he’ll shoot up next month. Before last night’s big game, Freese was hitting .205/.241/.397 over the last month so I left him in tier 3. If he goes on another tear, he’ll also bump up. But I doubt that he will (go on another tear).

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      • Dan Z says:

        Makes sense. I agree on Trumbo and his high BABIP, the power has been fantastic though. It would be nice to see Freese sustain some success he has shown some great flashes of it so far this year, just hasnt been able to manage consistency.

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    • batpig says:

      don’t underestimate the value of those steals, which are rare at the 3B position. Even if he’s not the superstar some were hoping for based on last year’s stretch run, his got the kind of sneaky all-around game that is really valuable and often underrated.

      Even with the poor power showing so far, he’s still hitting .281 and has chipping in 4 HR and 8 SB to go along with decent counting stats. He’s got a good lineup position in a good offense.

      compare so far this season:

      Freese: 28 R / 12 HR / 40 RBI / 0 SB / .271
      Lawrie: 27 R / 4 HR / 21 RBI / 8 SB / .281

      obviously Freese’s HR/RBI numbers are much stronger but he is a complete zero in the SB category. Lawrie has still matched him in R and offers a better average and a bunch more SB.

      Even with a reduced FB% Lawrie’s not going to keep posting a 7.8% HR/FB rate and .100 ISO, he’s just got too much raw power for that. Even if he doesn’t pick it up too much you’re looking at a final line of around .280, 15 HR, 23 SB, 75 R, 70 RBI. Again that’s a very balanced 5-category performance that is a lot more valuable than people think. And there’s still upside there.

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  2. kid says:

    Dear Jose Bautista, it would be really great if you could get your BABIP above .200. Sincerely – Loyal Owner.

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  3. Dan says:

    Youk has only sat one game since he came back, since he slides to first when Middlebrooks is in and Gonzalez goes to RF. So playing time is not an issue for Youkilis (so far).

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  4. Mario Mendoza of commenters says:

    Now I can see people not loving Chisenhall because as a prospect he was a tier below Moustakas & Lawrie… but man, that’s low.

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  5. JRoss says:

    Kyle Seager…

    Don’t think he will keep up his power (.iso). Besides the lack of counting numbers, I don’t see how he is ranked so high.

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    • Michael Barr says:

      I tend to agree with you. I’d guess his true ISO sits somewhere in the .140 range, so the home runs might tail off. But even if he only hit 10 more all year, hit for the same average and his RBI pace was at 75% of what it currently is, you’d have a .270 hitter with 17 home runs and 81 RBI with 12-14 steals. That’s damn near what ZiPS projects for David Freese, sans steals.

      Kyle Seager could turn into a pumpkin and I wouldn’t be surprised at all, but I kind of have to address the fact that he’s had a fine season so far.

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  6. saskatunes says:

    Really high-fiving myself for deciding to give Brent Morel a chance to pick it up and not drop him for Seager or Frazier after the first few weeks into the season.

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  7. CJ says:

    Man. I am loving my flier on Moose in the last few rounds. Get questioned on draft day then end up with a top 3B. Stoked.

    And keeping Seager lying around on my bench due to his positional flexibility made losing Tulo not sting quite as much.

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  8. SeagerFan says:

    How is Seager not in tier 2?

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  9. DWrek says:

    Michael, you on twitter?

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