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