Third base has been challenging enough this season with injuries and ineffectiveness, so I find it extra-super-duper important to try and keep my thumb on the pulse of trends at the position. And despite the fact that we’re finally starting to pull out of that terrifying black abyss of the small sample size chasm, I frequently check the last couple weeks for trends in production. And trends there are (stats current as of Thursday evening).
After starting the season going .329/.387/.576 with six home runs and 24 RBI, David Freese has felt the cold snap of BABIP-reality. His BABIP during that stretch was darn near .400 and while we may all want to hug and cuddle the 2011 World Series darling, it just couldn’t last. Well, the lights flashed about two weeks ago and the bar is about closed. Since May 4th, Freese has hit .155/.219/.310 with a BABIP of .171. That has brought his overall BABIP down to a tidy .300, and we suddenly have something that looks a little more like what we expected from Freese at .265/.323/.490. His power numbers still look pretty good of course, but his strikeouts are up and his 24.3% HR/FB rate isn’t likely to stick. So if you own him it’s time to decide whether you might want to shop him while he’s still got that new car smell or if you’re comfortable with the David Freese that we saw last year for the rest of the season. He’s still likely going to have a career year in terms of overall counting stats, but then again he’s never played in more than 97 games in a season.
On the other end of the sizzle spectrum is Sean Rodriguez who started off the season “hitting” .182/.263/.227. His BABIP during that time was .229, but he was pretty much earning it as his xBABIP was only .255. He was carrying a pretty silly looking 30% infield fly ball rate, and while it’s still quite high at 18% in May, it’s at least heading in the right direction. In his last 21 games, his slash line is .309/.338/.500 with three home runs and four doubles. If you need to plug a hole at third base, he’s certainly got the hot hand right now, but don’t go expecting him to necessarily keep this up. The good news is his strikeouts and swinging strikes are both down and his contact rates are up. Rodriguez has always had double digit home run and stolen base ability, but came with the Mark Reynolds batting average. If he can manage to keep his average up around .250, he actually becomes pretty useful even in standard leagues and ought to qualify in all formats at third base by now.
Bringing up the rear here is Pedro Alvarez whose recent trend does as much for your fantasy team as Jack Wilson does handsome. He started off the season at .257/.297/.614 with seven home runs and things were actually looking pretty Jim-dandy even if he was refusing to accept a free pass. A .257 batting average was certainly progress considering the 2011 debacle and his pace for home runs was starting to look like Alvarez realizing all that inherent power, finally at the major league level. But in his last 18 games, Alvarez has gone .138/.235/.190 without a ball leaving the yard. And he’s really not even getting unlucky as far as batted balls go — his BABIP over his last 48 plate appearances is .333 and his xBABIP is .303. So he’s actually gotten lucky on a few of those seven hits of his. During this period, he’s swung at 41% of balls outside the strike zone and made contact with 34% of them. Thirty-four percent! His swinging strike rate is near 20% and he’s wound up striking out in almost half of his plate appearances. This of course is a dreaded small sample and I’m not saying that he’s this bad, but his recent performance has been nothing other than dreadful, and if you own him, you really need to be prepared for the fact that the 2011 version of Alvarez has reared it’s ugly head.