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Where To Punt Third Base In Your Draft

We all have our little mind tricks when it comes to draft preparation. Many rely on tiers. Others prefer straight list rankings. Maybe you use a magic 8-ball. But a principle I typically take into any draft is the point at which the talent available at a position isn’t distinguishable enough for me to care who I get. I call this the threshold in which you just punt: when your targeted players have left the board, and the remainder you could care less about.

There’s a real beauty in this (if you’re nerdy enough to find beauty in fantasy baseball drafts). Let’s say you target five players at a position, and for some reason, they all fly off the board without a challenge from you. If you’re equally comfortable, or at least marginally comfortable, with the remaining seven or eight players, you can reasonably assure yourself you’ll get at least one. And at that point, you can just move on to other needs. You essentially punt until the class gets so thin that you finally pull the trigger. This invariably happens at one or more positions throughout the draft. As maddening as it might be that you don’t get a top player at every position, the ability to compartmentalize the degree of panic relative to positional scarcity lends itself to a clearer head in the thick of a draft.

There are varying degrees of “puntability” at each major position of course, but I find third base to be particularly pronounced. Yes, you have a beast in Miguel Cabrera. Then, depending on whatever projection system you use, there’s some mash up of Edwin Encarnacion, Adrian Beltre, David Wright, and Evan Longoria. And for my purposes, if I miss out on Cabrera or Encarnacion, I’m probably punting. I like Beltre, Wright, and Longoria, but they’re getting drafted in the 2nd and 3rd rounds. Should one fall to the fourth round, sure. But it’s not likely. So they’re mostly dead to me.

I hear you screaming Matt Carpenter at me, and I get it. Carpenter might be on the upside of the dividing line for me, and of course I’d love to have him on my squad. But do I like him $15 more or eight rounds earlier than a guy like Brett Lawrie? Probably not, given other needs.

To be clear, I do think there are tiers mixed in here, but the degree of separation just isn’t enough for me to work up a sweat over making sure I get the next guy. Whether it’s Kyle Seager, Ryan Zimmerman, or Aramis Ramirez, I’m probably not going to throw a fit depending on who happens to fall in my lap. Consider the projections below, with the standard deviation for each category at the bottom. Sure, there are differences, and in standard rotisserie formats, you want to pay attention to your needs relative to each category and how your draft has gone (i.e., do you need home runs so desperately that you have to take Alvarez). Each player has their warts and the variability just isn’t that dramatic:

HR R RBI SB AVG
Josh Donaldson 22 78 80 5 0.271
Kyle Seager 18 75 76 8 0.262
Nolan Arenado 17 67 75 3 0.277
Brett Lawrie 17 70 68 13 0.274
Matt Carpenter 10 75 53 5 0.291
Aramis Ramirez 20 63 71 3 0.273
Chase Headley 16 72 69 10 0.254
Ryan Zimmerman 20 68 69 4 0.274
Matt Dominguez 18 62 68 2 0.255
Pedro Alvarez 29 69 82 2 0.243
Xander Bogaerts 14 65 64 8 0.261
Will Middlebrooks 22 60 69 5 0.261
Manny Machado 12 58 52 7 0.268
David Freese 13 59 59 3 0.272
Deviation 4.7 6.1 8.6 3.1 0.011

It might be more useful to come up with a composite third base average for this gray area group and then see how each perform above and below that line, but the point is still kind of the same — if you miss out early, don’t panic and grab the next best thing earlier (or more expensive) than you have to. Move on to other pressing needs, knowing one of these guys will fall in your lap far later (or cheaper) than projected and you’ll be better off at other positions because of it.

Or just be lucky enough to draft Miguel Cabrera.