I have a bit of an undesirable task of trying to make some kind of sense out of the third base mess from the past season. On the one hand, we have guys like Ryan Zimmerman and David Wright who are typically top shelf third basemen heading into the season. However, if you’ve looked over the FVARz database, you’ll notice their actual fantasy value relative to on-field performance was keeping company with Danny Valencia and Daniel Murphy. So what a top tier at third base for keeper value looks like is probably open to a great deal of debate.
Fortunately, what’s not debatable is who leads off the first tier, and that’s quite obviously Jose Bautista – who ranks a country mile (or should I say country click to honor our friends to the North) ahead of the rest of the pack. The big question after Bautista’s breakout 2010 is what he would provide as an encore, and to my surprise, he was every bit as good in 2011 (in fact, he was better if you count WAR at night to put you to sleep like I do). Bautista improved his batting average, his walk rate, and lowered his strikeout rate and while he was a little dinged up, he still managed to be the only player to hit better than .300, record 40 or more home runs and drive in and score more than 100 runs. He is one of the no-doubters in terms of keepers, certainly considering the dearth of talent at third base.
And now it gets interesting.
Quite honestly, I think it would be easy to make the argument that the first tier begins and ends with Jose Bautista. But that just feels a little lazy. Back in February when we first started ranking 2011 third basemen, Evan Longoria and David Wright occupied the first tier. Of the two, I think Longoria, 26, certainly deserves to be a keeper and whether or not Wright is may have more to do with the round and price you’re retaining him at.
If you happen to have a fellow manager who mutters anything about Longoria’s “down year,” this will be your opportunity to fleece him. Longoria’s wRC+ from 2008-2011: 130, 134, 140, 134. His wOBA from 2008-2011: .373, .380, .376, .365. That’s pretty darn consistent, and consistently very good. Even playing in just 133 games, he still managed to hit 31 home runs and drive in 99 runs. His 2011 story, of course, has a lot to do with trouble hitting them where they ain’t. His BABIP from 2008-2011: .309, .313, .336, .239. His BABIP on ground balls and fly balls compared to the AL league average is practically criminal:
Considering 82% of his batted balls were either a ground ball or a fly ball, this kind of luck is obviously going to have a pretty significant impact on the batting average. Just think of what his season might have looked like if he approached anything near a career-average BABIP. Smart money is on a major rebound in 2012.
Mostly because of age considerations, this is where the first tier ends. The second tier will be a much larger group featuring many names that will be ranked quite high for drafting purposes, but the task today is keepers. And while a good argument could be made for a couple more guys in this top tier, the combination of injury, age, and in some cases ineffectiveness, makes them risky enough to slide them down.