2014 Fantasy BaseballFantasy Baseball

2014 Fantasy Baseball: Gerard’s Rankings, Third Base

Miguel Cabrera is far and away the best fantasy baseball option at third base, but there’s a surprising amount of meat in the middle of the 3B rankings. My ranks will give you the top three tiers of third sackers, along with strong plays in each 5×5 category.

Before you read on, read this.

Oh, and this:

A quick introduction on the layout:

First, we’ll go through a few tiers of top players at the position. These are guys who either deliver above average all around production, or have one transcendent skill. They are your building blocks. The “Total Score” is an average of all of the individual categories, weighted to the categories where that position is most likely to contribute positive value.

From there, we’ll divide up the remaining players based on specific category contributions. These guys are the puzzle pieces. Their contributions will be limited, so their specific value depends on the gaps that exist between the building blocks that you’ve already drafted.

One final thing: These are my rankings, but they’re guidance, not gospel. If you want to take Evan Longoria over Adrian Beltre or Martin Prado over Pablo Sandoval, I won’t fight you. Every drafter should draft to his own instincts; I’m just giving you some tools to sharpen your senses.

Tier 1

Since Miguel Cabrera was traded to the Tigers in 2008, there have been six player seasons in which a player met or beat the following stat line:

.320 Batting Average

25 Home Runs

100 Runs Scored

120 Runs Batted In

Miggy has half of those six seasons. He’s coming off two in a row.

The only others to accomplish the feat were Matt Kemp in 2011, Albert Pujols in 2009, and Manny Ramirez in 2008.

Mike Trout is great, and he’s still my top-ranked player, but if you want to take Miggy first overall, I really can’t argue. Trout provides better all-around production than any other player, but Miggy is the only offensive player with the ability to lead the league in three fantasy categories. Third base has some depth this year, but Cabrera remains head, shoulders, chest, waist, legs, and feet above all other options at the position.

Tier 2

I feel like we’ve all kind of gotten used to David Wright; he deserves for somebody to get a little bit excited about him. He’s not the 30/30 threat he was earlier in his career, but let’s not diminish the player he’s become. Wright has outstanding plate discipline and still possesses an excellent blend of power and speed; no other elite third basemen can match that multidimensional skill set. Woo! Excitement!

Evan Longoria is becoming a less multidimensional player, but that’s not necessarily a negative. He’s shedding versatility in service of transforming himself into one of the elite power hitters in baseball. Speed is no longer a part of his game, but it was never really a big part to begin with. Batting average is becoming less of a strength as well; his strikeout rate is on a three-year upward trend, matched by a three-year downward trend in contact rate on pitches in the zone. Both mean bad things for his batting average, but indicate a more aggressive approach. Longoria also showed opposite field power last season, something that really hadn’t existed earlier in his career. He still thrives on hammering anything up in the strike zone, but he’s added the ability to drive balls down and away, something he hadn’t done with regularity earlier in his career. Steamer, Oliver, and ZiPS all project him for fewer than 30 home runs; I think he’s got a shot to challenge 40.

Tier 3

I love me some Nolan Arenado. He’s got great skill and was unlucky enough last season that his 2014 value is artificially depressed. He puts the ball in play a ton, hits a ton of line drives, and plays in the best hitter’s park in baseball, but Arenado somehow managed only a .296 BABIP last season. That will surely change. A similar correction should be coming the power department too. Over the last five seasons, only two Rockies have logged more than 500 plate appearances with a slugging percentage worse than .405. One was Arenado last season. The other was Willy Taveras.

What have we learned here? Unless you’re Willy Taveras, it’s pretty much impossible to log a full year of at bats at Coors without hitting for some power.

I’m confident that Arenado is a better power hitter than than Taveras (I know, BOLD STATEMENT!); look for big improvements across the board this season.

If you end up with an elite, yet unconventional guy like Robinson Cano at second base or Tulowitzki at shortstop, you’ll have to find some speed somewhere. Outside of Wright, it’s quite scarce at the hot corner. There are quite a few players who may chip in five steals or so, but Brett Lawrie is really the only mid/late round option with a realistic shot at swiping 20 bags. He’s got some value even if he never taps into the power potential he showed during his rookie season.

I tried not to adjust the scores too much, but I really wanted to push Ryan Zimmerman’s HR Score up a bit more. He finished third among qualified third basemen in HR/FB last season and he’s increased his flyball distance by at least 14 feet in every season since 2011, peaking at just over 309 feet last season, just inches behind Miguel Cabrera and sixth overall in baseball. Much like Longoria, Zimmerman’s plate discipline numbers show a trend toward a more aggressive approach, which may also bode well for his power output in 2014.

If You Need Home Runs…

For some reason, third base seems to be a beacon for unrefined hitters with mammoth raw power. When Lonnie Chisenhall is the best batting average option in the group, you know it’s a free-swinging bunch.

Pedro Alvarez has elite power, but let’s not ignore the poor man’s Pedro, Will Middlebrooks. Middlebrooks actually hits more fly balls than Alvarez, but still maintained a very strong 17.2% HR/FB rate last season. Like Alvarez, he won’t help your batting average, but his elevated batted ball profile and powerful right-handed swing makes him perfectly suited to produce in Fenway Park.

For deeper leagues with daily lineup moves, Juan Francisco is a great target. His plate appearances will be limited, as the Brewers will likely platoon him, but he is a terror against right-handed pitching. Francisco was one of only four third basemen to post an ISO better than .200 against righties last season, the other three were Alvarez, Cabrera, and Longoria.

If You Need Runs…

There are plenty of third basemen who score runs, but they’re all middle-of-the-order thumpers who are good enough all-around players to make it into the top tiers at the position. There just aren’t many table setter types playing third.

Kinda makes you long for the days of Chone Figgins, eh?

Nah, you’re right. Me neither. Forget I said anything.

If You Need RBI…

Kyle Seager is an intriguing guy here; his R/RBI impact is going to really depend on where he ends up hitting in the order. If the M’s decide to hit him behind guys like Robinson Cano and Corey Hart, he’ll have boatloads of RBI chances. If he hits in the two-hole, I’d put him up above Chase Headley as a really solid run-scoring option.

Nick Castellanos is unproven as a big leaguer, but I can’t recall any rookie who began his career in a better spot for run production. The four hitters projected to hit ahead of Castellanos (Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Austin Jackson, and Alex Avila) all have career OBPs better than .340. With that kind of support, Castellanos can drive in runs just by putting the ball in play which, coincidentally, is his best skill as a hitter.

If You Need Batting Average…

3B AVG

There are some solid batting average options here, but a few of these guys, notably Chris Johnson, and David Freese, are pretty one-dimensional. They can be useful pieces, but if you’re going to go with one of them, keep in mind that you’ll need to make up some power somewhere else, since most of your competition will be getting good power production from their third base slot and you… well, you won’t.

If You Need Stolen Bases…

He doesn’t show up on this list, but Castellanos might swipe a bag or two. This could just be my Tigers homerism seeping in, but I really believe that Brad Ausmus is going to push everybody on his team to be aggressive on the bases. Castellanos doesn’t have great speed, but he hits in a part of the order where Ausmus is likely to push the envelope to create some offense.

Thanks, But No Thanks

There are circumstances under which you might draft these guys, but in any shallowish mixed league, they shouldn’t be anywhere near your roster. These guys are below average in just about every statistical category; if you have to draft one, just look for the player who’ll hurt you least.

So, What Do You Think?

This is a different way to do rankings. It’s fun and interesting for me, but my ultimate goal is to give you all something that’ll help you have a more successful draft day.

If you want to take a closer look, I dropped all of the ranks into a Google Doc here.

You can find the write-ups on other positions here:

First Base

Second Base

Shortstop

Do you like the format? Do you agree or disagree with the rankings? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.

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6 Comments

  1. Bbboston
    March 20, 2014 at 6:57 pm — Reply

    Seager should clearly be in third tier

    • March 21, 2014 at 7:35 am — Reply

      I like Seager, I’m just not convinced he’s well above average at anything. He’ll hit about 20 homers, but power is cheap at 3B. He’ll steal a little bit, but probably not more than 8-10 bags. He won’t hit for a bad average, but he won’t hit for a particularly great one either. I think the numbers probably underestimate his run production/scoring a little bit given the additions to Seattle’s offense, but I still wouldn’t take him over anybody in Tier 3, with the possible exception of Ramirez based on injury concerns.

  2. Sidewinder
    March 20, 2014 at 10:17 pm — Reply

    You may consider removing M Young from your “need avg” list above. He retired two months ago.

    • March 21, 2014 at 7:28 am — Reply

      Probably should, eh? Done and done; thanks for catching that.

  3. Allen
    March 27, 2014 at 7:25 pm — Reply

    At the end of your Tier 3 you wrote “power output in 2013.” I know it was a typing error and should say 2014, but I just wanted to help out others who may misread this and not think it is an article for this 2014 season. As I continue to read, I continue to enjoy all you write. Thanks!

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