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March 9, 2012
Resident Fantasy Genius
Fantasy Tier Rankings: Third Basemen
As a reminder, five-star players are generally going to be your star-level producers that will be selected within the first couple of rounds, usually worth upward of $30. Four-star players are the next step down, worth more than $20. Three stars are worth more than $10, two stars will be in the single digits, and one star will be roster-filler and late-round fliers. Of course, this is just a general guideline. While the rankings will generally follow PECOTA, I will deviate when I feel strongly that a player will over or underperform his PECOTA projection.
I’ve also decided to give my choice for a value pick in each tier—a guy who I think will be worth more than your leaguemates do, or a guy who I believe stands a good chance of beating his PECOTA projection.
For reference, the dollar values were created by our PFM using a league format of 12 teams, 5x5 scoring, and 23-player rosters—broken down as C (2) 1B (1) 2B (1) 3B (1) SS (1) CI (1) MI (1) OF (5) UT (1) P (9)—and $180 of the $260 budget allocated for hitters and $1 minimum salaries. A minimum of 20 games needed to be played at a position in the previous season to qualify. We’ll be providing values for both mixed leagues and AL-only/NL-only leagues. While this is the industry standard format, your own league structure may differ, in which case you can customize the PFM to your own needs.
Also, please note that for players who are eligible at multiple positions, the dollar values listed are representative of their most valuable position. So a guy like Emilio Bonifacio, who qualifies at shortstop, doesn’t have dollar values directly comparable to Chase Headley if you’re drafting him as a third baseman. His ranking, however, is indicative of where he would fall as a third baseman.
Bautista gets destroyed by PECOTA because of his shotty performance history prior to 2010, but he’s a different player than he was back then, and I believe him to be a much better player than PECOTA thinks. I’m not buying the .300-plus average last year, but another 40 home runs would be unsurprising.
I also think Longoria is better than PECOTA sees, particularly with a batting average that could easily be .280. He’s improved his strikeout rate four seasons in a row and just needs health and a BABIP bounceback.
Five-Star Value Pick: I’ll take Wright here, assuming his rib cage injury doesn’t prove serious. The Mets are moving the fences in, which should help his power, and he runs a lot for a third baseman.
PECOTA is a little down on Beltre, but he’s posted five consecutive years of 25-plus home runs, has been cutting down on his strikeouts, and bats in the middle of one of the most potent lineups in baseball.
What I found most interesting in this tier is that our PFM seems to value a strong batting average much less in a 12-team mixed league than it does in the deeper AL- and NL-only formats. Despite strong overall numbers, check out Pablo Sandoval and Michael Young’s disparity in price. Then look at the batting average of the guy with the smallest disparity: Mark Reynolds.
Four-Star Value Pick: He was the Four-Star Value Pick for first base too, but I really like Mark Reynolds, especially at a shallower position. To repeat, he’s a guy who always seems to wind up on my team, perpetually undervalued in my eyes, and he’s in a good ballpark for his power. He even has a decent lineup around him, considering he plays for the Orioles. I’ll take the over on his PECOTA home-run projection; 40-plus is a very real possibility. He’s being taken in just the 10th round, on average, in Mock Draft Central drafts.
Youkilis is all sorts of risky thanks to his injuries, but if he manages to remain healthy enough to stay on the field, he’s got Five-Star upside.
Bonifacio could be very scary this year with Ozzie Guillen as the manager. If he plays every day (and Ozzie does seem to love these kinds of guys), there’s no question that I’d take the over on 32 steals. Going from a manager who doesn’t like to steal to one who loves it will do wonders for Bonifacio.
Like Young and Panda above, Prado gets hurt in mixed leagues since a lot of his value is in his batting average, which actually plummeted to .260 this year. I expect a bounceback there, and he makes for a fine pick in NL-only leagues as long as owners don’t go $24-crazy for him like they did in LABR NL.
Three-Star Value Pick: I mentioned in the first base article how much I love Encarnacion, and he’s the Value Pick here. He plays in one of the best hitter’s parks in baseball and hits the ball a mile. Last year, 47 percent of his homers were No Doubters, according to HitTracker, and 71 percent would have been out in any park in baseball. There’s immense power upside here.
Freese gets slapped with an “injury-prone” label by a lot of fantasy players, but a conversation I had at last year’s LABR trade deadline with BP’s in-house injury expert, Corey Dawkins, resulted in Corey telling me that he just thinks Freese has been unlucky with injuries and is not necessarily injury-prone. The early run of CHIPPER agrees, giving Freese a better-than-average chance at avoiding a 30-plus day injury. His post-season heroics certainly won’t help his price if your leaguemates tend to overvalue that kind of thing, but if they don’t, he could be a solid pick.
I said it yesterday, but I’m just not buying into Roberts’ power. Valencia is boring, but his job is safe and you pretty much know what you’re getting with him, and that kind of boring, consistent production is likely to be undervalued in AL-only leagues (though pretty useless in mixed leagues).
Two-Star Value Pick: Chipper Jones went for just $7 in LABR NL this past weekend, and he seems to be getting undervalued overall. Yes, he’s injury-prone, and he’ll miss some games, but his performance when he’s on the field is still very good. Don’t shy away from him at the low price he’ll command.
My good friend in the industry, Chris Liss of Rotowire, drafted Figgins for $12 in LABR AL this past weekend, which raised some eyebrows. Liss is notorious for gambling on last year’s duds, thinking them to be prime bounce-back candidates and generally undervalued. For the most part, this is true as a result of regression to the mean, but something Rotowire’s Jeff Erickson said was interesting: “Sometimes, a dud is just a dud.” Figgins will be given every chance to prove he is not a dud this year, starting full-time at third and leading off, and I’d be willing to gamble on him for single-digits in AL-only leagues. It’s yet to be seen where Figgins is in fact a dud now, or if he’ll bounce back to previous levels.
I spoke a bit with BP’s prospect expert, Kevin Goldstein, prior to LABR, based on PECOTA’s optimism for Gamel, and KG wasn’t convinced he’ll survive as a full-timer. BP2012 expresses similar optimism to PECOTA, so it will be very interesting to see what happens with him. He’s risky for sure, but for the right price, why not?
One-Star Value Pick: Alberto Callaspo. We have him down for a tepid 401 plate appearances, but he secured 536 last year and could approach that number again in 2012. If Mark Trumbo fails as a third baseman, as most scouts expect him to, Callaspo would only have to share a little time with Maicer Izturis. I could also see him posting a higher batting average than PECOTA has him down for; he has bested such a figure in three of the past four years.
With over 1,600 player comments in Baseball Prospectus 2012, you might find it difficult to read through them all before draft day arrives. To help you out, I’ll point you toward some of the most insightful comments for this position. These are the guys that I’d highly recommend flipping to in your copy of the book and reading before you sit down at the draft table.
Be sure to read the BP2012 comments for these third basemen: Pedro Alvarez, Mat Gamel, Chase Headley, Brent Morel, Mike Moustakas, Pablo Sandoval, Ryan Zimmerman.