February 5, 2016
The -Only League Landscape
American League Third Basemen
The studs here were Machado and Josh Donaldson, and both return for another blockbuster engagement. Donaldson ($37) and Machado ($35) were the second- and third-best hitters in AL-only 5x5 leagues. Machado was one of two players in Major League Baseball to put up a 30/20 season (Paul Goldschmidt was the other) and what Donaldson didn’t provide with this legs he more than made up for with his thunderous bat, becoming only the second third baseman in history to reach or eclipse 40 home runs, 120 runs, and 120 RBI in a single season (Rodriguez was the other one, accomplishing the feat in 2005 and 2007). You’re going to have to pay at least $30 to get either one of these studs, and it is possible that one or both of them crack the $35 barrier.
If you miss out on one of them—or are wary of sinking well over 10 percent of your budget on one player—there are a few options in the next tier you may have the stomach for in AL-only. Todd Frazier, Kyle Seager, Adrian Beltre, and Mike Moustakas all earned $20 or more in mono-league formats, with Frazier cracking the $25 barrier. Ten AL third basemen hit 18 home runs or more in 2015 while six drove in 75 runs or more. If there is an area where third base was deficient last year, it was in batting average. Donaldson was the only AL third basemen to hit .290 or higher last year (Yunel Escobar joins him from the NL). Batting average notwithstanding, there is enough production returning this year that you need not worry if you miss out on one of the big two.
Unlike in 2015, there isn’t a rookie or a young and emerging player at third like Machado about to burst through and catapult toward superstardom. Joey Gallo is the highest rated prospect at the position in Baseball Prospectus’ Top 101 at third base, but in leagues that only use major league games played, Gallo will only have outfield eligibility. He may not break camp with the Rangers and doesn’t seem to have a starting position to open the season, but a fast start in Triple-A could force the issue.
In 2010, Beltre and Evan Longoria were the best AL-only third basemen, earning $30 apiece and beating Rodriguez by $5. Since then their fantasy earnings have taken different trajectories, with Beltre earning $136 since 2011 while Longoria has only earned $97. Beltre has been an amazing performer both in reality and in Roto, but injuries slowed him down a little bit last year. He only missed 18 games, but a sprained thumb ligament sapped his power at the plate, leading to a pedestrian .262/.314/.365 slash line in June and July along with a mere two home runs in 137 plate appearances. A healthy Beltre could go back to producing $27-29 in value but Father Time is nipping at his heels. Longoria was healthy, but he continued to be a good fantasy option and not a great one. Longoria hasn’t cracked $23 in AL-only earnings since 2010.
They don’t quite have the name value that Beltre and Longoria do (did?) but both Frazier and Seager could earn more than either of those venerated names will this year. Frazier didn’t quite run as much as he did in 2014, but he did steal 13 bases, which would have been good for second among AL third basemen behind Machado. A number of analysts keep knocking Frazier down, but he smacked 35 home runs for the Reds last year and the move to the White Sox shouldn’t have much of an impact on his power. It is also possible that moving to a bolstered Chicago lineup will help his counting stats.
Seager is getting drafted behind his brother Corey in NFBC drafts, but while Corey should eventually surpass Kyle in fantasy, there’s a good chance that the older Seager will hold off his brother for one more year. The pedestrian batting average and lack of double-digit steals will keep Seager from ever sniffing $30, but I don’t mind the idea of paying a little bit more than what Seager can earn for his consistency and durability.
After years of disappointment, Mike Moustakas finally broke through in a big way, putting up the best offensive season of his major league career by far and hitting 20-plus home runs for the first time since 2012. Moose’s valuation will be determined almost entirely by his batting average and how much the gains he made last year are sustainable. While diving into single-season batted-ball data can lead to dubious analysis, Moustakas did cut down on his strikeout rate for the third year running and improved his quality of contact as well. The power may have been a little fluky, as his batted ball distance dropped slightly in 2015.
There is a significant drop off in the AL this year after Moustakas, and if you aren’t willing to spend at least $20 on a third baseman you might want to hold back and not overpay anyone in this next group. Danny Valencia ($18) and Trevor Plouffe ($17) both delivered solid earnings last year, but you might not want to bet on a repeat performance, particularly in Valencia’s case. If Valencia plays full time this year, there is serious batting average risk. Valencia surpassed last year’s expectations by putting up uncharacteristically great numbers against right-handed pitching. Plouffe is a solid citizen and probably gets maligned too much in fantasy circles, but a return to 15-home-run power is a likely scenario for Minnesota’s third sacker given that his batted ball profile didn’t change much in 2015.
Nick Castellanos, Chase Headley, and Pablo Sandoval are the last three third basemen I would recommend paying $10 or more for in AL-only leagues. Castellanos seems like a guy with upside, but his offensive output has been stagnant the last two years. Many expected Headley to see a power boost moving from Petco to Yankee Stadium, particularly after he hit six home runs in 224 plate appearances for the Yankees in 2014, but it didn’t work out that way. Headley’s infield-fly rate jumped while his hard hit ball rate dropped, which makes for a troubling trend. Sandoval had the worst season of his career on both sides of the ball and he completely disappeared in the second half. If there is a silver lining to his train wreck of a season it is that he had some bad BABIP luck and his rate of hard contact didn’t change much from one half of the season to the other.
Given the drop off after the top seven third basemen (eight if you count Brett Lawrie, who was profiled at second base for this series), this is a position where allocating a little extra money at the top is a viable strategy. If you “have” to settle for or a Sandoval type, this is fine, but don’t go too far past $10-12. If your league uses on base percentage instead of a batting average, Luis Valbuena (earned $3 more in OBP formats), Donaldson ($2), and Jed Lowrie ($2) gain the most value, while Beltre (-$2), Castellanos (-$2), and Sandoval ($2) were the biggest losers at third base in OBP leagues.
If you do wind up diving into the bottom of the barrel at third base, below are some other players who are AL-only or very deep mixed league plays (16 teams or more). They’re not flashy, but at the right price, profit is profit. The retrospective valuations in this piece for 2015 can be found here.
Luis Valbuena, Astros ($12)
Yunel Escobar, Angels ($20)
Lonnie Chisenhall, Indians ($9)
David Freese, Free Agent ($12)
Giovanny Urshela, Indians ($3)
Matthew Duffy/Colin Moran, Astros
Mike Olt, White Sox ($0)