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February 19, 2007

Positional Health Reports

Third Basemen

by Will Carroll

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Baseball men will tell you that you can hide someone at first base. Unfortunately, that's not exactly true, or at the very least, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. In contrast, third base is where someone can hide from anything but a throwing-arm injury. It's far from easy as defensive positions go, so why over the past five years is this the safest position on the field? Partially, it's how the position has evolved. While most of us were noticing that shortstops were getting bigger and stronger, third basemen managed to get more athletic while not losing any size. Thinking of these guys like tight ends in football isn't a bad idea; if you ever meet Scott Rolen, you'll know why.

Young, quick, athletic players like Ryan Zimmerman and David Wright are the new face of the position, but the new-age third baseman may have his model in one of the more injury-prone players at the hot corner: Troy Glaus. However banged up he was in the past, Glaus is still athletic enough to have started eight games at shortstop in 2006, putting up a below-average but not horrible defensive rating. Given his bat, if a team was willing to put up with some defensive miscues, or smartly played him behind flyball pitchers only (or paired him with a rangy fielders at second and/or third), the offensive value could be pretty interesting. Instead, he's a veteran who represents an example of the future at third base, with more complete, athletic players manning the position. If the trends hold true, these players should be healthy enough to reach their potential to be among the game's elite for the next decade.

Normal risk is Green light, elevated risk is Yellow light, and high risk is Red light. For more on the system, and to download a subscribers-only spreadsheet covering everybody, please check out the introduction.

Mike Lowell Green light: Lowell's not without risk and just barely in the green zone. Aside from 2005, when everything went wrong, he's a solid, durable producer. That shouldn't stop in his age-32 season.

Alex Rodriguez Blue light: Forget for a moment that he's Alex Rodriguez. Push the contract out of your mind. Even try to ignore that he's whispered that he played hurt last year, something that, to me, is the worst of excuses when you don't speak up at the time. Instead, focus on the fact that he's played in 160 or more games four of the last six years. Clutch or not, he's likely to be out there every day.

Troy Glaus Red light: The turf didn't seem to bother him as much as I expected, but his history is holding him at red. If we just looked back at the last two years, you'd think he was a rock at third, but at this time last year, no one thought he was a good risk (including me). I can't say that aging a year hurts him or that his two years of health help him. In other words, what we don't understand is risky.

Joe Crede Red light: Crede's back problems are well known, but the White Sox staff has always been able to keep him reasonably productive even through patches of spasm and pain. Josh Fields is pushing him, and Ozzie Guillen's creative substitutions help here, so while Crede remains risky, and will likely have problems at some point during the season with the back, the circumstances are right for him to not have it too bad or be too limited.

Mark Teahen Green light: With Alex Gordon coming, I ran Teahen's numbers at first and at the corner outfield slots, and he comes up green at both places despite the labrum surgery. That should affect his throwing more, but even then, position players come back pretty well. I don't know how batting from the left side will affect things, but the mechanics of the swing and shoulder make it seem that it would be problematic.

Eric Chavez Yellow light: Between the weird tendonitis from last year and the shoulder problems from the previous years, there are some pretty significant health-related reasons that help explain why Chavez didn't fulfill the MVP expectations many had for him. That's not likely to change this year, but if he can stay healthy, he could really put up a bang-up stat line.

Hank Blalock Green light: I can't believe Blalock is green. The guy has chronic shoulder problems, but the way the system works is--like everything I have--with DL days. I know and you know that Blalock battled shoulder problems last year, but that isn't in the system. Someday, we'll figure out how to get the day-to-day factor into our analysis, and we'll make a quantum leap. Until then, we get anamolies like Blalock, who should be yellow, maybe even red.

Adrian Beltre Yellow light: This is the lowest yellow on the board, with only the remnants of his horrible appendectomy coloring him down from green. He's been good for 150 games since then, and there's no reason to think this year will be any different.

Chipper Jones Red light: Jones essentially gets to write his name into the lineup. That he does so even when playing on his decrepit feet defeats the purpose, no pun intended. Jones has proven that he's tough, but he'd do better to take his rest where he can get it, or even consider DHing. It was tough seeing Dale Murphy leave too.

Miguel Cabrera Yellow light: He's this good and still growing. At 24, he's filled out from the manchild that showed up in the 2003 playoffs. His power totals are even more impressive considering his home park. So why the yellow? A skewed baseline and his increasing weight factor in strongly. Even so, I'm not worried.

Aramis Ramirez Red light: So, his big deal done, the always-dangerous post-contract year begins. Though Ramirez played through groin problems and avoided antagonizing his chronic quad problem last year, his attrition rate has a steep curve, and chronic leg problems usually sap power. This one's risky now, and getting a lot riskier, sooner than the Cubs think.

Scott Rolen Yellow light: I'm getting a little ahead of myself here, but discussion of Rolen is often colored by the media. He's a great guy, works hard, and thoroughly likeable. Then there's J.D. Drew, who the media not only hates but misunderstands. Drew isn't a villain, but look at how people discuss Drew and Rolen. Rolen's fighting back, ready to come back healthy after struggling with a shoulder still sore after surgery. Drew collapsed in the second half with another in a series of injuries, only to walk away from his team. Fact is, it's the SAME INJURY. Drew had more homers in the second half (11 of 20) and saw his slugging percentage rise in each month after the All-Star break. Rolen had a bad July and September, but August was fine. It's all in how you present it. Getting back to the topic at hand, the shoulder should be less of a problem the further he gets from surgery, so expect more of the same from Rolen.

Corey Koskie Red light: Koskie was another of the post-concussion victims we saw too many of last year, losing half the season and the chance to vest his option. He's still not doing baseball activities, and there's more than a good chance that he'll follow Mike Matheny into retirement. That baseball's not doing more to prevent concussions, especially with Elliot Pellman (a medical advisor to the NFL) on board, is sad.

Morgan Ensberg Red light: Last season's shoulder injury killed his power and nearly cost him his job. Assuming that Phil Garner is willing to look at Ensberg with an open mind, he'll like what he finds. Ensberg adjusted at the plate and while his average tanked, he actually raised his OBP. Reader Diane Firstman noticed that Ensberg walked in 17 percent of his PAs prior to the injury (up from 14 percent the prior year), 29 percent during the injury and fighting through it, and 23 percent after the DL and rehab. Even taking out the 29 percent period, he walked 19 percent of the time, a nice continuation of the growth shown in 2005. If the shoulder's healthy--and I'm told it is, but it's the type of thing that often recurs--it will be interesting to see if he keeps the improved eye. (Hat tip to Guy Lake of Talented Mr. Roto for noticing the same thing.)

Also Green light:

Melvin Mora
Akinori Iwamura
Nick Punto
Andy Marte
Brandon Inge
Chone Figgins
David Wright
Chris Coste
Ryan Zimmerman
Freddy Sanchez
Edwin Encarnacion
Kevin Kouzmanoff
Chad Tracy
Pedro Feliz
Garrett Atkins
Wilson Betemit

Related Content:  The Who,  Shoulder,  Year Of The Injury

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