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January 16, 2008

Fantasy Beat

Third Base Review

by Marc Normandin

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Spurred on by the recent swap of third basemen between the Cardinals and Blue Jays, it's time to take a look at some of the hot corner's surprises and disappointments from 2007. There were plenty of both, and third base boasts one of the best collections of talent of any position these days, thanks to Alex Rodriguez, David Wright, Miguel Cabrera, and Chipper Jones. Outside of those four, some sorting is in order.

Let's start with Mike Lowell, who hit .324/.378/.501 for the Red Sox last year and led the club with 120 RBI. That may seem odd given the other famed hitters on the club, but he spent much of the season hitting sixth behind Dustin Pedroia (.380 OBP), Kevin Youkilis (.390), David Ortiz (.445), Manny Ramirez (.388), and J.D. Drew (.373), and he did hit for a pretty lofty batting average. Even if the rest of the Red Sox lineup duplicates their excellent on-base figures from the year before, Lowell is going to have difficulty keeping his value intact in both actual and fantasy baseball.

Why is that, you ask? Lowell's power numbers were about the same as years previous-his rate of homers to fly balls of 8.6 percent was about a point lower than 2006, and he hit 10 fewer doubles with a 13-point drop in his isolated power (ISO). He hit many more singles to bump up his value. Despite a pedestrian liner rate of 18.1 percent, Lowell's BABIP was .342, well above the league average and his expected BABIP of .301. Adjusting his line for this, Lowell should have hit around .283/.337/.460, which looks a lot like his 2006 performance. Let's also not forget that Lowell hit .373/.418/.575 at Fenway last year, and just .276/.339/.428 on the road. If you draft him, you might want a backup plan for road games. This also means you don't want to draft him too early, since he can't handle the position for you well enough on his own.

In yesterday's chat, I was asked about Mark Reynolds by a few different readers. I profiled him late in 2007, with a somewhat negative conclusion:

If you adjust Reynolds' line for the difference between his BABIP and expected BABIP, his line should be somewhere around .213/.283/.429. The power is still there, as evidenced by the .216 ISO in that adjusted line, but the average is not. Of course, Arizona's BABIP is a bit higher to begin with thanks to its offense-inflated environment, but it is pretty clear that Reynolds will need to reduce his strikeout rate if he doesn't want to find himself suffering a severe sophomore slump.

That hasn't changed yet obviously, as no further games have been played. Reynolds chased a ton of pitches outside of the zone that he couldn't do anything with, which led to his massive strikeout total. After seeing him for 400+ plate appearances, the league is going to have a better idea of how to pitch to him as well, and it's worth noting that he hit just .137 against sliders in the majors. He will more than likely see a steady diet of those until he figures out how to make better contact with them. Reynolds has the power to be a force at third base and maybe even eventually slot in behind some of the big names at the position. For now, though, he's going to need to prove that his nifty run in 2007 was not just a BABIP fluke before you waste a high draft pick on him. Keep him in mind as a secondary option at the position for now.

Kevin Kouzmanoff snuck into the top 15 VORP leaders for his position last year, and that was despite an awful start to the season where he hit just .108/.172/.193 through May 7. From that point forward, Kouzmanoff hit .309/.362/.511 for the Padres, including a dominating performance against left-handers (.407/.426/.691) and a solid showing at Petco (.303/.358/.451). Those numbers help him look like a better bet to stick as a top 15 third baseman, especially with the Padres deciding that top prospect Chase Headley may just be the left fielder they are searching for.

Kouzmanoff's BABIP was .309, around the league average, and it matches up well with his eBABIP of .302. He managed to start cutting down on strikeouts as the year progressed and finished with 50 extra-base hits despite the glacial pace he set in April. Since Kouzmanoff's game isn't power, he doesn't lose a ton of value when he plays his home games; use this to your advantage at draft time, since Kouzy is capable of starting every night he plays for you. He's not one of the best third basemen around, not by any means, but he certainly deserves to be one of the first 8-10 drafted, and he may even drive in 85-90 runs, depending on where he hits in the Padres lineup.

We'll finish off the third base review with a look at both Troy Glaus and Scott Rolen. The two players both missed time with injuries, as Will Carroll has already noted in an earlier piece this week, and gaging their potential 2008 performance brings up a lot of questions. Rolen is moving to the friendlier park for hitters, and he will need that after hitting just .265/.331/.398 with the Cards in 441 PA last year. His shoulder problems obviously sapped much of his power, and the combination of health and the Rogers Centre could do wonders for Rolen's numbers.

After taking a look at some park factors, we can see that Rogers Centre is one of the top five places in either league for a boost in homers, for both lefties and right-handers. Conversely, the new park in St. Louis has been as tough on power as Toronto's park was friendly-just ask Albert Pujols this past season-and getting out of there can only help Rolen in the long run. Rolen's BABIP was also a bit below expectations given his very normal 19.5 percent liner rate-rather than .293, Rolen should have been around .315-which would have boosted his overall season line to about .287/.353/.420, a much more acceptable rate of production.

How much will Rolen's power improve? Let's take a look at the splits of Troy Glaus from the past two years to get an idea of the boost he's in line for. Glaus, also a right-handed hitter, has hit .240/.348/.446 on the road since joining the Blue Jays, thanks in part to some awful performances against right-handers (.211/.311/.345). Back in Canada, Glaus shined, hitting .274/.373/.511 with 32 homers and 26 doubles, and even managed to hit righties hard at .265/.359/.538. He's not the only one to earn a significant boost in performance from playing at the Rogers Centre-most notably of late, Vernon Wells' entire 2006 season was a product of his home park and some BABIP love, and it earned him a massive extension-so Rolen, if healthy, should see some serious changes to his numbers.

Given this, it looks as if Glaus is the guy that you are going to want to avoid at draft time. Between the injuries, the poor road numbers and the fact that his home park is now going to deflate his power rather than assist it, he's not looking like he's going to help your team much in the near future. On the other hand, you've got Scott Rolen, who despite his shoulder problems managed to play in 112 games for the Cards in 2007. With the move to Toronto, he should see his power numbers improve significantly, and would be the one I select at draft time if it comes down to the two for third base. Drafting either by themselves may not be the way to go-a backup plan is in order thanks to the health issues and performance uncertainty-but the future looks brighter for Rolen than for Glaus.

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Premium Article Future Shock: Braves T... (01/15)
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