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December 11, 2009

Fantasy Focus

Third Base Rankings Review

by Marc Normandin

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It's time to see where I went right and wrong with my fantasy rankings for third base. These rankings were made during spring training, and this particular series of pieces is meant to review those rankings so we can see what there is to learn from both the process and the results-my hope is that next season's rankings will improve through this, since I'm forced to face the music in a way.

In addition, I also want to start some discussion about what it is we should do about the lists themselves. Should the format change? Should it stay the same? Would you prefer something like star ratings and tiers, like those that Kevin Goldstein uses in his Top 11 Prospects list, or do you want to retain the basic 1-20 ranking system? For that matter, are 20 players at each position enough? Let's get all of these ideas out in the open now so that there's plenty of time to accommodate requests by the time ranking season rolls around. That way, I provide you with the service you ask for, and still have time to do the things I plan on doing for you outside of that. Reply in the comments, ask me in chats, e-mail me, or talk to me via Twitter (@Marc_Normandin) over the next few months with your thoughts; I may not respond to all of you, but I will keep track of your replies for the purposes of 2010's rankings.

I have two notes that bear mentioning. The first is that I'm not ignoring your pleas for fewer slash stats and more counting stats in the rankings. I will implement all of that next year in the rankings, but for the purpose of these pieces, I think it works well as a quick guide to see how far off or equal things were. Second, these are entirely retrospective-I keep receiving e-mails questioning where such and such a player is and how could I ignore their 2009 campaign in the 2010 rankings that I haven't written, published, or even formulated in my head yet. There will be time for that as the season approaches, but right now is a time for looking back.

1. David Wright (.302/.400/.538 PECOTA) .307/.390/.447: Each infield position had one player who I felt was undoubtedly the most important, and Wright was that guy at third. Unlike the other three, though, Wright slipped a bit in 2009 with his lack of power production. Wright managed to hit just 10 homers and drive in 72 runs on the season, with neither the first or second half giving him much in the way of power, though he did hit .324 prior to the All-Star break (that dropped to .279 afterward). Wright has been known to run into issues with his swing that sap him of his power-we even mentioned that early this season-so it's tough to say what 2010 will bring. I have a hard time believing anyone could have predicted that drop in production, and that's coming from someone who thought Wright would lose a lot of value due to Citi Field-he struggled equally outside of New York, so there's more to it than that.

2. Chipper Jones (.341/.443/.564 PECOTA) .264/.388/.430: Well, it finally happened-Chipper Jones didn't produce at an insanely high level all year. This one's on me folks. I felt pretty comfortable with ranking him this high-despite protests from many commenters-because I felt that, with Alex Rodriguez missing time due to injury (and our not knowing how well he would rebound once he returned), combined with Jones' 2008 and PECOTA's infatuation with him, that it was fitting. It turns out that PECOTA and I were both a wee bit optimistic, as 2009 frustrated not just me and his fantasy owners, but Jones himself. It's going to be hard to quit Jones, but I'll work on it between now and the 2010 rankings.

3. Alex Rodriguez (.282/.373/.508 PECOTA) .286/.402/.532: PECOTA wasn't too far off in terms of his line, but Rodriguez performed better than later analysis may have expected given he was supposedly on one leg all year. Sidebar: It's somewhat amazing that with such similar maladies, Rodriguez, Chase Utley, and Mike Lowell all performed so very differently in 2009. If you think I should have moved Rodriguez up to the second spot, I won't blame you for that, but I felt like I was playing it safe due to the injury concerns and time he may have missed.

4. Aramis Ramirez (.288/.363/.509 PECOTA) .317/.389/.516: The batting average was a bit higher, but Ramirez was basically what PECOTA and I expected him to be-when he played, anyway. Ramirez picked up just a half-season's worth of at-bats, which kept him from fulfilling the needs of those who drafted him, but injuries are out of my control-call this one disappointingly correct.

5. Garrett Atkins (.302/.371/.510 PECOTA) .226/.308/.342: PECOTA expected big things out of Atkins, better than his previous two seasons, and I may have nodded my head in agreement a bit too easily. Let's assume he doesn't end the year with a .247 BABIP-let's give him 70 points more. That still puts him in a lower-than-you-like power output situation, and something akin to 2008. I'll take the blame on this one, since I should have overruled the forecast.

6. Evan Longoria (.266/.342/.482 PECOTA) .281/.364/.526: I claimed Longoria was "David Wright Lite" and said I liked him for a better year than PECOTA's weighted-mean forecast, two claims I'm glad I made, considering how well numbers one through five on this list worked out. He'll be higher than this in 2010 thanks to being more like Wright than Wright was this year, but as far as 2009 is concerned, this spot worked.

7. Edwin Encarnacion (.283/.365/.493 PECOTA) .225/.320/.410: Seeing Encarnacion ranked seventh right next to his actual performance makes you stop and think. Has the depth at third base disappeared? Aramis Ramirez hit his projection when he played, Evan Longoria was better, and A-Rod is A-Rod, but Jones, Wright, and Atkins all fell off of assorted cliffs, Wile E. Coyote-style-and that's just the first third of the list. Anyway, Encarnacion has reached that point where I will never trust him again on draft day, but will consider him as a potential mid-season additions to my club.

8. Ryan Zimmerman (.289/.358/.471 PECOTA) .292/.364/.525: Zimmerman helps make up for some of my point above in the Encarnacion section, as he outperformed his weighted-mean projection to deliver the season we've been waiting for since his inaugural campaign. Assuming he's this good a hitter-and nothing in his line suggests he isn't-Zimmerman is one of the best players in the game, and a very underrated one at that. He will also be higher in next year's list, since he has finally made this big leap.

9. Alex Gordon (.258/.342/.457 PECOTA) .232/.324/.378: I felt Gordon was ready to break out, but instead he put up a season very similar to his debut, which is to say, not a good one. He's still young and there's plenty of time to rebound, but two dud seasons out of three is not a good start to your career when you were supposed to be great already. At this rate, Gordon will have a stellar second half of his career and people will wonder what could have been, had he put things together sooner. Do we have a name for that kind of career path?

10. Kevin Kouzmanoff (.275/.331/.465 PECOTA) .255/.302/.420: He's a much better player than people realize, but until he gets out of Petco Park, we may want to lay off putting him in the top 10 ever again (I'm stating the obvious out loud so I don't forget it myself in February). I figured shoulder surgery would help him clear up his poor second half, but his struggles continued, and this time he put up a good-looking second half, despite Petco's interference. I think my reasoning was sound, but it's tough to like him this high in the rankings with diametrically opposed halves.

11. Mike Lowell (.272/.332/.442 PECOTA) .290/.337/.474: Lowell's offensive output is a product of Fenway Park. He slugged around 200 points higher in Fenway than on the road, which is the kind of thing the Red Sox either don't want to rely on in the future, or don't think he can repeat, hence their attempt at trading him and a large suitcase full of money away for a roster spot and a prospect. I'm comfortable with this ranking, since I felt he would outperform his forecast by a bit, but we'll have to see how his hip is feeling more than a year after surgery before moving him up or down in 2010.

12. Mark Reynolds (.260/.344/.506 PECOTA) .260/.346/.543: Reynolds' season went so well that it was surprising to not see him as a throw-in alongside Max Scherzer in this week's deal with the Tigers and Yankees. Reynolds didn't reduce his strikeouts, but succeeded by hitting even more fly balls, which then landed in the bleachers at a higher rate than any other time in his career. Reynolds was traditionally streaky, and therefore a headache in head-to-head play, but if you were in a roto league, I said you could bump him up. Assuming I don't find some glaring flaw in the next few months, I may want to bump his base ranking up.

13. Troy Glaus (.257/.366/.459 PECOTA) .172/.250/.241: Glaus appeared in 14 games all year, which makes reviewing this ranking a bit difficult.

14. Adrian Beltre (.271/.330/.453 PECOTA) .265/.304/.379: Beltre had one of his worst offensive seasons, with Safeco affecting the right-hander more than it normally does. Given the names that come after him in the rankings, though, 14 sounds about right, since I was counting players that were primarily third basemen, and not dual-position guys like Kevin Youkilis, Miguel Cabrera, and the like. (By suggestion, I will be paying more attention to that next year.)

15. Ty Wigginton (.272/.335/.477 PECOTA) .273/.314/.400: His return to the American League East didn't go as well as PECOTA or I thought it would, though to be fair, everything except for the batting average looks similar to his 25th percentile forecast. I did warn you that his Beta (2.0, the fifth-highest among all projections) made him a risky pick, and it turns out that was at least decent advice.

16. Jorge Cantu (.269/.326/.454 PECOTA) .289/.345/.443: He was probably the last viable option at the position going into spring training, and he didn't disappoint. He's not the best third baseman out there when he's on defense, but he had first-base eligibility as well, and ended up performing a little better than his forecast expected him to.

17. Melvin Mora (.271/.331/.471 PECOTA) .260/.321/.358: PECOTA didn't think he would retain his 2008 rebound numbers, but things were even worse than expected. Of course, that's why he was ranked 17th instead of up higher with some of the forecasts that resemble his.

18. Chone Figgins (.263/.340/.352 PECOTA) .298/.395/.393: Figgins hit for a higher batting average than expected and continued to improve his patience. With third as deep an offensive position as it was supposed to be, this ranking made a lot more sense to me in February than it does now. My take was that he could give you steals, but if he lacked power and didn't hit for average, you were hurting yourself. Years like 2009 make him a great fantasy player instead of just a great real-life player.

19. Carlos Guillen (.271/.349/.426 PECOTA) .242/.339/.419: He had a little more pop, but he couldn't match the batting average forecast. Given he was a back-end option even in deep AL-only leagues, you shouldn't have been expecting much more than this to begin with.

20. Andy LaRoche (.267/.359/.413 PECOTA) .258/.330/.401: I ranked LaRoche this far back because I didn't think he was ready to break out yet-it looks like I was right on that note, but I have a better feeling about 2010, especially with his strong finish to the season.

If I was to grade myself on these positions, I would say I was in the A- range for first base and second base-very few mistakes, and the big ones were mostly due to out of control things like injuries. Third base was a little rougher around the edges though, and I'm more inclined to go with a C+/B- on this one. I nailed the back end and a lot of the middle, but missed some things I should have caught (Atkins), maybe played it too safe with A-Rod, and maybe went a bit too all-in with Chipper. I also could have revised the rankings when we determined that Citi Field was not going to be an ideal place for David Wright to play, but that issue wasn't studied much until the time of the park's debut-plus, as stated, Wright struggled on the road as well. Either way, I think there were a few things I learned by going back over third base, which should serve us all well in the future.

29 comments have been left for this article.

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Premium Article Changing Speeds: Quant... (12/10)
<< Previous Column
Fantasy Article Fantasy Focus: Second ... (12/04)
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Fantasy Article Fantasy Focus: Shortst... (12/18)
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