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March 21, 2013
Fantasy Tier Rankings
Today we continue our positional tier rankings. Last offseason, Derek Carty tackled the tiers by himself; this spring, we've decided to attack them as a team. Players at each position will be divided into five tiers, represented by the number of stars.
Five-star players are the studs at their respective position. In general, they are the players that will be nabbed in the first couple of rounds of the draft, and they'll fetch auction bids in excess of $30. Four-star players are a cut below the studs at the position. They will also be earl- round selections, and they're projected to be worth more than $20 in most cases. Three-star players are the last tier in which players are projected to provide double-digit dollar value in auctions, and two-star players are projected to earn single digits in dollar value in auctions. One-star players are late round sleepers and roster placeholders. As was the case with our positional rankings series, the positional tiers aren't simply a regurgitation of the projected PECOTA values.
We retained last year's roster requirements for the positional tier series. Dollar values come from our PFM using a 12-team, standard 5x5 scoring format, with 23-man rosters and the following positions: C (2) 1B (1) 2B (1) 3B (1) SS (1) CI (1) MI (1) OF (5) UT (1) P (9). The minimum bid for players is $1, and, as we did last year, we'll allocate $180 of a $260 budget to hitters. Players needed to play in 20 games at a position to qualify there. The PFM is customizable, so if your league uses a different format, you can adjust it to match your league settings and see how it impacts players’ dollar values.
You can find the previous Fantasy Tier Rankings posts here:
Now, here are our third-base tiers.
With the Mike Trout regression possibilities and the Ryan Braun PED rumors that won’t go away, Miguel Cabrera is the top player on my board this year (followed by the aforementioned Braun and Trout, of course). And, when you look across the third-base landscape, there’s no one who can even hold a candle to his upside and consistency. Of course, this is what happens when you win a Triple Crown. Cabrera has hit above .320 in each the last four seasons. He has driven in at least 100 runs each of the last nine seasons. He has scored at least 109 runs in each of the last three seasons. He has missed only 22 games due to injury in his 10-year career, and he’s never been on the disabled list. No one is 100 percent safe in fantasy, but Miggy is as close as they come.
This is the best Four Star tier you’re going to find in the entire infield. All of these players, assuming no further injury news for Wright or H. Ramirez, should go off the board within the top 30 picks. In fact, based on the latest NFBC data, they were all going in the top 25.
If you’re going for safety in this tier, Beltre is your man. Over the last three years, a composite of his worst seasons in each of the three major categories in which he will contribute shows a .296 average, 28 homers, and 102 RBI. Longoria has been inconsistent, both in terms of health and performance, but one of these years, he’s going to have an MVP-type season. Will it be 2013?
Wright’s fantasy outlook hinges on two numbers—his strikeouts and his steals. His 16.7 percent strikeout rate in 2012 was in line with his early-career days as a .300 hitter, but if it looks more like his 21-24 percent rates from 2009 through 2011, that batting average is going to suffer. Hanley is more valuable as a shortstop, but unlike Buster Posey or Joe Mauer at first base, there are legitimate reasons why you would play him at third base. I really like his chances to have a much-improved season in Los Angeles, so hopefully this thumb injury from the WBC final is merely a minor ailment.
Four-Star Value Pick: Considering that I’ve taken Ramirez is just about every draft (mock and otherwise) this preseason, he’s my guy here. Of course, this is assuming that there’s not something more seriously wrong with his thumb [as of writing this, there still is not]. He is a near lock to go 20-20, and his batting average can rebound into the .270-.280 range. Plus, there’s always the chance that he just pulls out a vintage Hanley season and goes crazy (though I’m certainly not counting on it).
Just like the Four Star group, this tier is strong—although it lost a name when Chase Headley’s injury news came out, reducing it to a party of four. You’re really going to want to have your third baseman by the time this tier ends, as the biggest dropoff at the position comes after Lawrie.
A. Ramirez just keeps on hitting. He gets a bad rap as being an older, more injury-prone player, but in reality, he has only been on the disabled list twice in the last five years. Just don’t be the guy who drafts him and trades him in mid-May—his career OPS is below 800 in both April and May, but after that, it’s 863, 912, 910, 890, chronologically by month.
Zimmerman did his best Aramis Ramirez impression by just going off in the second half of 2012, hitting .319 with 17 homers and 55 RBI in only 298 at-bats. If his shoulder holds up, he could return great value. The talk of Sandoval’s weight has at least died down over the past couple of weeks, and it was never that important to begin with. He was tearing it up before his hamate bone injury last year, and now that he has had both of them removed, it’s one less thing to worry about going forward. Lawrie is still the same player he was last preseason, just with a slightly more reasonable price tag.
Three-Star Value Pick: I’m agreeing with PECOTA here and taking Zimmerman from this group. By all indications, his shoulder is up to snuff, and he has the potential to do the exact same thing that Longoria could do, but three to four rounds later in the draft (or $5-10 cheaper, whichever suits your fancy). The offense in Washington should be very good, and there’s a real chance for both 100 runs and RBI from the still 28-year-old third baseman.
This group is all about picking your poison. There is really only one low-risk/low-reward option here, as the tier is filled to the brim with potential. Unfortunately, potential busts are just as likely as potential studs.
Headley is going to miss the first month of the season, at least, and thumb injuries can be tricky even when players return. He’s dropping outside the top 125 in almost all leagues at this point, which is about right considering he was lower than Curtis Granderson on draft boards when they were both healthy (and he should be once again). Freese and Prado are relatively boring, but at least Prado doesn’t have the health risk that Freese carries. The thin air of Arizona may help Prado a little, but don’t expect huge upticks in his power numbers.
The rest of the tier is filled with players who are question marks because of contact issues (Frazier, Middlebrooks), youth- and inexperience-related risks (Machado), an unwillingness to live up to their billings as a top-three overall picks (Moustakas, Alvarez), or a supposed lack of upsde (Seager). Any one of them could end up in the top 10 at the position, or they could fizzle out and end up on the waiver wire in July.
Two-Star Value Pick: It’s no secret that I’m a huge Machado supporter—and if I’m going after one of the upside guys (which I likely am, because Prado/Freese are going way too early for my liking), I’m grabbing him outside the top 200. Right now, he has the highest ADP of this entire tier at 214 overall, which isn’t shocking given his lack of experience. However, he’s made adjustments very quickly at each level he’s reached in professional baseball, including the majors (he went from 9.5 strikeouts per walk in August to 3.0 strikeouts per walk in September, taking those strides during a pennant race, no less). He’s going to be a star, and I’m willing to pay the price to see if his ascent starts this year.
There is some upside buried in this bottom tier, but it’s unreliable at best. Some of these players won’t even have starting roles and Rodriguez won’t be back until three months from now (at the earliest). Also, a few of these guys are multi-eligibility cases, and Keppinger, Carpenter (a week into the season), Izturis, and Nelson are all going to be more valuable at middle-infield spots.
Youkilis and Young are potential bounce-back candidates, but they’re not going to repeat their 2007 seasons. Gyorko is having a great spring, but can he carry it forward into the regular season, while playing half of his games at Petco Park? Chisenhall and Donaldson both have shown some glimpses of viability, but both also carry sizable flameout risk (along with their limited upside).
Plouffe was a great pickup last year, when he carried that “SS” next to his name—but now that he’s a 3B-only option, he’s just one of many potential 20-home-run hitters who would have to put a dent in your batting average just to get there. Francisco, who has power for days, also fits into that group, because he may never make enough contact for that to matter.
One-Star Value Pick: Donaldson is currently being taken 390th overall in NFBC drafts, which probably sounds about right for a 27-year-old with a career 666 OPS. But, something happened to Donaldson on the way to becoming a career minor-leaguer. Over the last three years, he has decreased his Triple-A strikeout rate from 22.3 percent to 19.9 percent to 14.5 percent (in 2012), and in the last fourth of the 2012 season, he finally brought that development to the major-league level. From August 14 through the end of the season, Donaldson got his third shot in Oakland after Brandon Inge went on the DL, and he hit .290/.356/.489 with eight homers, 26 RBI, three steals, and (most importantly) an 18.3 percent strikeout rate in 176 at-bats. It looks like Donaldson will be the Opening Day third baseman for the Athletics at this point, and if he can pick up anywhere near where he left off, he can provide a huge return on investment.