As Mike noted in his excellent State of the Position piece to kick off the week, there’s a sneaky amount of depth at third base this season. That depth is tested a bit more in OBP leagues than standard and points formats, particularly in the second tier of options. But there are still no shortage of guys capable of putting up above-average numbers. Given the higher floor, relative value is of critical importance.
There’s more volatility at third base than any position we’ve covered thus far, as the high-end risers rise a lot higher while there is a whole bunch of dubious depth in the “arrow-down” district. In total 13 guys posted walk rates north of nine percent, Mid-tier options in particular exhibit a high degree of variance, so pay close attention when making a decision about your third baseman of the future.
Evan Longoria, TAM
Like pretty much everything else in his offensive game, Longoria’s walk rate took a fairly significant step in the wrong direction last year. He shed two percentage points en route to posting his first single-digit rate since 2008. His chase rate skyrocketed by six-and-a-half points last summer, mirroring an out-of-nowhere explosion in his overall swing rate. It was a significant departure and a curious development to be sure for a player who had been previously quite consistent in his swing profile. The issues snowballed as the season wore on, so it could very well just be a case of a frustrated player pressing. Given the long prior track record he deserves some benefit of the doubt, particularly in OBP leagues where a nominal regression towards career norms should give him an excellent chance to produce surplus value that catapults him into the top three of the position.
Standard: Low-Four Stars, OBP: High-Four Stars
Carlos Santana, CLE
Santana is the single biggest riser in all the land when a format shifts to OBP. His 17.1 percent walk rate and .134 OBP-AVG last year took an already elite skillset to the next level, as he comfortably led all of baseball in both metrics and earned a staggering $9.60 more in OBP leagues. His 119 point career spread in almost 2,800 plate appearances is real and quite spectacular, and when you add in 20-25-home-run power and solid counting-stat potential in a good Cleveland lineup, you’ve got a guy very capable of pushing Donaldson at the top of the 3B list. A generally depressed career BABIP keeps him a notch below a true five-star ranking, but it’s awfully close. He should be the second third baseman off the board in OBP formats.
Standard: High-Three Stars, OBP: High-Four Stars
Matt Carpenter, STL
Carpenter has more to gain than anybody else in the Not Carlos Santana division of third-base options, having posted the only other season with an OBP-AVG differential greater than .100. While a regressed BABIP did the dirty work in taking a widely anticipated chunk out of Carpenter’s standard league value last season, he offset an overwhelming majority of that loss in OBP leagues by adding three and a half percent of walk rate to his game. The extreme patience profile was worth almost a full $6 of added value in OBP leagues, and he’s one of the safer bets to return significantly more value in these formats again.
Standard: Three Stars, OBP: Low-Four Stars
Pedro Alvarez, PIT
I expressed my bullish love for Alvarez in this week’s “Target” series, and it goes double for OBP formats. His notoriously abysmal AVG is offset some in OBP formats, where his walk rate can do wonders to mitigate some of the downside risk. He quietly did a nice job in developing his patience last year, though some of those gains were likely the product of an unusually lucky failure by opposing pitchers to find the strike zone with their first pitches. Still, he posted the seventh-highest OBP-AVG split last year among third basemen and finished in the top-eight among NL-only options despite a lost month and the total wash of a second half. The power potential to go along with average upside in OBP formats makes him a tasty target that may just be undervalued on draft day coming off an injury-marred year.
Standard: Two Stars, OBP: Three Stars
Chase Headley, NYY
Headley’s 9.6 percent walk rate last year was his lowest since 2010, and even that appears to have been the product of his first-half funk more than anything structural. He seemed to get his groove back once he landed in the Bronx, as his post-trade rate bounced back up to 12.9 percent. All told his .085 OBP-AVG differential was the sixth best at the position, and while the 30-homer muscle he flexed in 2012 doesn’t appear to reflect his true talent, he gets a nice boost as a stable mid-range option in OBP formats.
Standard: High-Two Star, OBP: Three-Star
Nolan Arenado, COL
Arenado has been a popular breakout target in drafts thus far, going off the board in the top 60 overall. But for OBP league purposes his sub-five percent career walk rate hasn’t shown any signs of trending upwards, and betting that heavy on a power breakout in these formats leaves precious little room for surplus value creation. Obviously the environment is what it is, and if he does knock 25 homers in that lineup and ballpark it won’t really matter if his OBP comes in a bit lighter. But the built-in risk to invest in that assumption is definitely higher here.
Standard: Low-Four Stars, OBP: Three Stars.
Manny Machado, BAL
Machado is a tough case to evaluate, as is often the case with players who debut as young as he did. Complicating matters further for Machado, of course, is a lengthy injury history and subsequent lack of traction over the past couple seasons. He posted a career minor league walk rate north of 10 percent, but thus far through the fits and starts of his big-league career, that patience just hasn’t translated. Similar to Arenado, the upside here is significant, but there’s a greater risk in betting full draft value on it in OBP formats, where his plus AVG potential melts into a below-average on-base profile.
Standard: Three Stars, OBP: High-Two Stars
Josh Harrison, PIT
I cleaned up with dirt-cheap FAAB acquisitions of Harrison in multiple leagues last year, so I don’t like writing bad things about him. But for all his out-of-nowhere fantasy dominance last year the celebration was a bit more muted for managers in OBP leagues. His $4.35 in lost value represented the second-biggest drop among third basemen. While there were strong underlying indicators that he earned his .315 AVG last year, paying for the assumption of a repeat performance is unlikely to yield positive returns. And given how much of his value is tied up in replicating an elite BABIP profile, it makes Harrison an awfully dodgy proposition for OBP drafts.
Standard: Low-Three Stars, OBP: Two Stars
Juan Uribe, LAD
As with Harrison, it also makes me sad when bad things get said about the Uribear. Uribe’s above-average performance when he was on the field last year was driven by a bonkers BABIP that he has little-to-no chance of ever repeating, while his already-suspect walk rate tumbled to uncharted depths. He posted the worst OBP-AVG differential of all third basemen last year, powered by a borderline-comical explosion of his chase rate. As a stop-gap filler for deep mixed leagues he remains ostensibly viable, but he’s not really someone to bother with outside of a CI option for the deepest of mixed leagues.
Standard: High-One Star, OBP: Low-One Star
Extra-base hit accumulation is of paramount importance at third base in points leagues, where the cream of the hitting crop features a common potential to rack up bases with a modest trade-off of strikeouts. Several of the guys listed below have the potential to generate significantly better returns in these formats than their standard league ADP’s. And on the flipside, the “Down” section features some power guys who will need every inch of batted ball distance they can muster to overcome severe whiff rates that can do an awful lot of damage to points league bottom lines.
Nolan Arenado, COL
Where he loses a bunch of his shine in OBP formats, Arenado gains it back and then some in points leagues. His 13.4 percent whiff rate was the second-best mark by any third-base-eligible hitter last year, and he led the entire 41-man pack at the position in total base rate. It’s a legitimately elite combination already, even without factoring in any potential for offensive growth. Managers in points formats can invest aggressively in Arenado as one of the more exciting upside plays in points formats.
Standard: Low-Four Stars, Points: High-Four Stars
Matt Carpenter, STL
Carpenter’s total-base rate slipped last season, but he’s just a year removed from leading the Majors in doubles and the sheer volume of his plate appearance accumulation allowed him to finish ninth in total bases among third basemen despite the step back. His whiff rate checked in 13th at the position – good, though not great, especially given the bulk involved. But on balance the extra-base hits and high likelihood of counting-stat accumulation team up to provide ample room for a net positive.
Standard: Three Stars, Points: Low-Four Stars
Pablo Sandoval, BOS
Sandoval’s whiff rate is one of the most impressive constants you’re likely to find in any statistical category over the past half-dozen years. Since his 2009 full-season debut, Sandoval has logged a whiff rate between 13.1 and 13.5 percent every single year. That’s over a sample of some 3,400 plate appearances. It’s an awesome statistical oddity, and for points-league purposes it’s just awesome. Last year’s effort was good enough for the fifth-best rate at the position, and he paired it with the eighth-most total bases. Factor in the move from a poor doubles parks to the runaway best park in baseball for two-baggers, and Sandoval figures to be a strong bet to boost his doubles total into the 30-plus range—presumably to compliment another 13.1 to 13.5 percent whiff rate.
Standard: Three Stars, Points: Low-Four Stars
Aramis Ramirez, MIL
A-Ram is getting up there in age, to be sure, and his .265 TAv last season represented his worst effort since 2003. Early drafters appear to be losing hope, as he’s currently going 18th among third basemen in NFBC drafts. But all is not lost for his points league potential, despite greater age-related risk of missed time. He finished with the seventh-best whiff rate at the position last year, while sneaking into the top 15 in total bases in spite of losing almost a month to his DL stint. He’s still likely best-served as a CI target, but in 14-plus team points leagues he deserves consideration as one of the final starters off the board.
Standard: Two Stars, Points: Low-Three Stars
Mike Moustakas, KCR
Despite a tiny sample of post-season heroics, it continues to look like Moose just isn’t going to take the step forward into standard mixed league viability that everybody once assumed he someday would. But there’s at least reason to remain stubborn in points formats, where his solid whiff rate (10th among third basemen last year) buys him a bit more rope. He’s never shown anything other than poor BABIP results, but even last year’s .220 mark seems excessive. It drove a total base rate that checked in a ghastly 35th overall among third basemen, and left him entirely off our tiered map. He’s worth an end-game flier in points formats, however, as the strong whiff rate should give him the foundation he needs to actually produce real, tangible value if and when his batted ball results trend up.
Standard: Zero Stars, Points: One Star
David Wright, NYM
Wright’s whiff rate checks in 23rd out of 42, while his extra-base hit rate shrank to 28th last season. That was almost entirely tied to hitting just eight home runs, as he still managed 30 doubles (11th best). Given a longer track record and the nasty batted-ball rates he posted last season, it’s entirely possible 2014 was an aberration and the spike in his whiff rate will be due for a fall. But the risk associated with banking on a bounce-back from a 32-year-old coming off a shoulder injury is magnified all the more given the downside risk.
Standard: Four Stars, Points: High-Three Stars
Chris Davis, BAL
While Davis salvaged a bit of his turd sandwich of a season last year in OBP formats—he earned $4 more—he was that much more catastrophically bad in points formats. His whiff rate ballooned to 33 percent, which was the third-worst rate of any hitter who qualified at third. His 16 doubles were also the second-worst total for guys who reached 500 plate appearances. The ostensible bounce-back potential remains, of course, but the downside risk here is that much more extreme.
Standard: Low-Three Stars, Points: High-Two Stars
Chase Headley, NYY
Headley headlines a small crew of OBP risers and points-league fallers. He’s no Sandoval, but his 23 percent whiff rate last season was right in line with where he’s consistently been throughout his career, and it ranked 30th at the position. Additionally, his low-teens homerun pop doesn’t get offset by an above-board doubles rate—a combination that left him 29th in total-base rate last season. He drops into fringe starter territory in 20-team leagues and deeper.
Standard: High-Two Stars, Points: High-One Star
Nick Castellanos, DET
Castellanos still projects to develop a plus hit tool at the Major League level, but investing in an expected step forward this season carries additional risk in points formats. After posting a fairly robust 20 percent whiff rate through his minor league career that number jumped up to 24 percent in his rookie season. The minor-league rate doesn’t bode well for those expecting quick improvement, and while there’s room for growth in his power production numbers he’ll start from a relatively modest 23rd ranked total base rate. He’ll still hold value as an end-game upside play, but he’ll make for a low-end C option and is best suited for a bench role in most leagues.
Standard: Low-Two Stars, Points: One Star
Chris Johnson, ATL
I could’ve just as easily mentioned Johnson with the “Arrow Down” OBP crew, so I’ll just note here that in addition to being a poor choice in standard formats Johnson’s an even worse one in both points and OBP formats. His whiff rate was the fifth-worst among third base qualifiers last year, while his extra base hit rate was 36th. Not a typo. Toss in the third-worst walk rate at the position, and you’ve got yourself quite the sad clown. Johnson’s really not worth a roster spot in any but the most extreme injury fill-in circumstances in points formats.
Standard: High-One Star, Points: Zero Stars
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