Third base is one of the more important positional groups, and as I noted in yesterday’s “Third Basemen to Target” piece it is also one of the more top-heavy. You need to get some power here, as the position collectively belted the second-most homers, drove in the second-most runs, and scored the second-most runs of the six groups last year. The hot corner also happens to be one of the cooler positions in terms of wild value swings between league formats. As we’ll see in the OBP section below, the position’s overall walk rate isn’t particularly noteworthy, and by that same token the effect of strikeouts on points formats is relatively benign as well. Before we begin, note that you can check out previous articles in this series here:
Third base is a relatively top-heavy position in standard leagues, and as I noted in the first write-up below, that is even more the case when we talk about OBP values. It is also a position at an odd junction this offseason, at least insofar as it regards our rankings system. Six players at the position saw boosts of four dollars or better in OBP leagues last year. Two of them (Kris Bryant and Matt Carpenter) are already among the elite options at the hot corner, while the remaining four (Carlos Santana, Alex Rodriguez, Miguel Sano, and Chris Davis) are no longer eligible at the position. The leaves us with an incredibly thin pool of marginal players who creep up into less-marginal-but-still-pretty-undesirable territory in OBP formats. And on the flip side, the number of abject hackers is limited relative to the other positions we’ve covered thus far as well. So we’re left with a lower-variance player pool than most. Still, there are certainly some names worth considering on both ends.
Justin Turner, LAD – We’re now a season-and-a-half into the reality that Turner is a quality big-league hitter, after he solidified his standing while battling injuries last summer. His walk rate through the renaissance has been good, not great, but at a position where he was literally the only guy ranked in our tiers between seven and 21 to eclipse 200 plate appearances with an eight percent walk rate, the relative gain is good enough to bump him up into the next tier. Standard: High-Two Stars, OBP: Three Stars
Luis Valbuena, HOU – Beyond the top two guys I noted above, Valbuena saw the largest bump in value last year in OBP formats, where he checked in as a $14 player despite hitting .224. His extreme flyball tendencies and above-average swing-and-miss put a cap on his batting-average potential and, in turn, his standard-league value. But a walk rate consistently into double-digits gives him a lot more breathing room for value in OBP leagues, even if his career-best-by-a-lot HR:FB rate comes back down to earth next year. Standard: Low-Two Stars, OBP: High-Two Stars
Chase Headley, NYY – This may be somewhat of an undeserving arrow, as it’s possible Headley left his once-heralded walk rate in San Diego. His 7.9 percent walk rate last year was a career low, and he barely cracked the positional top 20 in OBP-AVG. Yet looking at his approach profile, he didn’t suddenly get aggressive or start expanding the zone in new and exotic ways last year. This is a player with a double-digit career walk rate in over 4,500 big-league plate appearances, so betting on the track record for some lo-fi production at his current price makes some sense in OBP leagues. Standard: High-One Star, OBP: Two Stars
Jed Lowrie, OAK – Listen, I don’t like writing about Jed Lowrie any more than you like reading about him. But he’s likely to have an everyday job in Oakland, and the one thing he’s consistently done when he’s been healthy has been get on base. If you’re in some kind of crazy-deep OBP league where three-ball counts has its own category, you could probably do worse than to call Lowrie’s name late in your draft, especially given the versatility that he’ll gain in April. Standard: Zero Stars, OBP: One Star
Others: Kris Bryant’s debut was a best-case scenario by just about any reasonable expectation last year, particularly in OBP leagues where his outstanding eye translated to the big stage and drove over four bucks-worth of additional value relative to standard leagues. His elite approach further cements him as one of the best players in the game in on-base formats…Matt Carpenter isn’t quite to the point of graduating into the Five-Star tier in OBP leagues, but the shift to that baseline firmly cements him as a top-five option at the position…Theoretically David Wright gets a boost in OBP formats, but the risks are the risks, and he stays a Two-Star guy fat as I’m concerned…The Diamondbacks appear willing to ride with Jake Lamb as their everyday guy at third, and while his overall value on a per-game basis wasn’t great last year, OBP players should take note that significantly more of the prodigious on-base ability he showed in the minors translated in his second look at big league pitching. He’s still young and untested enough to remain a borderline Two-Star option, but he’s more appealing at that stage of the draft in this format…Derek Dietrich posted the third-highest OBP-AVG split of any third baseman that logged 250 plate appearances, despite a barely-above-average walk rate. How’d he do it? Well, getting yourself plunked 15 times in less than 300 trips to the dish helps. He got hit 28 times all told between Triple-A and the majors last year, and that’s been a staple of his career. It’s probably not enough to get him out of the One-Star tier, but it does appear to be enough of a “skill” to give him a marginal bump in OBP formats.
Matt Duffy, SFG – Duffy’s good speed helped him ring up a few extra hits last year and drive up his BABIP, and that was a good thing because he’s more dependent than most on riding that kind of higher-risk formula on account of an aggressive approach at the dish. The approach has been aggressive at the major-league level so far, anyway. Historically Duffy worked pitchers pretty good in the minor leagues, but that didn’t really translate at all last season. Any time a young player debuts so differently than his skill set suggested he would it’s enough to raise an eyebrow, and in Duffy’s case his volatility is exacerbated by the batting average-dependent profile until he shows otherwise on the big stage. Standard: High-Three Star, OBP: Low-Three Star
Pablo Sandoval, BOS – That Panda still ranks highly among the Two-Star set is a testament to his track record, but that kind of good will only get you so far in OBP formats. Sandoval’s reputation as a free-swinger has been well-earned, to be sure. But if we flash back a couple seasons it appeared as though his approach had started to mature as he posted over a thousand plate appearances of a more or less average walk rate while waddling into his mid-20s. Those gains have been lost and then some over the subsequent two seasons, however, given all of the other risks associated with how or if he’ll bounce back from last year’s catastrophic collapse he tumbles down to the bottom of the tier, and I’d just as soon stay clear. Standard: High-Two Stars, OBP: Low-Two Stars
Nick Castellanos, DET – The once-heralded rookie has officially graduated into post-hype territory, after a second consecutive season of moribund production that looked uncomfortably similar to his rookie campaign. He walked some in his prospect days of yore, but it’s been a different story at the big-league level. He went on even more fishing expeditions last year than he had the prior season, and his inability to stay in the zone cost him in OBP leagues, where he was barely a $10 player despite almost 600 plate appearances. You can speculate on the pedigree if you want—and to a degree you should, as he’s shown the ability to hit the ball hard in his young career. But there’s no reason to invest more than One–Star flyer money up to this point given the couple steps backward his value takes in OBP formats. Standard: Mid-Two Star, OBP: High-One Star
Yasmany Tomas, ARI – A year into the Yasmany Tomas Experience and I’m still not entirely sure what the Diamondbacks have on their hands. He showed an impressive all-fields approach and an ability to hit the ball hard on a line, but the approach was ultra-aggressive, leading to the lowest walk rate of any third base qualifier to log 400 plate appearances. The batted-ball profile suggests room for interesting future growth, but the strikeout rate poses a threat to his batting average and his extreme aversion to walks significantly raises the risk for investment. Standard: Two Stars, OBP: High-One Star
Others: It’s probably not quite enough to get him expelled from the Five-Star club, but an extremely poor walk rate in each of the past two seasons does enough to make Nolan Arenado wobble a bit at the top. His batting average was 10th among third basemen with 200 plate appearances last year, while his OBP checked in 29th. That shaved more than $4 off his OBP-league value—the largest dip at the position…I’m not really in the business of saying bad things about Adrian Beltre—he of the removable helmet bobblehead—so I’ll just quickly note that after a one-year spike his walk rate crumpled back down into solidly below-average territory. That lessens the impact of his usually-stellar batting average and makes him more dependent on it to remain stellar in order to prop up his on-base profile…
Points leagues really underscore the importance of grabbing yourself one of the elite third basemen, as the gap between the top handful of guys and the rest of the pack grows that much wider when total bases enter the equation. The “big three” of Donaldson, Machado, and Arenado all produce elite total base numbers with entirely reasonable strikeout rates, while the fourth member of that first-round quartet, Kris Bryant, has strikeout issues aplenty but stratospheric projections for extra base hits and a borderline-elite walk rate to offset a good chunk of the damage. After that, we don’t really see any of the significant movers or shakers like we do at other positions to make up some of the distance.
Mike Moustakas, KCR – Whether you fully buy Moose’s breakout last year or not, you should at least be willing to hedge in his favor if you play in a points league. For a third straight year he cut his strikeout rate, this time all the way down to the seventh-best rate at the position, and his batted ball profile evolved into more of an all-fields approach last year to drive a top-10 total-base rate. The data is somewhat muddled as to whether there’s legitimately more room for growth here, but a repeat of last year’s performance would be enough to bump him into borderline Four-Star territory in points formats. Standard: Low-Three Stars, Points: High-Three Stars
Justin Turner, LAD – As with his boost in OBP formats, Turner’s promotion is more about his performance relative to that of his peers. He posted the seventh-best total base rate among third basemen with 300 plate appearances last year, and he did it with a solidly above-average whiff rate and the aforementioned decent walk rate. The whole package made him a good bit more valuable in points formats, at least when he was on the field, and makes the risk/reward prospect of drafting him tilt that much further towards weighing the reward. Standard: High-Two Stars, Points: Three Stars
Yangervis Solarte, SDG – Solarte’s one of those guys that’s just kind of there, and then you realize he’s there, but you still don’t realize he’s there. Finally afforded an opportunity to play every day these past two season, he’s quietly gone about the business of returning double-digit –only value (and with some favorable eligibilities to boot). His total base rate isn’t anything spectacular (he ranked 18th at the position among the 300 plate appearance set last year), but when paired with the second-best whiff rate it was enough to give him a nice bump in points formats. It’s entirely possible, if not probable, that he slides into a lineup slot more conducive to run production after the Padres lost some offensive pieces, and he makes for a nice target after the top three tiers are off the board. Standard: Low-Two Stars, Points: High-Two Stars
Others: As per his lot in life, Kyle Seager is just straight-up solid in points leagues. His whiff rate is above-average, his total base rate is above-average, his walk rate is almost exactly average. Boom. Invest away…Maikel Franco carries more risk than anyone else in his neighborhood on account of his age and still-crystalizing approach, but his production in terms of stringing together loads of extra bases (his doubles rate was third at the position last year among guys who went to the plate as many times as he did) to compliment an above-average whiff rate and reasonable walk rate should be coveted in points leagues. We’re already bullish on him in ranking him eighth overall for standard leagues, otherwise he’d be a prime candidate to jump up…Where Adrian Beltre and his dome lose some floor in OBP leagues, they gain a notch of it in points formats, where his top-shelf strikeout rate pairs with a total base rate that still remains solidly above-average.
Todd Frazier, CHW – Frazier’s drop isn’t extreme, on account of a strong total base output throughout his prime that gives him that much longer a rope. But as his slugging has increased over the past couple years so has his whiff rate, and his walks have wandered in the opposite direction. His overall swing rate increased by almost five full percentage points last year, with a significant chunk of that coming out of the zone. His third-highest-in-the-majors flyball rate already puts a cap on his likely hit totals, and if the whiff rate keeps sliding it narrows the margin for error that much more. The additional risk in his profile isn’t quite enough to knock him out of the Four-Stars, but it definitely bumps him down from top-five standing to the bottom of the tier. Standard: High-Four Stars, Points: Low-Four Stars
Yasmany Tomas, ARI – Not to turn this into a pity party for Arizona’s prized import, but points leagues represent another venue in which Tomas’ ostensibly exciting power upside gets washed away by secondary skill concerns. His near-26 percent whiff rate last year was second only to Bryant at the position, and his extra base hit production checked in below-average as well. He struck out in over a third of his second-half plate appearances as the book began to circulate, and he makes for a poor investment in any format that counts strikeouts as a net-negative. Standard: Two Stars, Points: High-One Star
Nick Castellanos, DET – Yep, him too. As I noted above, Castellanos’ approach got worse, not better in his second year. While he marginally improved his contact output there wasn’t really anything in the performance to suggest imminent improvement to where he’d be more than a late-draft flyer in standard leagues, let alone points formats where the nasty swing-and-miss issues put that much lower of a ceiling on his value. Standard: Two Stars, Points: High-One Star
Others: I touched on Kris Bryant in the intro to this section, but it does bear emphasizing that in spite of his spectacular production last year his whiff rate was atrocious, and if pitchers around the league are able to successfully adjust (as they frequently are in a hitter’s second year) there’s some disaster potential here given the draft position…Pablo Sandoval doesn’t whiff a ton, but even bracketing last year’s disaster he’s never been a particularly notable doubles hitter on account of his, ahem, mobility issues. The peril is obviously significant to begin with, and even the most favorable ballpark in the league for two-baggers doesn’t do enough to keep him from being a marginally riskier option in points formats….Chase Headley’s elevated whiff rate and poor extra-base hit production weighs down his points league value, also in spite of a favorable home-park context.
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