numberFire's 2014 Third Base Rankings: A Top-Heavy Position
Don’t expect a lot of versatility at third base, but getting four-category production isn’t out of the question. While we looked at shortstops the other day and saw lots of speed and stolen base production, the third base position, led by potential first overall pick Miguel Cabrera, has more power.
The rankings below result from projections and what we call our “numberFire score”. The score, from a high level, takes a player’s contributions across all relevant scoring categories (5X5 league) and adjusts for position scarcity. It’s all placed in one fine, cute number, but the amount of math that goes behind it is significant. After all, that’s what we love – we love math.
Without further ado, here’s who the algorithms like this season at third base.
1. Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
Cabrera is our number one overall pick - ahead of Mike Trout - so, naturally, he tops the third base rankings. There's not much you can say about Cabrera that hasn't been said, as he's a near lock to post a .320 average, score 100 runs, drive in 100 more and hit 30 home runs. Our numbers like him again this year, and so should you.
2. Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers
Beltre's now hit 30 home runs in each of his three seasons with the Rangers, though last season saw his power dip just a little bit. His ISO ended at .193, which was the first time it dropped below .200 since 2009. As a result, Beltre's home run rate dropped, and he drove in 10 fewer RBI than he did in 2012. He did get a little more patient at the plate though, as his walk rate rose to 7.2%, his highest mark since 2008. Expect a slight regression in average considering his .322 BABIP (career .297 average on batted balls), though keep in mind that his line drive rate has been above 21% over the last two years. Beltre is solid, and the consensus number two third baseman out there.
3. David Wright, New York Mets
The face of the Mets' franchise is looking to stay healthier this season, averaging just over 120 games played per season over the last three years. Because of this, his non-rate totals look worse than they actually are - he had just 58 RBI in 2013, and 61 in 2011. However, a healthy Wright can compete with the best in fantasy, and it's not as though his numbers took a dramatic hit as a result of his nagging health issues. He actually hit with more power last year than he has since his near 30 home run 2010. There's risk involved because of his health, but there's just as much upside.
4. Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays third baseman doesn't have the speed he did even four years ago, but he'll still give you power, leading to the potential for 30-plus home runs and 90-plus RBI. He finally was (almost) healthy last year, which lead to some of the best raw numbers he's seen over the last three years, but it wasn't good to see his average fall to below .270. A lot of that had to do with his line-drive rate dropping by 3.3% compared to 2012, as his fly-ball percentage increased. If he can stay healthy though, which is a question we continue to ask, he should be a solid fantasy producer.
5. Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals
Zimmerman's batting average has dropped in each of the last three seasons, but it appears that it could do with a rising strikeout rate. With 633 plate appearances last year, Zimmerman drove in 79 runs and crossed the plate 84 times, hitting the second-most home runs of any season in his career. But it's obvious that, after the top four players fall off the board, there's a drop in production, which starts with Zimmerman. Don't reach in your draft just to fill a position void.
6. Josh Donaldson, Oakland Athletics
Folks will look at Donaldson's .333 BABIP and yell for regression, but keep in mind that his line-drive rate was still over 20 percent last year, and he did see a solid increase in ISO from 2012 to 2013 as well. While it'll be incredibly difficult for him to hit over .300 again this year, our numbers aren't against the idea that he'll bat over .280. The home runs should come, too, as we have him projected to hit a top-10 home run total at the position. Fantasy owners may be turned off by his 2013 luck, but don't assume regression makes him undraftable.
7. Chris Johnson, Atlanta Braves
Speaking of BABIP, no player hit for a higher batted ball average in 2013 than the Braves third baseman, which resulted in a nice 40 point batting average jump from the season prior. Like Donaldson, fantasy owners may overcompensate and think Johnson won't be a worthwhile draft pick. But our numbers say he's still a top 10 guy, despite the obvious regression that's ahead. After all, he has a career .361 BABIP, and hit .354 on batted balls in 2012. It's not like he's an average batted ball hitter to begin with.
8. Kyle Seager, Seattle Mariners
Seager's a popular pick outside of the obvious studs at the third base position, but there's a little hesitation considering his 2012 season was arguably better than the one he had in 2013. That, and Seager finished last year in really forgettable fashion. After the All-Star break, he hit a middling .212, and saw his wOBA drop from .368 to .293. It did appear that he saw less luck over the second half though, as his BABIP fell to just .245 - so far in his brief career, he's been a .290 batted ball hitter. He should continue to improve as a young third baseman.
9. Pedro Alvarez, Pittsburgh Pirates
El Toro saw career highs in home runs, RBI and runs scored last year, but his always high K rate kept his average down. His BABIP was a bit disappointing considering his line-drive rate was over 20 percent for the first time in his short Pirates career, so there's a chance we see an increase in average. The biggest thing for Alvarez will be to get his strikeout rate down and his walk rate up though, as he can lack patience at the plate in wanting to hit the long ball. He'll certainly give you power, however - his .240 ISO last year was seventh-highest in the bigs, no matter the position.
10. Chase Headley, San Diego Padres
Headley played the 2013 season with a torn meniscus in his left knee, which could explain the significant drop off we saw with his hitting numbers. A beast in 2012, Headley's fantasy categories dropped significantly last season - he hit 18 fewer home runs, scored 36 fewer runs, saw his RBI total go from 115 to 50, and his average drop 36 points. Then again, 2012 is a clear career outlier, so comparing him to his pseudo MVP-like season really isn't fair. He should post better numbers than he did last year though.