2015 Fantasy Baseball Third Base Rankings: Plenty of Diversity
2015’s crop of third basemen may not be the strongest group in fantasy baseball, but it certainly does not lack diversity.
Maybe you need speed? Look no further than Josh Harrison.
A bit of both? Meet Todd Frazier.
So let’s take a look at who our algorithms expect to be the 10 best fantasy players at the position. Listed below are what we project for the coming season, including runs and RBI (yes, they’re essentially bogus stats, but your league probably uses them).
1. Anthony Rendon, Washington Nationals
Rendon was a breakout star in 2014, and we’re expecting more of the same from the 24-year-old, forecasting a second-straight season with at least 19 home runs and an OPS greater than .800. He also stole 17 bases last year, and we project him to get into double digits again in 2015.
2. Josh Donaldson, Toronto Blue Jays
As someone who excels in the field and has a batting average that pales in comparison to his on-base base percentage, Donaldson may be a player who is better in the real world than the fantasy world. Still, his ability to hit for power makes him incredibly valuable in the latter realm as well. He has hit 53 home runs over the past two seasons to go along with a .477 slugging percentage, .200 isolated power, and 191 RBI. Plus, if you’re in an OBP league, consider valuing him higher than 38th, given his 11.2% walk rate and .363 OBP since 2013. Steamer projects some regression here, but a 9.7% BB% and .341 OBP are nothing to scoff at.
3. Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers
His career production should get him into Cooperstown in the future, but for now, Beltre remains a desirable asset for fantasy owners. We expect the 35-year-old, who slashed .345/.388/.492 last season, to keep it going. Expect some regression in terms of his batting average as, although he posted a career-best line drive rate, his career-high BABIP of .345 is likely to decline. Still, his power has not gone anywhere, so it is safe to expect more of the same from the third and final third basemen with a numberFire score greater than 5.0.
4. Todd Frazier, Cincinnati Reds
Like Rendon, Frazier brings a blend of speed and power that is not exactly common at his position. He was the only third baseman in the 20/20 club last season, and while we don’t think he’ll get back in, Josh Harrison is the only third baseman we expect to swipe more bags. Combine this speed with 20-plus home run power and 75 RBI, and you should be set at the fantasy hot corner.
5. Josh Harrison, Pittsburgh Pirates
Oh, hey, Josh Harrison. We were just talking about you. As mentioned, Harrison is projected to lead the position in stolen bases with 18. He stole 18 last season, and other projection systems are in agreement with us that he should be in this ballpark again (PECOTA projects 22 steals, Steamer projects 18, and ZiPS projects 16). He lacks the power of Frazier (yet still hit 13 home runs last season) but is expected to hit for a higher average than his counterpart on the Reds. Don’t expect him to hit .315 again, but his 24% line drive rate tied for 23rd in MLB and his 10.4% infield hit rate was 14th, so his absurd .353 BABIP probably wasn’t all luck.
6. Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies
While Arenado is a solid player, he ranks this highly because of Coors Field. He was 32nd in MLB last season in OPS (.828) but tied for 63rd in OPS+ (116), which is adjusted for ballpark. This season, Steamer projects Arenado to rank fifth among third basemen in wOBA (.346), while tying for 20th at the position in wRC+. While advanced stats seek to look at things objectively in a context-neutral setting, fantasy owners do not need such nuance. All we need to know here is Arenado will be playing half his games in the most hitter-friendly ballpark in baseball. Good hitter + thin air = great fantasy value (I’m going to assume your fantasy league does not adjust your scoring based on park factors).
7. Kyle Seager, Seattle Mariners
If you have a need for a third baseman and power, Seager can fill both holes, as we project a fourth straight year of at least 20 home runs. His 96 RBI were second among third basemen last season, as was his isolated power (.186). His .262 career average is nothing to write home about, but his power makes him worth having.
8. Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays
By his standards, 2014 was a down year for Longoria, who hit only .253 and set career lows in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, walk rate, and isolated power. An atypical approach at the plate may have contributed, as Longoria swung at 48.7% percent of the pitches he faced, including 31.6% of pitches outside the zone (well-above his career averages of 44.6% and 27%, respectively, according to FanGraphs). Presumably as a result, Longoria found himself in hitter's counts far less often, also setting career lows in the frequency in which he saw 3-0, 3-1, and 2-0 counts, per Baseball-Reference. The good news is health did not seem to play a role in his 2014 decline, as Longoria appeared in all 162 games, so regression back up to his career averages could certainly be in order. While our numbers don’t forecast a total bounce back year, don’t assume last season marked a new normal for Longoria.
9. Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles
At just 22-years-old, Machado has already produced 10.1 fWAR yet has also had surgery on both knees. While his stellar glove will do nothing for your fantasy team, when healthy, he is one of the most exciting young players in baseball. We project further improvement of his .278/.313/.431 career slash line, and the only reason he isn’t ranked higher is because he won’t have have as many RBI opportunities as the others at the position. According to Baseball-Reference, the average major leaguer stepped up to bat with 357 runners on base per 600 plate appearances in 2014; Machado saw about 334 runners on per 600 plate appearances, which makes sense given he hit near the top of the order for a team that was 11th in the American League in on-base percentage. As a team, Baltimore ranked last in the majors in plate appearances with men in scoring position last year. Unfortunately (unless you’ve been able to convince your buddies to do away with RBI in your league), you’ll have to consider this when looking at Machado.
10. Matt Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals
Carpenter rounds out our top 10, and while he couldn’t replicate his stellar 2013 campaign last season, he still had a strong year and can be a good value for you in the middle of your draft. His power declined considerably in 2014, with his slugging percentage dropping from .481 to .375, and his isolated power falling from .163 to .103. Still, he should hit for a solid average and score a ton of runs thanks to his ability to reach base. Speaking of which, if you’re in OBP league, consider taking Carpenter a bit higher, given his career .379 OBP and 11.5% walk rate.