MLB Fantasy Preview 2013: Top Ten Third Basemen

Why trust David Wright to be a third-round pick when he can't hit line drives with the same frequency?

Frequently Asked Questions

Before we get into the meat of the list, I asked Chief Analyst Keith Goldner to break down the rankings and exactly what you should know about these numbers.

1. What type of scoring is this list based on?
The rankings are based on a category 12-team league. Categories are 5x5: SB, HR, Runs, RBI, Avg and W, K, SV, ERA, WHIP.

2. What exactly does the nF score measure, and how does that help my fantasy team?
The numberFire score takes a player's contributions across all categories versus a replacement level player that you could find on free agents. After summing the total contribution, each player's rating is then adjusted for his position eligibility based on the value of each position throughout the league due to position scarcity. For example, a catcher and outfielder with the same numbers will rank the catcher as the higher player due to the fact that it is a weak position.


3. Position scarcity? But the top catcher is at No. 47 and the top shortstop at No. 35! Should I really wait that long to grab those positions?
Simply put, yes.

4. Where do the projections come from, and why should I trust them more than anyone else?
The projections come from the same place that all our projections come from. First, we evaluate all players and teams using our advanced metrics. Then, we find the most comparable players playing on the most comparable teams historically, weighting each comparison according to that similarity. We then take those comparable players' historical stat lines as the building blocks for the projections.

With that out of the way, let's get to the list.

Top Ten Third Basemen for 2013

1. Miguel Cabrera - Detroit Tigers


Stat to Know: Line Drive Percentage

I have no concerns about Cabrera's home runs; the power sluggers usually fall off in that category gradually rather than all at once. Instead, my only concern with Miggy would be that batting average. Is he going to turn into Adam Dunn one of these days, or is he going to maintain his average? His line drive percentage indicates the latter. Line drives indicate hard-hit, often base hit contact. If over 10 percent of your contact is a line drive, then you're a major leaguer. Over 15 percent, then you're about average. Over 20 percent, and you're darn good. Cabrera's in that last category - he hasn't hit less than 21 percent of his balls in play for line drives since 2004. And go figure, he's only dipped below .320 once since then as well.

When to Take Him: Second Overall

Ryan Braun will get you more steals, but Cabrera is more likely to have a higher batting average. Which do you like more? For us, it's Braun's speed; stealing ability is much more rare and valuable than a guy who can hit for a high average. However, Cabrera's stability over time separates him from more volatile players such as Pujols, Trout, and Fielder directly behind him.

2. Adrian Beltre - Texas Rangers


Stat to Know: Home Run Percentage

A funny thing has happened down in Dallas. And for once, it's not Jerry Jones's plastic surgery. Since leaving the Red Sox for the (literally) greener pastures of Texas, Beltre has added a little pop in his swing. Other than his ridiculous outlier of a 2004 season, Beltre had never hit more than 4.4 percent of his plate appearances for home runs... until Texas. In 2011, Beltre belted 6.1 percent of his appearances for round-trippers. Proving that wasn't a fluke, Beltre hit out 5.5 percent in 2012. We peg him at around five percent this season, which would still be enough to top 30 home runs for a third straight season.

When to Take Him: Late Second to Early Third Round

Other than Miggy (and Edwin Encarnacion's dual positions), there aren't any other third basemen that would be worth a selection this high. That alone may push him into the middle of the second round, just due to position scarcity. In a perfect world, however, Beltre would be available right at the top of the third round for the taking. Because if not Beltre, then it's a long way down to...

3. Aramis Ramirez - Milwaukee Brewers


Stat to Know: Strikeout Percentage

One of these things is not like the other; one of these things just doesn't belong. Here are Aramis Ramirez's batting averages over the past five seasons: .289, .317, .241, .306, .300. Notice an outlier there? That .241 in 124 games in 2010 looms large; what's to say that he's not going to regress back down to that average? Well, the fact that he couldn't hit a beach ball with a tennis racket that season might have something to do with it.

That season, Ramirez struck out on 17.8 percent of his plate appearances; he previously had not topped 16.7 percent since becoming a full-time starter in Pittsburgh in 2001. The other four years, meanwhile, Ramirez has been down between 11 and 15 percent, much more normal for a hitter around .300. There's every reason to believe 2010 was an outlier and the status quo will continue this season.

When to Take Him: Fourth to Fifth Round

Part of the strategy will depend on who has dual positional status in your fantasy league; Jose Bautista can play 3B in Yahoo but not ESPN, for example. Chances are, though, that Ramirez will be alone on an island around this time, with no other 3B selected a round before him a round after him. For me, Ramirez is the epitome of a guy worth reaching a bit for, since no players below Ramirez on our draft kit are projected to both hit .300 and knock in 25 home runs. I don't have a problem with his 41.74 ADP, even if we have him a tiny bit lower.

4. Chase Headley - San Diego Padres


Stat to Know: Percentage of Fly Balls that go for Home Runs

Headley worries me. His strikeouts, walks, and line drive percentage from last season were all in line with his career averages. There was really only one number that shot up, causing all of his corresponding stats to look spectacular: the amount of his fly balls that flew for home runs. Before 2012, Headley's career high was 6.9 percent of his fly balls heading for Round Trip City, and that was in only 368 at-bats all the way back in 2008. Last season, however? Headley hit a whopping 14.7 percent of his fly balls all the way out of the ballpark, causing his run and RBI totals to increase in turn as well. My Outlier Senses are tingling, Alfred.

When to Take Him: Late Fifth to Sixth Round

If that stat up there didn't tip you off, let me make this explicitly clear: I don't like Chase Headley that much. His strikeout rate is too high (above 20 percent of plate appearances each of his past five years) so that if the power does go away, there isn't as much for him to fall back on. We don't think the power's totally going to go away; 24 home runs still isn't bad. It's just not the 31 he had last season, which is what his current ADP of over a round earlier than we have him slots him at.

5. Evan Longoria - Tampa Bay Rays


Stat to Know: RBI per At-Bat Rate

Spend enough time around a baseball stats site, and you'll find out just how useless of a stat RBIs are. They are way too dependent on team hitting; it's impossible to get them to be standard from year to year. The only way to present RBIs as a trend is on a team that has barely changed for multiple years with a player who has been there... which sounds exactly like the Rays and Evan Longoria, don't you think?

Longoria's projected 101 RBIs is the centerpiece to his fantasy value, and it's not outrageous to believe that number's stable. Longoria has averaged between 4.9 and 5.5 at-bats per RBI in each of his five seasons in Tampa, one of the most consistent runs in that statistic in the MLB. If he plays a full slate of games, 100 RBIs is certainly within reach.

When to Take Him: Seventh to Eighth Round

But with that said, is a .275 average and absolutely zero stolen base ability really worth the, oh, 20 extra RBI over the course of a season? Especially when he hasn't been able to stay healthy recently? I'd say not. Longoria should give you those homers and RBIs, but without much running ability and a lower on-base percentage when he's not hitting bombs, even his run scoring is limited. At the very least, he's not even close to worth a third round pick ahead of Ortiz, Bautista, or Pedroia. He'll probably be gone before it's reasonable to take him, but that's perfectly OK because of his value.

6. Pablo Sandoval - San Francisco Giants


Stat to Know: Extra-Base Hit Percentage

It's been an infuriating ride being a Pablo Sandoval owner over the past four seasons; seeing his yo-yo-ing stats from up years in 2009 and 2011 to down years in 2010 and 2012. His walk and strikeout rates have been consistent; making contact isn't the problem. Neither is being able to keep the ball down: his line drive percentage has stayed consistent between 18 percent and 20 percent all four seasons. It all falls, then, to the oomph he puts on the ball; specficially, his extra base hits.

Over the past four seasons, Sandoval's XBH% has been oscillating as well, but seems to be drawing closer to an average around 10 percent of plate appearances. His 11.2 percent in 2011 and 8.8 percent in 2012 are the best indicators we're going to get from Kung Fu Panda. That should result in about average home runs, runs, and RBIs, close to the middle of what we've seen from him over the past four seasons.

When to Take Him: Eleventh to Twelfth Round

Third base is the position with perhaps the most dual-options on the diamond. Along with the five guys ahead of him on this list, our Draft Kit also has Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, Hanley Ramirez, and Mark Trumbo as better options that may have third base availability. That makes Sandoval a borderline starter, and I wouldn't be rushing to reach for him ahead of his ADP. But with that said, as the ninth or tenth third baseman taken, he provides a lot of upside with his boom-or-bust status. He also is easily droppable for an up-and-coming player at this range, as well.

7. David Wright - New York Mets


Stat to Know: Line Drive Percentage

On the surface, it looks like David Wright returned to form last season. Sure, maybe the home runs were down, but that .306 batting average, 91 walks, and 93 RBIs can't be a fluke, right?!? Well, maybe. In Wright's heyday, between 2007 and 2009, he hit line drives on over a quarter of his balls in play, oscillating between 25 percent and 26 percent each season. As a result, Wright not only had the homers, but he had the batting average as well; Wright had never hit lower than .302 as a full-time starter through 2009.

In 2010, though, Wright regressed: only 22 percent of his balls in play were line drives. The next year was even worse, as 2011 saw only 18 percent of his balls in play as line drives. While he increased slightly in 2012 to 20 percent of balls in play, he was never able to return to the hard-hit balls that defined his top performance. Last season saw more grounders and fly balls find open holes than ever before for Wright, and after a while, the law of averages says those holes will begin to close. We think it happens this season.

When to Take Him: Tenth to Eleventh Round

Yeah, he'll be gone at this point. Trust me, I'm tearing up on the inside. With his average power, only slightly above average BA, average stolen base prowess, and a Mets lineup surrounding him that has the strength of a Lorax, David Wright is, well, average. He's certainly not worth selecting in the third round, and I wouldn't trust him with more than a mid-round selection.

8. Mark Reynolds - Cleveland Indians


Stat to Know: Strikeout to Walk Ratio

He's going to get his home runs and RBIs. That's his only value, of course. He's also going to absolutely murder you on batting average and on-base percentage. I'm not exactly revealing groundbreaking information, here. What if I told you, though, that Reynolds might not murder you as much on BA and OBP as he once did? Excluding a slight uptick from 2010 to 2011, Mark Reynolds' strikeout to walk has decreased each of his other five MLB seasons. Last year, with his strikeout rate a career-low 29.6 percent and his walk rate a second-highest 13.6 percent, Reynolds is seeing the ball better than ever. Well enough, perhaps, to make him fantasy relevant.

When to Take Him: Thirteenth to Fifteenth Round

Mark Reynolds has one job and only one quality that makes him appealing: his home runs. If you went with big home run hitters early in the draft, then don't even bother. If the beginning of your draft is filled with pitchers and guys like Ian Kinsler, though, then Reynolds makes sense as a late-round selection for his home run value. Just don't expect him to be an everyday type of player with that batting average.

9. Ryan Zimmerman - Washington Nationals


Stat to Know: 2009 vs. Everything Else

Why is he down this low? Beside, you know, the fact that his body is made of glass? His strikeout percentage is stable, and so is his walk percentage. He's hit the same percentage of line drives, same percentage of home runs from fly balls, and his at-bats per RBI have been pretty stable. Plus, the Nationals are good again! Why go away? Because you're thinking of 2009 Ryan Zimmerman when you pick him in the fifth round, and that guy was an outlier.

Despite Zimmerman's relatively stable stats, everything came to a head for him in 2009. His home run percentage was 0.6 percent higher than 2010 and 0.9 percent better than any other season. His 10.5 percent walk rate was his second-best ever. His 22 percent line drive rate that year and 5.8 at-bats per RBI is his best other than his rookie year. And all that added up to an unsustainable 33 HR, 109 RBIs, and .364 OBP. His average line is much lower, and even if he stays healthy, not close to fifth-round worthy.

When to Take Him: Don't.

I mean, sure, if he's around in the 11th round, then take him and immediately ship him out. Somebody will always want Ryan Zimmerman. And that person is probably a sucker. The statistical odds of him reproducing his 2009 stats are slim, and even if he stays healthy, he will likely fall somewhere between his 2011 (no power, but decent average) and 2012 (some power, slightly lower average) stats.

10. Martin Prado - Arizona Diamondbacks


Stat to Know: Consistency

Want to know what Prado's going to do from year to year? Good luck. From over the past four seasons, his only four with at least 500 at-bats:

  • Walk Percentage: Worst in 2011, Best in 2012
  • Strikeout Percentage: Worst in 2010, Best in 2011
  • Home Run Rate: Worst in 2012, Best in 2010
  • Line Drive Percentage: Worst in 2011, Best in 2012
  • Extra-Base Hit Percentage: Worst in 2011, Best in 2009

He doesn't have up or down years, he just shifts his focus from one area of the game to another. And that makes him consistently average.

When to Take Him: Sixteenth or Seventeenth Round

Strangely enough, his overall isn't too far off from his average draft position. Prado's only usefulness is tough to quantify: he can provide a backup at multiple different positions in most fantasy formats. However, with his slightly above-average BA and no other strengths to his name, you'd probably be better off trolling the waiver wire for a hot-hitting backup instead. Take him as a late choice if you please, but I wouldn't trust him as my starter.