Welcome to the first installment of a yet to be determined number of installments Satish and I will be putting together on fantasy rankings for the upcoming season. This piece, about the top ten third basemen, will be followed by Satish’s rankings of outfielders and starting pitching, while I will subsequently add relief pitchers, as well.
Since most fantasy leagues use the standard fantasy categories of runs scored, home runs, RBI, stolen bases and batting average, I went with those categories in my rankings, as well. True, fantasy leagues can be set up to include any number of offensive categories, but the vast majority of leagues just stick with standard scoring, so I will as well. Two items to keep in mind: fantasy is offense only, so defense isn’t factored in the rankings, and because we’re using the standard fantasy categories, these rankings won’t represent the players’ real offensive value.
To begin, I wanted to see how Yahoo and ESPN ranked third basemen. Take a look. The numbers in parenthesis read as follows: RS/HR/RBI/SB/AVG.
The first thing that caught my attention was how optimistic ESPN is about the performances at the top of the list. That chasm-sized difference was a little surprising. The systems project entirely different seasons for both David Wright and Hanley Ramirez. What was not surprising is that both systems had the same ten players, even though there a general difference of opinion of placement.
My projections tend to fall somewhere in the middle, though I probably lean towards the optimistic side. My projections start with how the players have been trending the past few seasons and then are mixed with various ancillary factors pertaining to the individual player.
- Miguel Cabrera (105/34/129/3/.322) – Cabrera should be the consensus first third basemen drafted, and in most leagues he’s the #1 overall pick. The return of Victor Martinez certainly lengthens the lineup behind Cabrera (who I assume will bat third in 2013), so that could mean an increase in runs scored. However, even for a hitter of Cabrera’s stature, his 2012 season was a peak and he’ll likely regress some. He out-homered his previous career high by six and surpassed his previous RBI high by twelve. What I see benefitting Cabrera in that regard is Austin Jackson finally being a mature enough hitter to put together a consistent season. Jackson had a tremendous first half of 2012, but fell off mightily in the second half and Cabrera’s RBI total suffered as a result, despite hitting eight more home runs in the second half. Something else to consider is that Cabrera was only intentionally walked 17 times in 2012. True, an equally fearsome hitter was on deck, but Cabrera was so punishing offensively, I think there will be a handful of instances where the opposing manager would rather just give Cabrera one base instead of risking extra bases, thus lowering his RBI total and his run scored, because he won’t be in scoring position quite as much for the next two hitters. That’s not a significant point to consider, but three or four RBI and runs scored can be a big difference in fantasy baseball.
- Evan Longoria (98/36/111/4/.291) – My most optimistic projection, I see this year as the year Longoria stays healthy, which is why I see an MVP-type season for the Rays third baseman. I like the addition of Yunel Escobar and James Loney to the lineup, replacing Elliot Johnson and Carlos Peña, respectively. It affords Longoria better pitches to hit and also a better chance of being driven in with both those guys likely hitting behind him. Desmond Jennings should re-emerge after a 2012 sophomore slump and add Kelly Johnson and his .340-.350 OBP and some pop hitting second and Longo will have plenty of RBI opportunities. I really like Longoria as a steal in the late-second round.
- David Wright (101/26/103/17/.310) – There is two main factors involved in my somewhat optimistic projection for Wright. The obvious one is a healthy Ike Davis hitting behind him. The second is the return of his K% to around 17% in 2012, down from the roughly 22% it was at from 2009-2011. Wright seemed to use the whole field more and stopped trying to pull pitches on the outer half. The result was better contact, a line drive percentage more towards his career average and the best offensive season he had since 2008. I don’t think he’ll quite regain that form, but he’ll continue to build on last year’s success.
- Ryan Zimmerman (95/27/98/2/.289) – The addition of Denard Span and a full season of a more experienced Bryce Harper will do wonders for Zimmerman’s season. Jayson Werth is healthy now and showed that his patience at the plate that went missing in 2011 had returned after he recovered from a broken wrist towards the end of 2012. So if he’s back on track as a significant middle-of-the-order threat along with Adam LaRoche, that puts Zimmerman right smack in the middle of Span/Harper and LaRoche/Werth. I like that for fantasy owners.
- Adrian Beltre (85/27/91/2/.289) – My advice to fantasy players is to stay away from Beltre this season. I think he’ll have a nice season, but he’s probably a mid-second round pick based on recent history and I feel his production is a wasted pick in that spot. I don’t think it can be overstated what the loss of Josh Hamilton and Michael Young in that lineup will do to Beltre’s numbers. Besides fewer RBI chances and fewer boppers behind him to drive him in, he won’t see as many fastballs and will be pitched around far more often than he was. He’s still a real good hitter and still plays in a bandbox and will therefore be productive, but I’m certain come October, there will be a significant difference between what his average draft position (ADP) says his numbers should have been and what his numbers actually were.
- Hanley Ramirez (90/26/71/29/.270) – The fact is, there were only ten 20-20 guys in baseball in 2012 and he was the only third baseman. There’s intrinsic value in being comparable to your peers in most categories, but able to compete in a category none of your other peers can at the same time, and no other third baseman will steal even 20 bases this season. Ramirez will finish with a pedestrian batting average, modest runs scored and RBI totals, a competitive home run total, but stolen bases is where his value lies. My projection is based on Ramirez leading off. Until Carl Crawford is actually playing, I don’t factor him in the lineup. Something to keep in mind is that if and when Crawford does return and the surgically repaired elbow zaps him of the modest pop he used to have, Crawford could move into the leadoff role and move Ramirez down in the order to a place he’d see more RBI chances. That could also come at the expense of his runs scored total, however. It’s something you should keep your eye on.
- Brett Lawrie (78/18/81/20/.277) – This is where it got tough for me. You can probably argue that any of the next four guys could rank anywhere from 7-10. I went with Lawrie based on his youth and his lineup. Lawrie will only get better from this point forward, and he’ll have a ton of RBI opportunities in 2013. He’s got solid pop in a hitter-friendly park. The only thing that’s holding him back is the weak bottom of the order for the Jays. They have one of the best top-fives, but nothing to protect Lawrie when he hits, likely in that 5th spot. The Catch-22 here is that Lawrie, as of right now, isn’t disciplined or mature enough as a hitter to bat second, which would change his season stats-wise. Lawrie owners should also monitor Melky Cabrera’s season. If the PEDs really did play a big role in his recent production and he returns to the fringe player he once was, Lawrie will likely move to that second spot whether he’s ready or not and that’ll spike his numbers considerably. I don’t expect that to happen right away, so for now, I see a him remaining in that 5th spot, driving in runs, but not scoring a considerable amount.
- Chase Headley (77/19/82/19/.271) – Headley’s coming out party last season was a huge boon to those who drafted him at an ADP of 224. One of the best bargains all of last season. Unfortunately for Headley owners, the book is out. Headley is still a viable fantasy option, but he’s going to need breakout seasons by both Everth Cabrera and Yonder Alonso, along with 550 healthy plate appearances from Carlos Quentin if he’s going to see any fastballs. The rest of the league knows what he’s capable of. He’s the star and biggest threat in that lineup and teams won’t let him beat them. He, like Beltre, won’t be worth the pick at his ADP (51st overall).
- Pablo Sandoval (83/20/82/4/.291) – Panda will be hitting behind Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro, so I don’t love his chances at significant RBIs. While Hunter Pence won’t put up Philadelphia-type numbers in San Francisco, I think this is the year Brandon Belt puts it all together, so that’s a wash as far as his protection in the lineup. I think Panda is a good hitter with good power, but he plays in a pitcher’s park and doesn’t have a great lineup around him, so his numbers will be a little deflated because of those two factors. Third base is pretty deep this year, and I don’t think there’s going to be a whole lot of difference between Panda and his ADP around 76 and, say Mike Moustakas (ADP of 160) in the four counting stats, but Pablo gets his kudos for his batting average. It wouldn’t surprise me if he hits .300, but I think he’d need a big second half to reach it.
- Aramis Ramirez (80/23/87/3/.285) – I remember drafting Ramirez in 2002 after his monster year in 2001, only to see him fall off the face of the earth. I stayed away in 2003, only to see him rebound, then move on to Chicago where he became the kind of hitter that would likely be 3rd or 4th on this list. My biggest knock on Ramirez is that he’s 34 years old and hasn’t played 150 games since 2006, just missing the mark the last two seasons. The hitters behind him don’t impress me much, although Jonathan Lucroy was on his way to a breakout season before it was derailed by injury in 2012. Much will depend on him because if he poses no threat as Ramirez’s protection, there’s not going to be much setting Ramirez apart from the aforementioned Moustakas. I’ll even go as far as bumping Ramirez off this list in favor of David Freese if you happen to be playing in a keeper league. I can easily see Freese with the same numbers, but he’ll only get better, whereas Ramirez career is in its twilight.
A couple more notes on third basemen this year:
- Long-term for those in keeper leagues, I think Manny Machado has a higher upside than Will Middlebrooks, but I think Middlebrooks has the better 2013 and 2014 seasons. Machado is still so young and it’ll be a couple of years before he begins to really exploit the potential he has.
- A lot of people are disrespecting Kevin Youkilis this season. I think he’s playing for an organization that plays to his strengths and that surrounds him with a very good lineup. His ADP is all the way at 196, but I see his fantasy numbers looking somewhat like 90/22/90/2/.275 if he’s healthy. That hasn’t been the case recently, which I expect is why he’s getting drafted around the 17th round, but if you’re strong in enough other positions, don’t be afraid to “reach” for Youk in the 13th or 14th and nab him as your starter.
- Keeper league folks, pay close attention to Rockies stud Nolan Arenado. He’s tearing it up in spring training and could actually come north with the Rockies and begin immediately. He isn’t even getting drafted in a very large majority of the leagues, and even if he’s rushed, could still produce as well as any backup you could find outside the top 20, and you’d have him as a keeper forever. His potential is widely known and he may be asked to reach it sooner rather than later.
Stay tuned for Satish’s outlook on the top fantasy outfielders for 2013.