When looking at the final rankings and the upcoming third base landscape, like all positions, there is change on the horizon. Third base has had an infusion of young talent, but adhering to the tiers in future drafts will be necessary to be successful. This is similar to first base, where it is strong at the top but if one misses out on a top player, a plan will need to be in place.
As for this year, the home run leader at third base was Nolan Arenado with 41 and he was trailed closely by Todd Frazier by one. In a surprise, eight third basemen had 30 home runs. Kris Bryant just missed 40 home runs with 39 in his sophomore season, Josh Donaldson and Manny Machado launched 37 each with Evan Longoria hitting 36, Adrian Beltre 32 and Kyle Seager reaching the plateau for the first time with 30. But after the top, only six more had at least 20 on the season. For 2017 drafts, if a third baseman is not on a roster by the sixth or seventh round, it is going to be a bit of a waiting game with mixed results.
Two third base-eligible players had 40 or more steals. Jonathan Villar played 42 games at third base and swiped 62 bases on the season. His combined total of 81 home runs and stolen bases led the majors. For comparison sake, Brian Dozier (60), Mike Trout (59), Mookie Betts (57), Paul Goldschmidt (56) and Jose Altuve (54) all trailed Villar by a large margin in this category.
Three third basemen had at least 100 RBI and four surpassed 100 runs with Kris Bryant and Nolan Arenado accomplishing both feats. There are many questions about the position moving forward and this is a recap of the 2016 season with a look to the future with player highlights and blind profiles to illustrate.
Third Base Final Rankings
When looking at the final rankings across the three sites, it bears repeating ESPN weighs stolen bases much higher than Yahoo or CBS. This propelled Jonathan Villar to the top of the third base rankings and to a number-five finish overall. Early draft takes should propel Nolan Arenado and Kris Bryant ahead of Josh Donaldson due to their age advantage. There are many question marks after them which need to be investigated. But first, here are three predictive statistics with the top-10 for each according to Fangraphs.com:
- Will Machado run in 2017?…
This is not a political slant. It is hard to imagine a player having 20 steals in one season with zero in the following one but this is what Manny Machado accomplished in 2016. He did hit .294/.343/.533 with 37 home runs. His fly ball rate increased along with his swinging-strike percentage while sacrificing five contact percentage points. This points to him trying to hit for more power.
But his value takes a hit without the steals. Machado will only be 25 in July but forecasting his 2017 will be difficult to do unless there is news about his knee or the team not wanting him to be aggressive on the bases. With single-digit steals, he is a late-first or early-second-round pick. Of course, having shortstop eligibility will only enhance his résumé and could make him too costly to own in the top-5 picks where he may be taken.
- Hip worries?…
While it may be premature to worry, Josh Donaldson’s hip could be a cause of concern in the years ahead. In the first half of the season, Donaldson hit .304/.418/.598 with a 1.017 OPS and hard contact rate of 42.6 percent. During the second half, his slash dropped to .257/.384/.481 with an .866 OPS and 37.3 hard contact percentage.
As a Blue Jay, Donaldson had put up back-to-back 122-run seasons and averages 39 home runs with 111 RBI. But his hip problems started to slow him down in the second half and he cratered the last month of the season. Donaldson has been a fantasy stud the last two years but a potential lineup without Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion along with the injury issues may make him a player to avoid early in drafts. It is always better to be off a player a year early than a year late.
- No sophomore slump in Chicago…
There were obvious reasons to worry about Kris Bryant in 2016 drafts, but he not only defrayed them, Bryant finished with a better year than last. He reduced his strikeout percentage by eight percent, increased his hard-contact rate, pull percentage and contact with a lower swinging-strike rate. Entering his age-25 season, Bryant has already hit 39 home runs with a 149 wRC+ with 102 RBI and eight stolen bases.
Bryant was what fantasy owners thought they were getting in Machado in preseason drafts. The real question here is, where will he be taken this year in drafts? Bryant has to be ahead of Machado, but not sure if I am willing to take him ahead of Nolan Arenado.
- Blind profile number one…
– Player A: .293 BABIP, 124 wRC+, 37.6 hard contact percentage
– Player B: .293 BABIP, 124 wRC+, 37.9 hard contact percentage
One of the great things about underlying statistics is they can be used to create a profile similarity despite the two players having different types of fantasy values. Player A is in the playoffs and has hit .296/.364/.492 for his present team since joining them three years ago. He also is a pending free agent.
Player B led the National League in home runs with 41, had 133 RBI with back-to-back 40+ home run seasons prior to turning 26 in April. While Nolan Arenado was able to prove his detractors wrong with a strong follow-up this season, do not sleep on the production fantasy owners get from Justin Turner (Player A) at third base.
- Old reliables…
After the top-three of Arenado, Bryant and Machado, the next tier was filled with veterans such as Kyle Seager, Adrian Beltre and Evan Longoria. While the latter three players hardly move the excitement meter for fantasy, they had great seasons nonetheless. Kyle Seager had his first 30-home run season and has increased his home run total in each of the last five seasons. He is probably the second-best Seager for fantasy purposes, but he should be primed for a repeat of 2016 in the year ahead.
It is hard not to like Adrian Beltre with all of his antics during games and clubhouse presence. Beltre proved to be healthy in 2016 and the result was a return to 32 home runs with 104 RBI and a .300/.358/.521 slash line. He will be 38 in April but should be a solid tier-two option for drafts in 2017.
Evan Longoria made a liar out of me. I was not high on his season and Longoria bounced back with a career-high 36 home runs. His hard-contact rate was its best since 2013 along with his home run-per-fly ball rate. He will only be 32 next October and could be a part of a Rays renaissance in 2017.
- Blind profile number two (second half)…
– Player A: 71 Games, 38 Runs, 9 HR, 37 RBI, 24 SB; .281/.313/.449
– Player B: 63 Games, 27 Runs, 4 HR, 27 RBI, 18 SB; .244/.297/.357
One of these players was ranked in the top-15 final rankings while the other was not. These splits are from the second half and both speak to small sample sizes. Player B is Eduardo Nunez, who finished a career-year but was not very productive after the All-Star break. Player A is Hernan Perez of the Brewers, who played 60 games at third base for the Brewers. Perez had a strong second half but also struggled down the stretch. It will be hard to count on either for a strong 2017, but for teams who need steals, either is worth a late-round flier.
- Stealth 30 HR in 2017?…
Due to injury and playing in Pittsburgh, it is easy to overlook what Jung-Ho Kang did in 2016. But he had 21 home runs in 103 games with a .513 slugging percentage. His fly ball rate rose by 10 percent yet his home run-per-fly ball rate also increased by almost seven percent. Kang increased his hard-contact rate by five percent while not sacrificing his swinging-strike percentage or contact rate. With health and opportunity, Kang could be the next third baseman to jump up to the 30 home run plateau.
- Blind profile number three (second half)…
– Player A: 68 Games, 30 Runs, 7 HR, 36 RBI, SB; .238/.286/.351
– Player B: 65 Games, 32 Runs, 9 HR, 30 RBI, 3 SB; .197/.283/.380
– Player C: 67 Games, 43 Runs, 9 HR, 39 RBI, SB; .293/.335/.456
It has been frustrating to await the Maikel Franco breakout, and his second half had glimpses but resulted in him being Player A above. Our own Al Melchior looked at Franco here and his 2017 will be one of many to track at the position.
Player B could be a sexy pick by fantasy analysts after his performance in the first half was All-Star Game worthy. But in the second half, Jake Lamb cratered. His metrics in the chart above suggest he had a nice season, but he could be a buyer-beware for the year ahead in fantasy.
Will there be fantasy value in Atlanta in 2017? Player C hopes so as this is Adonis Garcia. Again, this is a small sample size but Garcia finished the season strong and should be a part of an improved lineup with a new stadium in the year ahead. Do not forget him as a later-round corner infield option.
- Cleveland’s MVP?…
While his manager had made fun of his hair, Terry Francona mused Jose Ramirez may have saved the team’s season. Ramirez had 84 runs, 11 home runs, 76 RBI and 22 stolen bases in 152 games this year. He slashed .312/.363/.462 on the season and .329/.374/.509 in the second half. His contact rate of 88.8 percent was tied for seventh in baseball with Daniel Murphy and Dustin Pedroia. It would be prudent to adjust his average to the .275-to-.285 range for 2017, but the double-digits in home runs and steals could be a huge value in roster construction for next year.
There are many more players who will be discussed for the year ahead but there is plenty of time (Ryon Healy was profiled here). Be sure to follow us on Twitter (@KnuckleballFRS) for the upcoming fantasy season. Also support our friend at FantasyRundown.com for the latest in free fantasy links.
Fangraphs.com, Baseball-Reference.com, MLB.com, ESPN.go.com, CBSsports.com, Yahoo.com