Fantasy Third Basemen: Strike Early or Late

by Eno Sarris // 

When planning your draft for the 2011 season, there are a few different ways to consider positional scarcity. While introducing us to Tsuyoshi Nishioka recently, Eriq Gardner showed us the relative run production for each position on the infield, which demonstrated how terrible shortstop can be. That graph is certainly one way to consider the relative strengths of each position.

But for the most part, only the 12 to 18 best (including CI/MI/UT) at each infield position are relevant in regular mixed leagues. Another way to consider your approach would be to take a look at the projections and rankings at the position and highlight some tiers. A tier-based approach allows you to know when to leap, and when to wait.

Let’s take a look at third base. If you strike early for a first-tier third baseman, you’re looking at Evan Longoria, David Wright and Ryan Zimmerman. Those are fine selections, and there’s no reason not to take any of these three early in your draft.

But only three members of your league will leave the early rounds with an elite third baseman, and the names that follow are fraught with uncertainty. Alex Rodriguez (age-related decline), Adrian Beltre (home park, lineup and some consistency issues), Jose Bautista (batting average, limited track record), Michael Young (muted power), Aramis Ramirez (health) and Mark Reynolds (batting average) all have question marks as large as their relative upsides. You could reasonably lump these players into one tier, which means that as you fill your other positions, your leaguemates will be spending picks on this tier.

Now we’re nine third basemen into the rankings, and only two other managers have a hole at the position – with possibly a few more willing to speculate on a CI or UT third base option. You could define scarcity at the position as the quality of this final tier. How does third base rank in this situation? Well, left on the board are Pablo Sandoval, Casey McGehee, Chase Headley, Pedro Alvarez and Ian Stewart. Take a look at the projections I’ve cobbled together for these players, and you’ll see that while there’s plenty of risk here, there’s also a decent amount of upside.

ThirdBase.jpgThe best part about this group is that they are a diverse bunch. Need some steals? Headley has swiped double-digit bases in each of the past two seasons, and considering his total last year (17), he may have upside to better his projection in that category. He’ll likely either steal the second- or third-most bases at the position. Need batting average above all else? Might as well take the leap that the Kung Fu Panda will return to his hit-filled ways. The good news is that Sandoval has lost 10 pounds already this off-season, and that some positive regression should be expected after such a huge year-to-year drop from 2009 to 2010. Want a safe player after filling your team with risk? McGehee has been solid the past two years and seems like he could easily hit these projections even with a step back. Need power upside no matter what? Take your pick between the young and exciting Alvarez, and Stewart, or take both to spread out your risk.

Looking at the position as a whole is important – that’s the easiest way to see the overall offensive strengths around the diamond. But looking at the particular personnel and the particular strengths and weaknesses of the players near the bottom of your rankings is also a good way to plan your draft.

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