StrategyFebruary 26, 2006

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2005 Third Base Forecast Reviewed

By Jamey Feuer

Before we take a look at what we can expect from this year’s third base class, I’d like to take a moment to look back at last year’s preview. As with the first baggers, there were both hits and misses on the left corner of the infield, players who produced unexpected career years and others who disappointed their fantasy owners. Let’s take a closer look…

Last Season’s Top Third Baseman

Alex Rodriguez (NYA)
Last Season I Said: “Even having had an “off year,” A-Rod was a fantasy owner’s dream last season. And quite frankly, A-Rod’s “off year” … would qualify as a career year for most ballplayers. He’ll give you power (40 HR last season), RBI (106 in 2004), runs (112), and, rare for a third baseman, speed. Rodriguez thieved 28 bases in ‘04. Not only is he the top third Baseman, A-Rod still ranks as fantasy baseball’s #1 pick overall. Comfortably settled into the Yankees’ stocked lineup, look for A-Rod’s average to bounce back to a more “Rodriguez-ian” figure. I’d look for .290/40/120 … and oh yes, pencil in another 20+ stolen bases.”

In Reality: Finally comfortable encased in pinstripes in New York’s longball lineup, A-Rod validated his first overall pick status and pulverized opposing pitching. The one-time shortstop hit a simply ridiculous .321/48/130, and about the only thing I had right, aside from pushing him as fantasy’s top pick, was his “20+ stolen bases.” The Yankee third baseman swiped 21 bags.

Scott Rolen (StL)
Last Season I Said: “Part of a loaded roster, Rolen receives the kind of protection a big brother offers his hot sister. Alongside studs like Jim Edmonds, Albert Pujols and the other Cards who form a virtual murderer’s row of .290+ power hitters, it’s not like you can pitch around the guy. Fantasy owners should have some concerns about Rolen’s balky back, but despite missing 18 games late last season due to a leg injury, Rolen’s overall health should not deter you from grabbing him. Rolen remains an elite hitter and a top four fantasy third baseman. Look for .297/32/118 in ‘05.”

In Reality: Unfortunately, injury did play a factor in an ‘05 season that saw Rolen hit .235/5/28, cutting it short by roughly 100 games (106 to be precise). Frankly, the specter of injury is always hanging over Rolen, and it’s not so much a matter of if he’ll fall victim to a break, tear, pull, contusion, adhesion, or fracture … but when. The five-time Gold Glover and ‘97 NL Rookie of the Year has never played a full season; he has recorded a total of 198 games played the past two seasons combined.

Adrian Beltre (Sea)
Last Season I Said: “For a guy who’s had a history – and at age 26 it’s been a brief history – of being a second-half player, Beltre started off like a house afire in 2004 and didn’t cool off until roughly October. … Despite huge expectations having been heaped upon him since he was 16 years old, he’d never really lived up to them. That is, until he blew up last season to the tune of .334/48/121. Beltre also notched 104 runs, displayed a keen eye at the plate, and posted a ridiculous slugging percentage of .629. The guy can’t help but come back down to earth a little bit next season, especially since he’ll be adjusting to a new team and stadium. … And while he probably can’t be expected to sustain the pace he set last season, he’ll still prove to be a top four fantasy third bagger. Look for a more reasonable .320/40/115 and a slugging percentage closer to .550 than .650. But ya know what? I’ll take those “more modest” numbers any day!”

In Reality: Alright, alright. Without doubt, baseball insiders and fantasy buffs alike expected Beltre’s move from Los Angeles to Seattle’s spacious Safeco Field to have an impact on his offensive production. They did not, however, expect to see Beltre’s numbers go careening off of a cliff. “A more reasonable .320/41/115 … and a slugging percentage closer to .550 than .650?” Ahh, if only!

Last year it seemed as if Beltre couldn’t swat a fly en route to a .255/18/87 line, and slugged just.413. While Seattle’s gigantic stadium must take the rap for some of Beltre’s depleted numbers, it can’t be used as a blanket excuse. Due to his meager production, the fact that he may not yet be comfortable in Safeco, the Mariners’ marginal talent (outside of Ichiro, Richie Sexson, and maybe a couple of others), and seeing as there are a number of third sackers I’d take before Beltre … the dude just shouldn’t make this list. However, Adrian Beltre should be available as a mid-round pick this year, and a season of .270/25/95 should be within his reach in 2006.

Eric Chavez (Oak)
Last Season I Said: “Chavez must be wondering why the heck he resigned with a team that held a pitching fire sale. Having dealt aces … Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder for lesser lights, Chavez is justifiably angry. For a team that was close to competing for a World Series, they’ve taken a biiiig step backwards. Having missed over a month due to a broken hand, it took Chavez a while to get back on track in ‘04. He still had a very solid season, however, and fell one home run short of a third consecutive 30-HR season. Those 29 Homers were, incidentally, the most any Athletic hit last season. Chavez matured as a hitter last year, learning to hit the ball to all fields. A top ten 3B, look for .279/35/105.”

In Reality: Okay, this is much more in line with what I had in mind when I made these projections prior to spring training ‘05! Last season, “Chavie” whacked his way to a .269/27/101 campaign; I missed his BA by a mere ten points, his HR total by eight, and came within four of his ribbie mark. All in all, not too shabby.

Reflecting upon 2005’s projection for a moment, those “lesser lights! Billy Beane acquired (after sending Mulder and Hudson off) each turned in solid seasons. And, while neither looks to be another Tim Hudson or Mark Mulder, they were effective nevertheless. Surprisingly, and much to Eric Chavez’s delight (not to mention the … umm, tens upon tens of A’s fans living in and around the Tri-State area!), Oakland finished second in the AL West with an 88-74 record.

Melvin Mora (Bal)
Last Season I Said: “I don’t know if I’m entirely sold on Mora. He’s coming off a career year and has a history of injuries. He was un-conscious last season, though, batting .340/27/104 and recording 11 swiped bags. Owners should still have concerns about injuries, but should look for .325/25/99 and 15 SBs. Mora remains a top 10 third baseman, but I’d “cover my bases,” and draft a guy who offers flexibility at third … just in case.”

In Reality: Mora saw a startling decline in virtually every offensive category, swatting a line of .283/27/88, with seven thieved bags. That, my fantasy friends, lies in stark contrast to an ‘04 that saw Mel hit .340/27/104 with 11 SB. Hence, my advice to “draft a guy who offers flexibility at third … just in case.” Although I missed on his batting average by oh, 40 points or so, I was off on his HR and RBI totals by a mere two and 11, respectively. Hey, when I miss by a mile I’m not afraid to ‘fess up, so I get to point out when I’m close to dead-on…

Mora’s another hot corner player who gets no fantasy love from me this season. While he should be a solid fantasy player, I remain wary of his unpredictable nature and predeliction for injury (Mora played in 149 of 162 games in ‘05). Those of you who remain high on the Balty baller should keep in mind that much like the previously reviewed Adrian Beltre, Mora should be available to you in the fourth or fifth rounds of most mixed league drafts. And, predicated upon the number of teams in your league, Beltre could even last a round or two longer. Making fantasy projections for Big Mel Mora is about as easy as playing pool with a rope, but I’m inclined to project a season similar to .288/26/90, with eight SB.

Chipper Jones (ATL)
Last Season I Said: “A bum hammy hobbled Jones all season long and he was never able to get himself right. Even still, Chipper bashed 30 homers and notched 96 RBI, admirable numbers for any player, let alone an injured one. Jones is however, 32 years old, and last season’s nicks and injuries might be indicative of more to come. Still, expect Jones, who also qualifies as an outfielder, to bounce back and record a very good year. Look for .290/30/100.”

In Reality: After suffering a tendon injury to his left foot, the “straw that stirs Atlanta’s drink” missed over a month and saw action in a mere 109 games last year. Over the course of those games Jones hit a very respectable .296/21/72. Was it in line with what I’d projected? Yes, but was it a “bounce-back” season? Unfortunately for all concerned, no.

Hank Blalock (TEX)
Last Season I Said: “A young player with a bright future, the knock on Hammerin’ Hank has been his rather irritating habit of falling off after the All-Star break. His split season stats are seriously stupefying. In just his third season, expect Blalock to put in the necessary batting cage work and improve upon his numbers. Blalock broke the 30/100 mark last season, and that should be the first of many such campaigns. Look for a very productive year out of Blalock … I’d gamble a high pick on him this season, and project him to post .291/35/112.”

In Reality: In reality, the dude kinda sorta disappointed his owners by hitting .263/25/93 with 132 strikeouts. “The knock on Hammerin’ Hank is his rather irritating habit of falling off after the All-Star break.” Do I lie? Blalock oozes talent, but the guy’s splits remain a staggering study in statistics. As has been his habit, prior to the ‘05 All-Star break Hank “crushed a lot,” producing a line of .285/16/57 with a SLG% of .479 and an OBP of .346. If only Blalock had been able to maintain that torrid pace. True to form, the fourth-year Texan hit .236/9/35 with a SLG% of .375 and an OBP of .283 after the brief break. Certainly a solid season, but Hank’s tendency to slide into a second-half sag and penchant for striking out need to be addressed.

Mike Lowell (Fla)
Last Season I Said: “A doubles machine, Lowell starts each season like a ball of fire … and finishes like a ball of cotton. Having developed a history for falling off significantly during the season’s second half, here’s the plan: trade Lowell for a position of need just before the All-Star break. At age 31, a ballplayer’s a known quantity and won’t be surprising anyone … Look for a very respectable .297/31/104 from Lowell this season (and I’m quite serious about that whole trade thing).”

In Reality: A big-time flop for sure in both the majors and fantasy leagues, Lowell was yet another third sacker who turned in a ghastly bad season. After a 2004 that saw Lowell reach career highs in batting average (.293), hits (175), OBP (.365) and SLG% (.505), his 2005 campaign was an abrupt and unpleasant fantasy about-face. The now former Marlin pressed at the plate and was seemingly unable to do anything about an average that fell by almost 60 points, an OBP that fell by almost 70 points, a SLG% that pulled a fantasy vanishing act dropping by 145 points, and a home run total that fell by a whopping 20. When the dust of the ‘05 MLB season settled, and the ninth inning of Florida’s 162nd game saw its third out, Lowell’s line was a feeble .236/8/58.

But with a little luck, a move to Boston could prove to be just the tonic. Wunderkind GM (or whatever his title is these days) Theo Epstein shipped Bill Mueller out of town and has moved prospect Kevin Youkilis over to the opposite corner where he will platoon with aging veteran JT Snow. While Youkilis stands to see most of the time at the position, Snow provides the team with a veteran bench bat and will be a positive locker room presence.

There are at least a dozen third baseman I’d draft before pulling Lowell off the board. These players include Colorado’s promising Garrett Atkins and maybe even LA Angel Dallas McPherson. Nonetheless, the BoSox play in a hitter’s park, and their new third baseman averaged .288/28/94 over the three seasons prior to his horrendous ‘05 campaign. A season approximating .265/18/65 is within reach, but ya never know.

Aramis Ramirez (ChN)
Last Season I Said: “In his first full season with the Cubbies, Ramirez seemed to gain confidence, posted much better all-around numbers, and recorded a career high in HRs. Hampered by a pulled groin for much of last season, Ramirez still had an excellent fantasy season. The last of the top ten third Baseman, look for Ramirez, who doesn’t strike out very often, to turn in an even better season in ‘05 than in ‘04: .312/38/108.”

In Reality: A-Ram’s season, much to his owners’ dismay, ended 40 games early due to a severe muscle pull … likely costing said owners their championship dreams. Even with the 40+ game deficit, however, Ramirez hung a line of .302/31/92, and would’ve been awfully close to my .312/38/108 projection had he remained healthy. Opposite 1B Derrek Lee, who made many pitchers appear to be tossing batting practice, Aramis Ramirez flourished and ranked second amongst all third Baseman with a SLG% of .568, and fourth in home runs with 31 last season. The Cub third Bagger should be a third-round selection in mixed leagues this season, and a second-rounder in NL-only formats.

Last Season’s Sleeper Third Basemen

BJ Upton (TB)
Last Season I Said: “Very young and still trying to find a home defensively (13 games at 3B in 2004, 16 at SS, one in left field), the knock on Upton has been his glove work. Nevertheless, Upton’s got a nice upside and is worth taking a flier on. He might even be able to be acquired through your league’s waiver wire.”

In Reality: Upton never got the opportunity to take the field in ‘05, and has made the move to shortstop.

David Wright (NYN)
Last Season I Said: “Wright’s impressive ‘04 campaign bodes well for an even better ‘05. This kid has all the tools, especially power, and with six SB offers good speed to boot. While he’s sure to stumble from time to time, it’s quite possible that he could develop into the Mets’ best pure hitter in years.”

In Reality: There was nothing wrong with Mr. Wright last season as the Met position player picked up right where he left off in ‘04, proving his 69-game rookie audition was no fluke. The young Metropolitan ripped his way to a .306/27/102 season, with a whopping 42 doubles and 17 swiped bags serving as the cherry on top of his fantasy cake. Those of you who took a mid-round gamble on the young third baseman reaped nice rewards!

Last Season’s Comeback Third Baseman

Aaron Boone (Cle)
Last Season I Said: “Let’s assume that Boone has learned his lesson about playing pickup basketball. Don’t judge him too harshly, however; having heard fairy tales from athletes that range from the ridiculous “I tripped over my dog” to the inane “I fell washing my truck,” Boone’s honesty was refreshing and should be applauded. He got a raw deal from the Yankees who never should have cut him.”

In Reality: “Oy vey,” as my people say. Aaron certainly put the “Boo” into Boone last year! An interesting juxtaposition of productivity saw the 33-year-old corner man hit an anemic .211 before the All-Star break (including a horrifying .123 in April and .188 in May),.276 after the star-fueled hiatus, and finish up the ‘05 campaign with a reasonable .243/16/60, with six SB.

While there are at least 15 third basemen I would consider before even rolling my eyes Boone’s way, his .272 June, .311 July, and .322 August would indicate that there’s some life left in Boonie’s bat. How much, I can’t say, but with hot prospect Andy Marte breathing down Boone’s neck, the veteran’s leash will be short and there will be no in-between. With his third club in as many seasons (Cincinnati, New York, Cleveland), the veteran Infielder will either rise to the challenge … or go the way of the wooly mammoth. I think Boone retains .275/17/70 ability and could prove to be a sneaky-good backup.

Players to Watch

Chone Figgins (Ana)
Last Season I Said: ” I flat out like this kid. And, with his speed (34 SB in ‘04) and ability to qualify at 3B, 2B, SS and in the OF, you could learn to like him too! His numbers last season were quite good, and should only improve with another spring training. Look for a very solid season from Figgins: .297/6/62.”

In Reality: Although my projections for Alex Rodriguez, Mike Lowell, and Hank Blalock were … erroneous? On the ambitious side? (What can I tell you – Blalock’s production took an unexpected dip and Lowell fell into a season-long funk), I really nailed some of the others, and with Figgens I was M-O-N-E-Y. The Los Angeles Angel of Anaheim (is that not silly, I ask you?) is a penultimate base stealer, could very well stretch an infield single into a stand-up double, and hit .290/8/57 with a remarkable 62 stolen bases! Ergo … and I don’t get to write ‘ergo’ alot, I missed his BA by a measly seven points, his home runs by a scant two, and underestimated his ribbie total by only five! Simply put, there may be no more versatile player in the league.

Jamey Feuer recently had two wisdom teeth removed, but he won't let the pain keep him from continuing work on this series. Up next: shortstops!
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