StrategyJanuary 15, 2007

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Two Up, Two Down – Third Base Edition
A look at two that I think will rise and two that I think will fall at the third base position in 2007.

By Ken Kesterson

Third base is a deep fantasy position, but not one without its share of confusion to work through. Last season twenty-two players who qualified to play the hot corner for your fantasy team hit 20 or more home runs, but only five of those players hit 30 or more. Nineteen third basemen had 80 or more RBI’s, yet only seven had more than 100. Among players who were eligible for the batting title, only four third basemen hit better than .300. With all that, no third baseman finished in the .300/30/100 club. That does not mean you should not draft Alex Rodriguez in the top three of your league’s draft, or Miguel Cabrera and David Wright in the top fifteen, but if you’d rather draft a Manny or Vlad, then take your chances hoping to find this season’s Garrett Atkins later in your draft, I have two targets you should move up your cheat sheet. On the other hand, if you’d rather go by past stats as an indicator of future performance when making your rankings, I have two players whom I expect to decline.

UP –

Edwin Encarnacion – Reds

Encarnacion had an up-and-down first full season in Cincinnati, finishing with a respectable .276/15/72. He spent most of June on the DL with a sprained ankle, but returned to the field on fire, with a .331/8/31 line in 133 AB in July/August. He ended the season on a down note with a September to forget that brought his final numbers back to fantasy mediocrity. He plays half his games in a park that is a batter’s paradise, and he took advantage at home by hitting .323 with a .945 OPS. The man known as “Double E” will only be 24 on Opening Day. Using the improvement he showed last July/August coupled with the home park in which he’ll get half his at-bats, I see Double E as a high reward late-round flier in a standard 12 team league, and a potential starter in deeper leagues.

Kevin Kouzmanoff – Padres

The reigning Minor League Player of the Year (per was spared a Spring Training competition with another potential future star, Andy Marte, when he was traded from Cleveland to San Diego, where he is expected to man the hot corner on Opening Day. “Kouz” had himself a monster year at AA Akron, flirting with .400 all season, finishing at .389 along with 15 HR and 55 RBI in just 244 AB. A late season promotion to AAA didn’t stop him – he hit .353/7/20 in just 102 AB. Much has been made about how his performance came against younger competition, as he was 25. He was drafted out of college, however, then missed some time with back problems, which stunted his growth in the system. He has hit for a high average and shown decent power throughout his career. His back problems seemingly behind him, he could prove to be a “Ryan Zimmerman Light” this season.

Down -

Hank Blalock – Rangers

After an impressive first two full campaigns, Blalock was thought to be a future top five fantasy third basemen for many years to come. In his first full season (2003) he had an impressive .300/29/90 line with an .872 OPS. He followed that up in 2004 with another impressive year, which saw him rake to the tune of .276/32/110/.855. In the past two seasons, however, all his stats dropped significantly. His 2005 season was a mild disappointment with a line of .263/25/92/.749. Not bad, but not what his owners signed up for when they drafted the then 24-year-old. Last year most of his numbers stayed relatively similar, except for HR, which dropped to 16. Ouch. What sticks out to me most though is the noticeable decline in doubles, which fell from 34 in 2005 to 26 last season. If Blalock still hit a mid-thirties amount of doubles, I would think the loss of power was an aberration. However, when doubles fall by 24% and home runs decline by 36%, I have to pause. His arthroscopic shoulder surgery just after this past season explains the short-term power decline, but it is the drop in walks since a career high in 2004 that has most affected his performance. He is still young having just turned 26, and there is plenty of time for him to put his career back on the upswing. Thoughts of him being a top five guy are gone however. If another manager wants to pretend it’s 2003, he can have him. I would look for a steadier option at third base.

Brandon Inge – Tigers

Inge set career highs last season in HR, Runs, RBI, and SLG%. Sell high. Inge is a hacker, striking out at a 1:4.3 AB pace over his career. He had a poor 0.34 BB:K ratio last season (good for 145th overall). Sure, Robinson Cano also had a 0.33 BB:K ratio… but Inge isn’t hitting .342. He hit only .253 last season, and has a less than impressive .241 career average. I would draft a third baseman who may not project for 25 or so home runs, but could hit around 20 without killing your average, like Edwin Encarnacion or Kevin Kouzmanoff.

That wraps up this edition of Two Up, Two Down. Keep checking the Cafe as we run down the outfield and pitchers in the following weeks.

Ken Kesterson is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with Ken in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of bigken117.
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