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Juan Uribe Is the Los Angeles Dodgers' Best Option for 3B

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COMMENTARY | Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Juan Uribe has been a bench player ever since Hanley Ramirez was traded from the Miami Marlins to take over third base for the Dodgers.

Now, with Ramirez injured and other third-base options not panning out, the inexplicable has happened: Uribe has started four games in a row for the Dodgers for the first time since June of last year.

The bat of Luis Cruz throughout the 2012 season and Uribe's inability to hit meant there was no room in the Dodgers' lineup for the free-swinging veteran last year once Ramirez arrived. Cruz was pushed to third base, and Uribe was pushed to the bench.

Uribe got pinch-hitting opportunities and a spot start for the first month after Ramirez took over the hot corner. Then Uribe sat. After getting a hit as a pinch hitter on August 26, Uribe didn't get a chance at the plate again until September 23. It was another hit.

And, yet, barring a trade, Uribe is now the best option for the Dodgers at the hot corner.

So why is Uribe getting starts now despite a .200 batting average? More important, why is Uribe not just a candidate but a deserved choice to start while battling with the Mendoza Line? It's the walks.

Thanks to a better eye and capitalizing on pitchers' mistakes, Uribe has a remarkable-looking line of .214/.421/.429. That's the line you get when you go 6-28 with two home runs -- but 10 walks.

The large number of walks are unusual for Uribe.

In 2012, Uribe walked just 13 times in 179 plate appearances. In 2011, Uribe walked 17 times in 295 plate appearances.

In each of those seasons, Uribe's walk rate was below 10 percent. It now stands at 28.6 percent, which is the most of any batter with 30 or more plate appearances.

A 28.6 percent walk rate is obviously not sustainable; Joey Votto leads qualified batters with a 23.4 percent walk rate in 2013 (Uribe doesn't have enough plate appearances to qualify on the leaderboard). The only batter to ever have a higher walk rate over a full season than Uribe's current 28.6 percent is Barry Bonds in 2002 (32.4 percent) and 2004 (37.6 percent).

But the increase in Uribe's walk is very likely as much a change in philosophy at the plate as it is the small sample size, which makes sense when you look at the numbers.

According to pitch f/x numbers, Uribe has swung at 22 percent of pitches thrown outside the strike zone this year. This is by far the lowest of Uribe's career since pitch f/x began tracking data around the league in 2007.

Uribe is swinging at 40.9 percent of pitches he sees -- down dramatically from 49.9 percent in 2012. This has led to a 42.9 percent first-strike percentage, meaning he starts ahead in the count more than half the time.

This could all change with an 0-for-4 and three-strikeout performance. But if Uribe keeps his current tactics at the plate, that is unlikely to happen.

Another reason Uribe is the best option at third base is the ineptitude of the other options on the roster.

There is pretty much no chance that the Dodgers will put Ramirez at third base and keep Justin Sellers at shortstop. Sellers is a much better defender but is a barely adequate option offensively.

Plus, Ramirez has been promised that he will continue to play shortstop (despite having sub-par defense at the position).

Cruz was given the first shot at third base this year, but he was unable to replicate his 2012 season when he hit .297/.322/.431. This season, in 50 plate appearances, Cruz has hit .087/.122/.087. That's four hits, one walk and no extra-base hits. He got on base another time after being hit by a pitch.

Cruz could be on his way to being designated for assignment and a likely trip to Class AAA Albuquerque, and the other options at third base aren't much better.

Jerry Hairston Jr. and Nick Punto are pinch hitters at this point in their careers -- not to mention they will be platooning with Skip Schumaker to fill in for Mark Ellis while he recovers from a strained hamstring.

Hairston plays good defense at third base but he turns 37 in a month, and it is unlikely he could start on a regular basis. Punto is younger by just a year and is more suited to second base and occasionally filling in at third base.

There are no prospects or veterans down in AAA who can step in and play the position. Cory Seager, a shortstop, is widely expected to end up a third baseman. He is just 19 years old and is a few years from being a viable major-league option.

By process of elimination, Uribe is the best choice in the Dodgers organization.

He started his career as a shortstop and has made the transition to playing very good third base defensively. If he can transition to a new patience at the plate, with the current roster, he deserves to start at third base for the Dodgers.

Matthew Reichbach is a freelance writer and lifelong follower of the Dodgers from their minor league affiliates to the major league club.

You can follow Matthew on Twitter at @3_2count.

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