The past decade has been, without question, the golden age for third basemen.
Longoria sits in the top tier in a top-heavy position.
Jeff Gross /Getty Images
You may not have noticed, what with all the other competing baseball storylines, but most of the great statistical campaigns in the history of this position have occurred since 1999 – and we say that with all due respect to Mike Schmidt's 1980-81 seasons, George Brett's 1980, Al Rosen's 1953, and Pete Browning's 1882. (For the record, we were all over Browning in the '82 Yahoo! position primer). What's more, each of the third basemen who've recently delivered all-time stat lines remains active.
On the surface, that seems like a good thing for fantasy purposes. But check the names and dates:
Chipper Jones(notes), 1999 – 116 R, 45 HR, 110 RBI, 25 SB, .319 AVG
Troy Glaus(notes), 2000 – 120 R, 47 HR, 102 RBI, 14 SB, .284 AVG
Adrian Beltre(notes), 2004 – 104 R, 48 HR, 121 RBI, 7 SB, .334 AVG
Alex Rodriguez(notes), 2005 – 124 R, 48 HR, 130 RBI, 21 SB, .321 AVG
Alex Rodriguez, 2007 – 143 R, 54 HR, 156 RBI, 24 SB, .314 AVG
Now if all of those seasons don't necessarily seem historic to you, then we ask that you consider positional context. Schmidt held the single-season record for home runs by a third baseman (48) until Beltre tied him in 2004. Then A-Rod obliterated the mark in 2007. The numbers posted by Jones and Glaus in 1999 and 2000 were, in fact, startling by third base standards.
But three of the four players listed above are now deep into their 30s, and Beltre is … well, let's just say that his 2004 season was a remarkable anomaly. In 2003, Beltre hit .240 with 23 home runs. In 2005, he hit .255 with 19 homers. Between those two seasons – in a contract year, with Scott Boras as his agent – Beltre delivered a .334 batting average, 48 bombs and an OPS of 1.017. He's never posted an average higher than .290 or an OPS above .835 in any other season of his 12-year career. His second-highest home run total is 26.
With the possible exception of Brady Anderson's 1996 and Norm Cash's 1961, there may not be another individual season in baseball history that's as bizarrely incongruous as Beltre's 2004. He's all yours now, Boston, but you can't expect a line better than 80-25-85-.265. That's who Beltre has always been, except in his one magical and astonishingly well-timed season.
But you didn't come here to read about the past. A-Rod, of course, remains the top-rated player at third base and the consensus No. 3 overall fantasy entity, regardless of position. He's 34 years old and coming off an injury-shortened season, but he reportedly won't require additional surgery on his hip. He'll also benefit from a homer-friendly park and a run-friendly lineup. It's tough to build a case to draft any other third baseman ahead of him, though we'll have a debate on our hands in 2011 if Evan Longoria(notes) takes even a small step forward in his age-24 season.
The top seven third basemen in the ranks are all outstanding options in leagues of any size and shape. Each player is a four or five-category asset, which is exactly the profile you look for near the top of a draft. The next three names on our board are useful, too, if somewhat more complicated. Aramis Ramirez(notes) is clearly an injury risk no matter what he says, Chone Figgins(notes) is powerless – an oddity at third – and Gordon Beckham(notes) is just one season removed from college.
Still, if you manage to draft any of the top 10 third baseman, you're going to be pleased. This is a top-heavy position, with a significant drop-off between tiers three and four. You'll note the price collapse below – it's almost as if a tier is missing. At least there's an even balance between leagues atop the board, so AL and NL-only owners will be equally punished.
Position averages, top 20 third basemen in year-end Yahoo! rank
2009 – 81.4 R, 21.1 HR, 81.3 RBI, 9.5 SB, .286 AVG
2008 – 84.0 R, 26.1 HR, 93.3 RBI, 5.8 SB, .285 AVG
Third Basemen – Tiers
Aramis Ramirez, $23; Chone Figgins, $23; Gordon Beckham, $23
Mark DeRosa(notes), $2; Jhonny Peralta(notes), $2; Martin Prado(notes), $1; Alex Gordon(notes), $1; Casey Blake(notes), $0; Mark Teahen(notes), $0; Casey McGehee(notes), $2; Chase Headley(notes), $1; Scott Rolen(notes), $0
Troy Glaus, $0; Edwin Encarnacion(notes), $0; Brandon Inge(notes), $0; Pedro Feliz(notes), $0; Mike Lowell(notes), $0; Mat Gamel(notes), $0; Adam Kennedy(notes), $0; Kevin Kouzmanoff(notes), $0; David Freese(notes), $0; Brandon Wood(notes), $0; Jake Fox(notes), $0; Garrett Atkins(notes), $0; Andy LaRoche(notes), $0; Brett Wallace(notes), $0; Pedro Alvarez(notes), $0
Five Third Basemen I Love
1. Evan Longoria – Sky is the limit; He's basically averaged .280/30/100 in first two seasons and he's not even 25 yet.
1. Ryan Zimmerman – "Dream Weaver" plays whenever his name is mentioned – flyball rate, walks, HR/FB% all trending upward, and he's only 25 … DROOL!
1. Ryan Zimmerman – I'll consider slightly reaching for him in the late-second round of industry drafts; in public leagues, sit back, you can steal him in Rounds 3 or 4. The Washington screen helps.
2. Pablo Sandoval – Natural-born hitter is a cheaper version of what you get from Kevin Youkilis
2. Chris Davis – Prime example of a post-hype sleeper stealing at a bargain price; retooled mechanics at Triple-A did wonders – 30-35 HRs are coming.
2. Kevin Youkilis – He's money in four categories, but tends to be underrated because he doesn't dominate in any one spot. Go ahead and take Mark Reynolds ahead of him, I welcome it.
3. Jorge Cantu – Only 28 and hits cleanup behind Han-Ram … among the bargain bin, he's your most realistic shot at .280/25/100.
3. Adrian Beltre – Friendlier hitting environment, better protection, healthy, still in his power prime – major rebound. Expect .275-25-85-80-10 line.
3. Edwin Encarnacion – I'm not a fan of the middle class at 3B, but there's good stuff cheap if you look past 300 on the ADP list … Encarnacion's secondary stats suggest bad luck in '09, and he left Cincy at the right time.
4. Chase Headley – Has the type of upside you look for in a mixed-league flier and his BB% and K% trended positively in '09; his career road OPS (.805) better reflection of his potential.
4. Alex Gordon – Cast aside for more dependable options but former No. 1 farmhand still too young and naturally gifted to write-off; 20-15 season very possible
4. Kevin Kouzmanoff – Usually a ticket to Oakland is a ticket to offensive hell, but Kouz won't mind leaving Petco and the NL behind. If nothing else, he's a name to consider for those streamable Mondays and Thursdays.
5. Scott Rolen – .823 OPS in '09 shows there's still plenty of life in his bat and he's in a favorable environment in Cincy – he'll well exceed his cut-rate draft price if he can play 135-plus games.
5. Troy Glaus – Don't worry about his injury history, you're getting Glaus for absolutely nothing. This could be the cheapest 25 homers on the board and he'll eventually qualify at two positions. If he breaks, so what – you paid the minimum.
Five Third Basemen I Hate
1. Alex Rodriguez – You take on a lot of tabloid drama when you bring him on board but, mostly, this is about me, a Mariners fan, still holding a grudge.
1. David Wright – Devoted Mets fan John Stewart would drown the Noise in Baconnaise for denouncing Wright, but another mediocre homer total is in the forecast.
1. Mark Reynolds – Too much batting average risk, steals might not be bankable, never pay the freight on an outlier season.
2. Chipper Jones – Born in the Cretaceous Period, Larry's diminishing skill set and regular infirmary time say avoid the headache; logged 500 at-bats just once since '04
2. Chris Davis – The Rangers won't be patient forever and Davis plays positions that are easy to fill. The monster strikeout rate pushes me to someone else.
3. Alex Gordon – I don't think he's a lost cause, by any means, but I'll never land him in a draft because there'll always be at least a few others in the league that are still chasing his pre-MLB promise.
3. Jorge Cantu – Nagging side effects of high ankle sprain could lead to very slow first half; sharp decline in HR/FB percentage also worrisome
3. Andy LaRoche – He's had 840 at-bats in the show and what's come of it? A mediocre line of .230/.314/.352. Something should have flashed by now, I don't see it.
4. Edwin Encarnacion – I used to be on the other side of the fence, but he's 27 now and my patience has worn thin with the "this is the year" mantra.
4. Casey McGehee – Marginal prospect exceeded expectation with unforeseen rookie campaign, but Mat Gamel is right over his shoulder; just a useful MI in deeper mixed leagues
4. Ian Stewart – I understand the pro side but he's not without fleas; strikeouts and fly balls make me worry about the average, and the Rockies might jerk him in and out of the lineup.
5. Casey McGehee – I'd take him last among his tier (above) – '09 numbers don't mesh with his minor league track record and Mat Gamel casts a shadow if Casey regresses to his professional career mean.
5. Chase Headley – African witchdoctor should shrink the hype surrounding The Head; groundball hitter in a power black hole who strikes out too much – Pass.
5. Garrett Atkins – If Coors Field couldn't save him, what's the use? His numbers away from Colorado tell the story: .252/.324/.411.
Top 5 Third Basemen Prospects
1. Lonnie Chisenhall – The way CLE has started to re-shuffle its deck, they'll want to make Chisenhall part of this movement … and Chisenhall has the bat skills and makeup to move quickly.
1. Pedro Alvarez – Drew Pujols comparisons two years ago, 23-year-old is on cusp of mega-stardom. Too bad nobody in Pittsburgh cares; .288-27-95 between High/Double-A in '09
1. Lonnie Chisenhall – He needs defensive polish but in our numbers racket, no one cares. His development against lefties will determine the ETA.
2. Pedro Alvarez – Will be a hot corner power fixture for the Bucs as soon as he calms concerns about his ability to handle lefties and instills a bit more confidence defensively.
2. Brett Wallace – Built like Grimace, the human gumdrop is a professional hitter; .293-20-63 in Double/Triple-A last season.
2. Pedro Alvarez – By 2011, the Bucs lineup should be 100 percent LaRoche-free. They might have to hide his glove, perhaps at first base eventually.
3. Brett Wallace – Likely won't have a future at 3B, but his phat bat should ultimately play anywhere … and soon.
3. Lonnie Chisenhall – Tribe's '08 first rounder could carve quick path to majors after launching 22 homers a season ago.
3. Josh Vitters – Pop and contact not a problem, but still learning the strike zone, needs to boost walk rate.
4. Mat Gamel – Like former teammate LaPorta, his ultimate MLB landing spot may have to come somewhere besides Milwaukee, but his bat doesn't have much left to prove in the minors.
4. Mat Gamel – After insanely rich Double-A campaign two years ago, he's struggled to crack everyday lineup. Increase contact numbers and defense and he could sneak 15-20 HR.
4. Mat Gamel – Glove might always be a concern, and offensive reputation took a hit last summer. I'm not confident he'll beat out Casey McGehee to open 2010.
5. Allen Craig(notes) – Like Gamel and Wallace (above), he's probably not for long as a 3B, and he may need a change of venue to get a real shot, but his stellar minor league offensive numbers are begging for a chance.
5. Josh Bell – He'll push Garrett Atkins out of the way soon, perhaps by the end of the year. Might want to bag the switch-hitting; he struggles against southpaws.