There’s a reason I enjoy the art of fantasy baseball. At a time where some of the inner-linings of baseball are suboptimal, fantasy baseball allows us to focus on the positive aspects of the game. Rather than worrying about the amount of money a player is getting paid, for example, we worry about how many stolen bases he’ll have or where he’ll hit in the lineup. There’s much more celebration of the players’ skills, which really stands out for me.
At the end of the day, though, the end goal is to win the whole thing. There are many different ways to get there; what categories are you going to target early? Are you going for elite in certain categories or well-balanced all-around? There are so many different factors to consider when building the optimal team.
With that in mind, it’s time to analyze how players are going to produce from a fantasy perspective. Usually, to do this, we would rank players based on our intuition and confidence in each player. However, there’s another way to go about this. Personally, my mind works better when working with specific numbers, rather than just looking at one whole big picture.
What do I mean by this? Essentially, there might be less margin for error if we focus more on how a player is going to contribute to each main category, as opposed to what their overall value is there. To help with that, I have created my own projections to help list players in order of expected production. By no means is this an objective projection system, but that is sort of point. Being able to incorporate the context that goes into rankings allows the projection to take into account several important factors, but the overall rating is objectively created based on the value they provide in each category.
What is a Roto Score?
To come up with this, we will be looking at each player’s “roto score”. Essentially, I’ll be taking their 20-80 scale rating of their contributions of the five major hitting categories (average, home runs, RBIs, runs, stolen bases), average them out, and then adjust for position. For batting average, the grade is based on the number of at-bats the player will have. The better the batting average, the more at-bats you’ll want to have, while the reverse is true for someone with a poor batting average. Thus, we can accurately reflect on how much a hitter’s batting average truly is going to affect your fantasy team.
In simple terms, these are manual projections that combine a subjective touch with some needed objectiveness. Rather than predict their straight-up production in these categories, I projected how they would rate in peripheral categories to come up with the final result:
- Batting Average: Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP), Strikeout Rate, Balls in Play
- Home Runs: Fly Ball%, Home/Run Fly Ball Rate
- Stolen Bases: Success Rate, Overall Attempts
Projecting playing time, meanwhile, is the impossible task that we, as fantasy baseball managers, need to do. Personally, I took into account previous durability, current status with their team (lineup spot, team success), as well as Fangraphs’ roster resource playing time projections, to come with an accurate plate appearance number. Since we don’t know how many games are going to be played this year, this projection is under the assumption that there is going to be a 162-game season, even if that possibility is highly unlikely.
Without further ado, let us get to the projections! Today, we’ll be focusing on the third base position. Once upon a time, this was one of the strongest offensive positions in baseball. Now, it’s one of the thinnest positions. As a result, the top-three third basemen are moving up draft boards, but what happens if you miss out on one of them- things get more complicated from there.
Who stands out as a potential value, and who should you be targeting? Let us find out!
Stats via Fangraphs and Baseball Savant
2022 Fantasy Baseball Third Base Projections & Tiers
Generally, the debate for the first overall pick has been between Trea Turner and Fernando Tatis Jr. However, there is a third player that has started to gain steam in that argument recently.
That would be Jose Ramirez, who continues to separate himself as the cream of the crop at the third base position. With Francisco Lindor in New York, he doesn’t exactly have a lot of help around him in the Cleveland lineup, though that certainly didn’t get in the way of him producing at a high level in 2021.
In 636 plate appearances, Ramirez slugged 36 home runs, scored 111 runs, drove in 103 runs, and stole 27 bases. His .266 batting average may not stand out, but when you put it all together, he was the 7th-most valuable hitter last season, based on Fangraphs‘ 5×5 values, while he was the top third baseman by a noticeable margin.
For most of his career, Ramirez was someone who didn’t post great barrel rates but managed to have strong power production regardless. Why? His trajectory of contact. For his career, Ramirez has a 45.2% pull rate, in addition to a 30.9% under rate and just a 38.1% ground-ball rate. In other words, he’s hitting the ball often in the air, and manufacturing as much power from those batted balls by hitting them in the optimal location for power production- pulled fly balls generally have much more success than non-pulled fly balls. Marcus Semien is someone who adopted a similar approach, and upon researching others, Ramirez stood out as one of the top performers in the “Marcus Index”, a predictive measure for overachieving your expected power numbers.
Since 2020, though, Ramirez has added an extra layer to his power production- more barrels! In that span, he has posted a 10.8% barrel rate and .284 ISO, while he raised his pull rate even further to 54.7% in 2021. With this approach and the newly-found extra pop, 35 home runs should be the baseline expectations, which is quite powerful when you add in the 25+ stolen bases he’ll bring to the table. A poor lineup around him hasn’t gotten in the way of him producing in terms of runs and RBI, and it shouldn’t in 2022.
The only question with Ramirez is the batting average. His approach – a lot of pulled batted balls in the air – is going to lead to a low batting average on balls in play (BABIP), likely around .270. Yet, since he rarely strikes out (13.7% K in 2021), he’s still in line to post a .270 batting average, which is still an above-average mark. With the scarcity of the third base position, and substantial contributions in several categories, we certainly need to lock in Ramirez as a top-three player in 2022 fantasy drafts.
Ever since he came up to the major leagues as a 20-year-old in 2017, expectations have been sky high for Rafael Devers. This continued after a frustrating 2018 season where he was limited to a 90 wRC+, and couldn’t hold his everyday role. With a 132 wRC+ and .244 ISO in 2019, Devers seemed to reward those who maintained faith in him.
Unfortunately, Devers wasn’t able to build off that momentum in the shortened 2020 season. His strikeout rate ballooned to 27%, which lowered his batting average to .263. The power (.220 ISO) was fine, but the increase in whiffs concerned many. Based on NFBC Main Event average draft position (ADP), per rotoholic.com, Devers dropped 17 spots from 2020 to 2021, making him a fourth-round pick in 12-team leagues and a late third-round pick in 15-team leagues. As it turns out, that was an absolute steal.
Although he couldn’t lower his strikeout rate in 2021 back to where it was in 2019 (17%), Devers was able to lower it to 21.5%. Meanwhile, he dropped his chase rate to a career-low 32.3%, while he was able to be more aggressive (77.7% zone-swing). This improved plate discipline likely helped his quality of contact; he was able to post a career-best 15% barrel rate, which helped fuel him to a .259 ISO and 38 home runs.
Still just 25 years old, it’s clear Devers is now just entering his prime. A replication of his 2021 season is well within the realm of possibilities. Oh, and he also hits in the middle of the lineup for a very productive Red Sox offense, leading to over 100 runs and RBIs each. Would you be surprised if Devers led the league in home runs and/or RBI? I wouldn’t be. I’d be perfectly fine taking him at right at the first-round turn in either 12-team or 15-team leagues.
There’s a notable drop-off from the top three third basemen to the next. Thus, if Ramirez and Devers have already been drafted, Manny Machado should vault up to the top of your draft board. Once a very flashy hyped-up young player, he’s settled in very nicely into a consistently reliable producer. While his 122 wRC+ and .278/.347/.489 slash line don’t necessarily stand out, they certainly don’t tell the whole story.
See, based on his underlying metrics, Machado may have had a career year. His 13.3% barrel rate was the best of his career, while he hit the ball harder than ever. All of this led to him posting. a.323 expected BABIP, yet his overall BABIP of .290 was significantly lower than that. As someone with even sprays and not a clog on the bases, there doesn’t seem to be a great explanation for this other than poor luck.
Meanwhile, Machado’s .211 ISO isn’t exceptional, but it doesn’t align with the barrel rate. He hit four fewer home runs than expected last year, even when factoring in his home ballpark, yet his 14.6% home run/fly ball rate was the lowest it was since his first full season in 2013. Similar to his BABIP, there’s nothing really to explain that.
Machado may not be able to sustain all the improvements he made in 2021. However, considering how poor his luck was anyways, that more than gets offset. Plus, this is someone who has played in at least 153 games and had 640+ plate appearances in each of the past six full seasons. A batting average close to .280 with 100+ RBI, over 30 home runs and close to 10 stolen bases is certainly in play, with the potential upside for more. Considering how thin the position can get after this, he’s a tremendous target in the second round, regardless of league size.
As mentioned, there’s a noticeable drop-off after this. However, these four players can still be very productive contributors for your fantasy team, and should be targeted if you miss out on the top three- the position thins out tremendously after this.
There may not be a polarizing player in fantasy baseball this season than Adalberto Mondesi. On one hand, speed is very hard to come by, especially at third base, and he stole 43 bases in 2019. On the other hand, he has struck out in 30.6% of his 369 plate appearances since 2020, and isn’t a sure bet to help you in the other categories. Meanwhile, he’s never had more than 443 plate appearances in a season.
Mondesi only had 136 plate appearances in 2021, but I do think we got actionable information about him heading into this season. He swung 83% of the time on pitches in the zone, and his quality of contact (12.8% barrel) took a step up. We’ll see if he can carry that over to 2022, but he’s also going to provide you with over 40 stolen bases even when factoring in missed time due to injury. In points formats, he’s someone to avoid. In traditional roto leagues, however, he can certainly help you from a roster construction standpoint.
Once one of the top third base prospects, Austin Riley saw his stock fade after he was a replacement-level player between 2019 and 2020. Coming into 2021, he was being drafted well past pick #200 (226 NFBC Main Event ADP, per rotoholic.com). In hindsight, though, that was obviously too low. Riley posted a career-high 135 wRC+, with a .303/.367/.531 slash line and 107 RBI in the process- he finished as the third-best third baseman based on Fangraphs’ 5×5 dollar values.
When looking back on it, there were signs of Riley adjusting to MLB pitching in 2020. He drastically lowered his swinging-strike rate from 20.5% to 14.8%, while he lowered his chase rate (32.3%) five percentage points as well. The quality of contact numbers were down, but when you adjust it for per plate appearance as opposed to per batted ball event, he was heading in the right direction.
In 2021, Riley was able to make further improvements to his contact ability and plate discipline, while his batted ball quality got better. I don’t see him sustaining a .368 BABIP, though you could do much, much worse than. .270 batting average, over 30 home runs, and 100 RBI.
In a similar tier to Riley, in my opinion, would be Nolan Arenado, who is being drafted 20 picks later than Riley in NFBC drafts since February 1st. As you’d expect, his batting average (.255) cratered moving on from Colorado, while his power (.239 ISO) took a slight step back. That being said, the concern about his quality of contact/statcast page is being overblown.
Arenado’s 6.7% barrel rate would appear to be a red flag. However, he makes up for this with a 45.8% pull rate, in addition to a very low 31.3% ground-ball rate. As with Ramirez, he’s pulling the ball and hitting the ball in the air, allowing him to maximize his power.
With his approach and contact skills, I remain optimistic about Arenado’s ability to hit over 30 home runs with over 100 RBI. In a lot of ways, his profile seems to be very similar to Riley’s. The star might be have dimmed for him with his move to St.Louis, but he’s as reliable as it gets.
Assuming Alex Bregamn is healthy from his wrist injury, he should follow a similar path to Arenado in terms of manufacturing his power by pulling his fly balls, taking advantage of the short porch in Houston. He brings less power to the table than Riley and Arenado, as well as fewer expected runs and RBI, though there’s a chance my projections are too low for him if his setback in power was simply due to injury.
|Kris Bryant||FA||3B, OF||53.4||587||.265||.364||.473||24||83||70||6|
|DJ LeMahieu||NYY||1B, 2B, 3B||53.1||667||.286||.363||.408||13||92||66||4|
|Eduardo Escobar||NYM||2B, 3B||51.82||595||.256||.324||.475||28||72||85||1|
|Luis Urias||MIL||2B, SS, 3B||51.1||595||.251||.352||.442||23||78||73||4|
|Eugenio Suarez||CIN||3B, SS||50.49||608||.220||.322||.448||33||77||87||1|
|Ryan McMahon||COL||2B, SS||49.44||581||.247||.333||.424||21||71||76||5|
This tier really has it all, though I’d be much more comfortable if I already had my third baseman by this point.
Justin Turner and Josh Donaldson are each a pair of veterans where durability is a question mark, which could hurt their value in weekly leagues. Even if they aren’t hurt, they could get random days off in the middle week. I would recommend buying into the ADP dip based on their age and drafting both of them for another year of steady production, even if I can understand some of the pushback with them.
Of this group, the two most talented are certainly Kris Bryant and Anthony Rendon. As someone who gets the most of his power by keeping the ball in the air frequently rather than hitting the ball extremely hard, Bryant’s landing spot is going to be very pivotal for his evaluation. Unfortunately, we won’t get that for a while. As for Rendon, it’s very easy to attribute his struggles last year to a hip injury that limited him to 249 plate appearances. We’ll see if he’s at the start of a decline (now 31 years old), especially since his leap in power came during the gopher-ball 2019 season, though he’s a strong bounce-back candidate.
Eduardo Escobar is another player who gets the most of his power by pulling the ball and keeping it in the air. Although his strikeout rate spiked to 20.7% last season, it didn’t come with a raise in his swinging strike rate. Furthermore, although Citi Field isn’t a hitter’s park, it’s an upgrade from Arizona, while the NL East is a notable upgrade in terms of ballparks than the NL West. For example, here is how many home runs Escobar would have hit at each ballpark:
Escobar, now 33 years old, could fall off at any moment. That being said, he’s a pretty reliable source of some power combined with some RBI. In your middle infield spot, I consider him a steady bet to have at least one more season of strong production. My projection for him is in line with ZiPs, which pegs for 28 home runs and 86 RBI in 595 plate appearances.
You may be wondering why Ke’Bryan Hayes is so low on my projections. Simply put, while I’m a fan of his skill set, I question how much of a step forward he can take this season. He never posted higher than a .151 ISO in the minors, and has consistently struggled to generate lift on the ball- his power struggles aren’t simply due to injury. Meanwhile, his passive approach led to a 19.8% called-strike rate, which led to a higher strikeout rate (22% K) than you’d expect, hurting his batting average. There’s always the upside that he makes a swing change, though I wouldn’t want to bank on that.
|Gio Urshela||NYY||3B, SS||46.29||480||.274||.321||.449||17||57||63||2|
|Jonathan Villar||FA||3B, SS||46.2||450||.247||.325||.404||15||57||44||19|
|Luis Arraez||MIN||2B, 3B, OF||44.79||551||.295||.370||.380||4||66||51||3|
|Abraham Toro||SEA||2B, 3B||44.15||484||.253||.337||.427||16||58||56||6|
|Yandy Diaz||TB||1B, 3B||43.98||472||.272||.370||.426||13||59||56||1|
|Wilmer Flores||SF||1B, 2B, 3B||42.82||402||.269||.340||.462||17||61||53||1|
|Hunter Dozier||KC||3B, OF||41.11||496||.234||.313||.415||17||58||58||4|
|Joey Wendle||MIA||3B, SS||41.42||434||.259||.320||.394||9||52||42||10|
By this point, here’s hoping you don’t need any of these players to be their starters. However, some of them offer value on your bench. Jonathan Villar is always interesting based on the steals he provides if he lands on a team that will give him a lot of playing time. Jeimer Candelario will look to prove his line-drive rate from the past two seasons isn’t a fluke.
Usually, you wouldn’t think that a 36-year-old has much upside. However, that’s not the case with Evan Longoria. We’re well aware of the success several Giants hitters had, which coincides with them having as deep of a hitting coaching staff as it gets. That appears to have helped Longoria tremendously. His 13.4% barrel rate is the highest it’s been in the Statcast era, while his chase rate (18.6%) dropped significantly. Plus, prior to suffering a shoulder injury in a freak collision at the beginning of June, he had a .236 ISO and a 15.1% barrel rate. The universal designated hitter should help his playing time, and he’s someone to consider stashing on your bench to see if the improvements stick.
From there, we’ll see if either Cavan Biggio or Alec Bohm can bounce back after disappointing last season. Expectations were quite high for both of them, though each has very different issues to fix. For Biggio, his pull rate dropped significantly, while he posted just a 5.6% barrel rate. For someone who hits the ball as much in the air as he does, that’s concerning, and his current approach makes him a liability from a batting average perspective.
For Bohm, he needs to start to generate some lift on the baseball. His exit velocity numbers were are extremely strong, but his power (.095 ISO) was neutered by a 52.7% ground-ball rate. As of now, the Phillies are likely going to give him another chance at third base, though his subpar defense makes that more of a question mark. The strikeout rate (26.6% K) should drop, leading to a better batting average, but it’s unclear how much power he’ll give. That’s fine as an upside bench play, but not as someone who we would need to count on.
|Josh Harrison||FA||2B, 3B, OF||40.72||438||.266||.334||.420||7||47||45||8|
|Rougned Odor||BAL||2B, 3B||40.05||406||.213||.298||.436||20||53||59||2|
|Hae-Song Kim||SD||2B, 3B, SS||38.24||360||.236||.313||.395||11||44||43||8|
|Tyler Wade||LAA||3B, SS, OF||36.95||296||.230||.312||.336||4||39||22||21|
Is there any hope for a Carter Kieboom breakout? The 24-year-old should get everyday playing time at third base for a rebuilding Nationals team. That being said, his quality of contact (3.8% barrel) wasn’t impressive, while his contact skills (13.5% swinging-strike rate) aren’t great. His plate discipline could help him in OBP leagues, though there’s a reason he falls into the last tier for traditional 5×5 leagues.