Fantasy Baseball State of the Union: Third Base
Welcome to the fourth installment of our Fantasy Baseball State of the Union. I’ve been looking back to see if this “new” version of the game we love had any meaningful impact in fantasy. Of course, some of the stuff you can already imagine, like the increase in stolen bases and the higher batting average without the shift, but what does that mean for each position? Did it create more value in certain spots? How does that impact our 2024 draft strategy? These are the questions I’m looking to answer in this State of the Fantasy Baseball Union series.
You can look at my examination of first base here and also check out my breakdown of second base here and shortstop here. Today, we are going to turn our attention to third base. I sorted by players who accumulated 200 plate appearances both this season and in 2022 and looked to see if there was any meaningful change in the standard 5x5 offensive categories (batting average, home runs, runs, RBI, and steals). Then I tried to dive into WHAT that change was, WHY it may have happened, and HOW likely it is that we see it again.
Right off the bat, we get a good start at third base. This was the second biggest improvement among any position with only outfield seeing more of a jump in hitters with over a .240 batting average. Since we came into 2023 thinking that third base was one of the shallowest positions, this isn’t a bad start for the position proving it has more value than anticipated.
Perhaps most importantly, the vast majority of the hitters you’re looking to draft at third base are the ones who provided value here. When we covered the shortstops we saw that, of the hitters who hit .240, a good portion were guys like Garrett Hampson, Amed Rosario, Kevin Newman, Elvis Andrus, and, Kyle Farmer, players who may have been shuffled on off and of teams during stretches where they were playing a lot, but you weren’t happy about having to roster them for long periods. Meanwhile, at third base, hitters who provided a solid batting average were guys like Jose Ramirez, Royce Lewis, Austin Riley, Nolan Arenado, Rafael Devers, Josh Jung, Alex Bregman, Alec Bohm, Ke’Bryan Hayes, Manny Machado, and Gunnar Henderson, many players who helped you enough in other places that they were clear draft targets.
What that tells me is that there are multiple paths to get batting average help or stability from your third base spot. Since not many third basemen provide speed (as we’ll see later), if you were to get speed at other positions, you can have a draft strategy that uses third base to provide a solid batting average floor.
Now we get to category where we saw essentially no improvement from 2022 with only one more third baseman hitting 20 home runs than last year. However, of those 16 players, six of them hit 30 home runs or more, which is a solid total considering we saw only four first baseman do that and, generally speaking, we expect first base to be the primary power position.
Those six hitters were Austin Riley, Max Muncy, Jake Burger, Rafael Devers, Isaac Paredes, and Manny Machado. We also had Gunnar Henderson fall just shy at 28 home runs. So immediately, we’ve seen Riley, Devers, Machado, and Henderson come up in our first two categories.
Of the players who hit 20 or more home runs, we saw a good number of them do so in both 2022 and 2023: Riley, Ramirez, Arenado, Muncy, Machado, Devers, Eugenio Suarez, Bregman, Ryan McMahon, Paredes, and Patrick Wisdom. It also seems likely that rookies Gunnar Henderson and Josh Jung will be regular 20 home run hitter, which makes at least 13 hitters who seem to have consistent 20 home run power at the position.
As a result, it seems like there’s no reason not to be able to get some home run value from the position. You can certainly make a big swing on a 30-homer bat here, but getting at least 20 home runs out of your starting third baseman should feel like a given.
Another category where third basemen didn’t produce much more fantasy value in 2023 than they did in 2023. You’ll also see a lot of the same names here: Muncy, Devers, Arenado, Machado, Henderson, Bregman, Riley, Bohm, Paredes, Suarez, McMahon, and Jung.
Nine of those guys drove in at least 90 runs, while 11 first basemen accomplished that feat. It’s another way in which third base is becoming close to first base in terms of power production. The position may also not be as shallow as we thought, at least in 12 team leagues, where it seems easier to get a player who can help in a majority of offensive categories.
While this doesn’t seem like a lot of players with 70 runs or more, it’s actually tied with both shortstop and second base and just two behind first base, so it’s pretty much right around the value of all the other positions.
As you can imagine, it’s more of the same names in the leaderboard here: Riley, Bregman, Henderson, Muncy, Devers, Ramirez, McMahon, Machado, Bohm, Jung, Arenado, and Paredes. We’re beginning to see our crop of top third base targets emerge.
Eugenio Suarez and Ke’Bryan Hayes just missed the cut-off while Jake Burger scored 71 runs and has qualified in the other categories aside from batting average and steals. When you also factor in rookies who just fell short in limited at-bats, like Royce Lewis, Elly De La Cruz and perhaps even Maikel Garcia, that means we could see 17-18 players or more push over 70 runs at the third base position next season, which makes it a strong position for at least four offensive categories.
When you think of third basemen, you don’t usually think of steals and there certainly seems to be a reason behind that. The red in the image above means that third base had the fewest amount of players with 15 or more steals (excluding catcher).
The only players who managed to steal 15 bases were: Elly De La Cruz, Jose Ramirez, Maikel Garcia, Taylor Walls, Jon Berti, Zach McKinstry, and Jace Peterson. The vast majority of those are players we haven’t discussed at all, meaning that third base is a really hard place to find a true five category player.
In reality, the only players who truly fit as current or potential five-category stars at third base at Jose Ramirez and Elly De La Cruz. If we lowered the stolen base total to 10, you also get Ke’Bryan Hayes, Gunnar Henderson, and, likely, Royce Lewis in a full season, which means the list of true five category third baseman is potentially four deep with Henderson and Lewis added to Ramirez and De La Cruz. That is, if De La Cruz can iron out the potential batting average issues.
That’s it. Which is a long-winded way of saying that, aside from those four players, you really shouldn’t be counting on third base to help you with steals.
TAKEAWAYS AND RANKINGS
So, to simplify, we really only have four players who are five-category guys at third base; however, I don’t believe that makes this position shallow. Some of the hitters who are not true five-category players are still tremendously valuable in four categories like Riley, Devers, Machado, Arenado, Bregman, and, most likely, Jung. There are also a handful of players who have elite value in three categories who might not crush you in batting average or runs, like Burger, Muncy, Paredes, McMahon, and Suarez.
Then you have a handful of guys who are either solid, but not elite, in three or four categories or potential bounceback players, like Alec Bohm, Jeimer Candelario, Matt Chapman, and Ke’Bryan Hayes, who I truly believe showcased a new level of skill in the second half of the year when he hit .299/.335/.539 with 10 home runs, 31 runs scored, 29 RBI, and one steal in 49 games. If he can provide a line like that and get his typical 10+ steals, you’re looking at a really solid third base option.
As a result, I think this group has a clear, and small, top tier but some intriguing young players with upside and a lot of options that I’d be fine using in my CI spot as well, which means we shouldn’t denigrate the third base position the way we used to.
As of now, below is my top-15 third basemen for 2024. Obviously a lot can change before the season kicks off, but this is where we’re at as of now.
Make sure to check back over the next couple of weeks as I go through the final two positions.