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Fantasy Baseball: Overlooked, Statistically Elite Third Basemen
Elite hitters are great to own. On a weekly basis, you can count on them, regardless of the opponent or location. Lock them in your weekly lineup the second after you draft them and, barring injury, never worry about it. There’s only one problem: there aren’t that many elite bats to be had.
That being said, there are plenty of players that are elite in the right situation, and thus big-time Fantasy assets if used properly. For the purposes of limiting your search, let’s focus on the hot corner, a position where consistent production is difficult to find. With the exception of Josh Donaldson, take a look at the third basemen (players that actually play third base in MLB) that were drafted in the first 8-10 rounds of your draft and find me players that are producing the type of numbers you were counting on.
Streaming or platooning looking like a better idea now?
You all know about the season that the Rockies are having at home, but they aren’t the only players that benefit from a little home cooking.
Todd Frazier (3B, CIN): The powerful third baseman’s season numbers aren’t spectacular, but he has been nothing short of elite from a Fantasy perspective when playing in front of the home crowd. Over his first three seasons in Cincinnati, Frazier recorded a batting slash of .254/.321/.455 at The Great American Ball Park, but he currently sits at .312/.372/.662 this season and looks like a completely different hitter. It’s still early, but if you project his home numbers forward using his 531 at-bats from last season as a baseline (assume that 265 of those come at home), he will hit 24 homers and knock in 62 runs … at home. His best numbers for an entire season, home and away, are 19 homers and 73 RBI. His counting totals aren’t on pace to be all that different from years past, but if you can start Frazier only when he plays at home, you can expect Top 10 production at his position.
Juan Francisco (3B, TOR): Who? The corner infielder is on his fourth team in six seasons, but he seems to have found his niche in the middle third of the Blue Jays power laden offense. Sure, the sample may only be 50 at-bats large, but his .300/.364/.760 batting slash is pretty impressive for a player that has been rostered on as many Fantasy teams as you or I over the past few years. The soon to be 27-year-old trails only Edwin Encarnacion for the team’s lead in extra base hits at Rogers Centre and has more home runs at home this year than Miguel Cabrera. Obviously, I am not suggesting that he is going to continue to slug at a greater rate at home than the likes of Giancarlo Stanton or Jose Abreu, but Toronto boasts the most homer-friendly home ball park and Francisco has earned consistent playing time. He’s owned in roughly half of Fantasy leagues at the major sites, but he is giving you Top 10 numbers when playing at home, and that’s significant value at a position that has very few players living up to their preseason expectations.
Casey McGehee (3B, MIA): After playing the majority of his career in hitter-friendly Miller Park and missing all of last season, McGehee was avoided by most every Fantasy owner as he took his talents to South Beach and the Marlins pitcher’s paradise of a home ball park. It’s still a bit early, but the third baseman owns a home slash of .365/.440/.486 and has been just as good in May after a strong April. The crafty 31-year-old seems to have made a conscious change in his approach, as his line drive rate is way up while both his ground ball and fly ball rates are below his career averages. It’s possible that instead of swinging from his heels and trying to clear the bases at the spacious Marlins Park, McGehee is simply focusing on solid contact … and its working! Hitting behind the uncontainable Stanton doesn’t hurt, and with a slash like that to go along with the fact that he is a free agent in the majority of leagues, McGehee is a nice platoon Fantasy option.
Atlanta Braves pitching staff: Much has been made about the Braves and their lack of offensive production, but owners who have been tracking the success of their starting pitchers at home have found Fantasy gold. Excluding Mike Minor, who was injured to open the season, pitchers who have made at least one start for the Braves have a cumulative ERA of 1.72 at home and a WHIP of 1.00. For the sixth consecutive season, Turner Field is playing about as neutral as any ball park in the big leagues, but it seems that the Braves pitchers have tailored their pitching style to fit the dimensions of their home park.
While those players are off to nice starts at home, the same cannot be said for some highly ranked Fantasy sluggers. Below is a list of hitters struggling at home that play in a hitter friendly environment, two of which have a higher HR rate than the vaunted Coors Field this year, and figure to bounce back as the weather warms.
Jay Bruce (OF, CIN): He is currently on the shelf with a knee injury and likely won’t suit up until June at the earliest, but his struggles at home date back to last season. Usually, a trend like that would concern me, but the fact that Bruce’s is just 27 years of age, and already has finished four seasons with a home slugging percentage that was at least 149 points higher than his road total, allows me to sleep easy about his power potential moving forward. The Reds slugger is swinging at fewer bad pitches and making contact with the exact same percentage of pitches inside the strike zone as last year, a season in which he clubbed 30 homers and recorded a career-high 74 extra base hits. Is it possible that the ballooning walk rate is a result of Joey Votto rubbing off on Bruce? Sure. But with Cincinnati playing in one of the more favorable ballparks in the league, yet scoring the third fewest runs in all of baseball, I’m expecting we see the Bruce we’ve come to know and love when he returns to the lineup. One last note that should restore your confidence in your injured outfielder: The Great American Ball Park is on pace to finish a fourth consecutive season ranked in the Top 3 in terms of home run rate.
Brian McCann (C, NYY): The sweet-swinging catcher came into this season as a .277 career hitter, a number we all expected to rise as a result of Yankee Stadium’s tendency to be among the most favorable parks for power hitting lefties. While McCann has taken advantage of the short porch with five of his six bombs coming at home this season, his .208 batting average in front of the Yankee fans is a bit of an eyesore. His walk rate is less than half of his career average, likely the product of “forcing things” to impress the Yankee faithful. I’m encouraged that his line drive and fly ball percentages are both ahead of his career pace, making it only a matter of time before the Bronx Bombers see the player they shelled out $85 million for this offseason. The early summer months (May – July) have been McCann’s best over the past three years, and with four reasonably strong OBP players hitting in front of him, I expect McCann to up his average while maintaining the power at home.
The Entire Orioles offense: Baltimore only added power this offseason, yet their star players have experienced a Space Jam-like loss of talent when it comes to their power stroke at home. A slow start would be acceptable at an oversized ballpark, but Camden Yards is a fan box that has finished among the Top 5 most homer-friendly stadiums in six of the last seven seasons. How bad has it been? Despite the addition of a very productive player in Nelson Cruz (he has as many homers at home as the entire infield summed together), Camden Yards ranks 25th in home run rate, behind the likes of Petco and Marlins Park. Nothing, to my knowledge, has changed, and that is exactly why I’m targeting the O’s as a roster primed to explode. Chris Davis, J.J. Hardy, and Adam Jones are currently on an 873 at-bat pace for a shade fewer than 14 home runs at Camden Yards this season; that’s exactly a 400 percent dip from the 56 they hit last year in 873 AB’s. Nothing has changed, and we are looking at a 400 percent drop? It is hard to imagine that holding, especially when you consider that those three players average 29 years of age. Davis and Hardy appear to be as healthy now as they’ve been this season and Jones has shown some signs of life with a pair of bombs in the O’s last home stand.
Mike Trout’s first taste of the major leagues came in 2011, where he appeared in 40 games and recorded the following stat line: .220/.281/.390, with per game averages of 0.5 runs, 0.4 RBI, and an extra base hit every 11.2 at-bats.
George Springer’s first 30 games of his professional career: .237/.318/.364, with per game averages of 0.33 runs, 0.43 RBI, and an extra base hit every 14.8 at-bats
For those worried about Springer’s slow start in the bigs…relax. There is a significant learning curve that takes place, but the 24-year-old is getting valuable “on-the-job training”. He looks much more comfortable at the dish now than he did one month ago and the physical tools are there. He’s been abysmal with two strikes (batting .099), something I expect to improve as he sees more big league pitching and makes adjustments.
Speaking of Trout, he is experiencing his own problems this year. Through 44 games this season, he’s producing 1.02 runs (RBI + runs) per strikeout, down 32.9 percent from his rate over the past two years.
In a six day stretch, not one, not two (man, two LeBron James references in one baseball article?), but three different Athletics regulars (Brandon Moss, Josh Reddick, and Yoenis Cespedus) had five-RBI games. Oakland doesn’t get much respect for having an explosive offense, but they join Boston as the only two teams with 1,000-plus regular season runs scored since the beginning of last year.
David Price’s strikeout to walk ratio is 12.83; it was 3.06 entering this season. He’s striking out ten batters per nine innings through his ten starts. How good is that? We haven’t had a pitcher finish a season with a K:BB rate above 4.5 with at least one strikeout per inning since Johan Santana in 2006.
Travis Wood has five quality starts this season in which he has struck out at least one batter per inning. That’s the same number of such starts that Felix Hernandez and C.J. Wilson have combined for this season. Mark Buehrle has five such games since the beginning of last year (42 starts).
Corey Kluber has more strikeouts over his last three outings than Max Scherzer has this month. He also has fewer walks issued in those three starts combined than Scherzer has handed out in each of his last two starts. Those stats are even more impressive when you consider that Kluber has faced three offenses that rank in the in the top half of the league in scoring and the bottom half of the league in terms of strikeouts.
Did you know that three pitchers (Jeff Samardzjia, Mark Buehrle, and Wily Peralta) that rank among the Top 10 starters in ERA have given up more base runners in less innings pitched than Dallas Keuchel?
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