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All-Star Break Overrated/Underrated: Third Basemen

This column has (generally) been published on a weekly basis since the season started, yet it hasn't covered third basemen. It's mostly because the third base position runs so deep and has provided so much value that it's hard to say anyone could be considered overrated and deserves lower rates of ownership.

A quick glance, though, reveals a couple of names that are criminally underrated, even if the rest of the field appears incredibly strong. Other players don't have to be overrated for other guys to be underrated. Most leagues use at least one corner infield and utility slot apiece, so there's no problem rostering three third basemen and maximizing the number of juggernauts your team can accommodate.

Editor's Note: RotoBaller has the best Premium MLB Subscription for only $1.99 per week. We have all the tools to help win your seasonal and daily leagues: Hitter & Pitcher Streamers, Matchup Ratings for every player, Sleeper Surgers for AVG, HR, Ks, PLUS Daily DFS Cheat Sheets, Lineup Picks, Expert Lineups, Stacks and Avoids.

Week 1 (OF/SP) | Week 2 (OF/SP) | Week 3 (SS) | Week 4 (1B) | Week 6 (SP) | Week 7 (2B) | Week 8 (SP) | Week 9 (C) | Week 12 (OF) | Week 14 (SP)

 

Underrated Third Basemen

Jake Lamb, Arizona Diamondbacks
49% owned, via FleaFlicker

It may seem like Lamb came out of nowhere. With six home runs through 390 plate appearances last season, he seemed like an anemic play at a deep position. A close look at his batted ball profile, however, revealed a 36.3% hard-hit rate (Hard%) -- the kind of frequent hard contact that leads to home runs more than twice as often as he hit them in 2015. Those six homers probably should have been closer to a dozen and change; extrapolate that to a full season, and Lamb's flirting with 20-homer power.

Flash forward to this year, and Lamb has 20 home runs before the All-Star Break. That would have been hard to anticipate no matter what. If Lamb could hang is hat on anything as a (pseudo) prospect, it was his power, but it wasn't anything particularly menacing, either. At this point, if you own Lamb, simply thank your lucky stars for his lottery ticket panning out so nicely.

It's important to note that the power isn't a fluke, either. Mark Simon of ESPN noted a mechanical adjustment that helped Lamb tap into his plus raw power. Granted, maybe he's a little ahead of pace -- a 28.6% HR/FB rate is hard for even the most prodigious sluggers to sustain. But he pulls the ball a ton and, per Statcast data, frequently finds the sweet spot between batted ball angle and exit velocity.

One could call Lamb a sell-high candidate, but FleaFlicker indicates he's owned in only 49% of leagues. Mind-blowing, frankly. It harkens back to the introduction of this post: third base just runs so deep that 20 home runs isn't that impressive. (To attest: 11 other third basemen have hit at least 17 home runs.) Regardless, he's worth owning -- maybe you can't replace another third baseman with him (although Adrian Beltre would be a decent option), but surely some creative rearranging of your roster can accommodate him

Eduardo Nunez, Minnesota Twins
47% owned, via FleaFlicker

Rotoballer's Pierre Camus discussed Nunez at length last week, so it's not worth spending too many more words on him here. A couple of concerns about Nunez, however:

1) His low line drive rate (LD%) and high infield fly ball rate (IFFB%) do not bode well for his high batting average on balls in play (BABIP). While he's fast, he doesn't possess elite speed, making the odds of his batting average falling below .300 (or even .280) fairly high in the second half.

2) His all-fields approach, generally lackluster hard-hit rate and below-average ground ball rate (GB%) do not bode well for his elevated 12.6% HR/FB rate, either. Maybe it dips a few ticks. A mere half-dozen home runs through the end of the season could be a reasonable expectation.

With that said, neither of those points cut into Nunez's value a whole lot. He's practically worth his weight in gold from just his speed alone; the power and batting average are gravy. Nunez could always run -- he stole 22 bases in a mere 338 plate appearances in 2011, although that feels like a lifetime ago -- but hitting for average or power was never his strong suit.

Don't over-invest in a keeper or dynasty league; it's hard to believe in the one-year power spike. There might only be six or eight home runs in the horizon for 2017. But a .270 average and another 25 or 30 stolen bases is plenty valuable, even at third base.

More importantly, though: Nunez is eligible at shortstop. This is a post about third basemen, but if you're truly optimizing your lineup, you'll be deploying him at shortstop (with Lamb at third, in a perfect world!).

Jonathan Villar, Milwaukee Brewers
44% owned, via FleaFlicker

(I'm becoming skeptical of FleaFlicker's ownership rates at this point. It's hard to believe that Nunez or Villar, having been among fantasy baseball's best assets this year, are less than 50% owned. The Dude abides, however, so here's an obligatory comment on Villar.)

Villar, like Nunez, is shortstop-eligible and should be deployed as such. He's faster, and has the track record to prove it. He might have more power, too, but that's something the outcomes can't yet validate. An aside: I wrote at length about Villar's incremental progress over the years at FanGraphs. So, like Villar, I'll spare you the bloody details. Just know that if Villar is still available in your league, you should add him (and Nunez, and Lamb, too). Like, NOW.

Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians
32% owned, via FleaFlicker

Like Nunez and Villar before him, Ramirez generates far more relative value when deployed as a second baseman or shortstop. Not to make this about me again, but I also wrote about Ramirez being a legitimate mixed-league shortstop option at FanGraphs, too -- it goes into far greater detail than this blurb will.

The primary concern with Ramirez now is the inevitability of Michael Brantley's return. Ramirez spends a lot of time in left field, Brantley's primary position, and Rajai Davis, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Tyler Naquin have proven themselves collectively valuable to the Cleveland Indians at a time when they've been cruising. Ramirez's home positions up the middle are manned by the equally valuable Jason Kipnis and, oh yeah, the entirely indispensible Francisco Lindor.

That leaves the lackluster Juan Uribe as the odd man out, offensively speaking. He's not a steep financial obligation for the Indians, but he is a "clubhouse presence" (or something like that). Ramirez deserves to usurp the third base role outright, but it may not happen that way. Alas, Ramirez's playing time could be dampened considerably after the All-Star Break.

There's a chance, though, that Ramirez winds up in a super utility role, spelling Brantley, Lindor, Kipnis, Davis, Chisenhall, Naquin, everyone throughout the week, leading to maybe 20-25 plate appearances a week. Missing out on full-time playing time hurts, but it's better than nothing, and it'll work in deep leagues.

Just know that Ramirez has the upside of a top-10 shortstop (which makes him more of a top-20 or top-25 third baseman) if the Indians make the smart move with him. Keep an eye on him.

Ramirez makes a good replacement for: Howie Kendrick (42% owned), Trevor Plouffe (41% owned), Travis Shaw (32% owned)

 

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