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Deeper Draft Sleepers - Third Base

Entering the 2020 MLB season, third base is arguably the deepest fantasy position on the diamond. 16 of the top 100 players are 3B-eligible, according to NFBC ADP. Compare that to a normally deep hitting position like first base, where just 11 guys make the cut.

What that early depth does, specifically for standard leagues, is interesting. A lot of 3B-eligible players end up getting taken to fill other spots in the lineup. If 16 of the top 100 players play 3B, and your league has fewer than 16 teams playing, every single owner is likely to get a really good hitter to play 3B, and there will still be stars left over.

As such, players like Alex Bregman and Manny Machado are instead likely to be drafted to play SS. DJ LeMahieu and Max Muncy can be slotted in at 1B or 2B. Kris Bryant and Jeff McNeil can play OF. That flexibility vacuums up a lot of the depth at the position. However, in deeper leagues, we see a whole different scenario. Obviously, all of the top-100 players are going to be drafted, but when the top 500 players are all taken, the 3B advantage disappears entirely.

Be sure to check all of our fantasy baseball lineup tools and weekly lineup resources:

 

Deep-League Situation

There are many ways to define a deep league. For non-dynasty leagues, 20-team contests are normally the deepest anyone goes. In a 20-team league, with roughly 25 players per roster, owners will see 500 players come off the board.

Going that deep down, one major thing happens: All position scarcity or abundance completely evens out (outside of catcher, which will never, for lack of a better word, catch up to the other lineup spots). There is no such thing as a deep position when more than one player per position per real-life team is being taken.

We can see by the ADP that the 3B advantage eventually disappears. Though it has the edge when looking at the top 100 players, when searching through 500 draftable players, around 40 hitters get taken at each infield spot regardless.

The aforementioned position flexibility is helpful for roster construction and day-to-day lineup usage once the year begins, but we no longer have to worry about that flexibility scooping up extra third basemen specifically.

 

What is a Deep Sleeper?

This is open to interpretation. Some people might argue that a deep sleeper is someone that would be acquired at the very end of a standard draft; I don't think that goes far enough.

For purposes of this article, a deep sleeper is anyone who is likely to go completely undrafted in standard leagues but would be incredibly useful in larger leagues. Numerically, we're going with anyone outside the top 300 players.

 

Bouncing Back - Travis Shaw

Last year, Travis Shaw (ADP: 348) was bad. The two previous years, he was good. What changed? Simply, he struck out 33 percent of the time in 2019, up from 18.3 percent in '18.

He made much better contact in 2018 as well, though his batted-ball profile from last season is pretty close to what it was in his successful '17 campaign. He even kept up his great walk rate last year through the struggles; it was really all about the swing and miss.

Digging a little deeper, there are some positive signs that Shaw's 2019 may have been an aberration. Looking at the data, there wasn't really anything wrong with his batting eye; it was simply failed execution. Besides his 13.3 walk rate, Shaw's '19 zone swing percentage and chase percentage were either roughly equal to or better than his figures from the previous two seasons.

In other words, he swung at balls inside and outside of the zone at roughly the same rates as the previous years.

His contact percentages on those swings was obviously lacking, which could easily be blamed by a failed swing change. He wasn't connecting, but he was swinging at the correct pitches, and when he did make contact, the ball was traveling as well as it did previously.

There is no reason to believe that someone who is maintaining a similar batting eye and batted-ball profile would suddenly lose the ability to make initial contact, especially if he is able to find his old swing style again. It is much more likely that 2019 was a random bad year, and Shaw will return to form.

 

Old Reliable - Seager, Frazier

After a very poor 2018, Kyle Seager (ADP: 342) missed a lot of time in '19. But once he got back on the field, he was pretty darn good, to the tune of a 112 OPS+ in 106 games.

More specifically, once he got his bearings upon returning from hand surgery, Seager slugged .524 in the season's second half. His '19 OPS+ made it seven of the past eight seasons where he was at least eight percent better than average at the plate and eight straight where he collected at least 20 home runs.

Todd Frazier (ADP: 548) has been equally as steady, albeit with lower ceilings than Seager has produced in the past. Frazier had his own down 2018 but has been at least six percent better than league average in five of the past six years.

Last year was a bit of a second wind for the 34-year-old, in which he put up easily his best line-drive rate and hard-hit percentage of any of his past four seasons, while lowering his strikeout rate to the lowest it's been since 2015.

 

Solid If Unspectacular

There are worse places to turn in deep leagues than Colin Moran (ADP: 595). Moran doesn't offer any speed or much power, but he should play nearly every day (perhaps sitting against lefties) while offering a quality slash line, which is valuable in larger leagues.

Often in deep leagues, owners seek out a player to help in one category and turn to everyday players who could collect a smattering of steals or a barrage of home runs but crater your rate stats -- Moran is the more forgotten side of that coin. Yet, his .751 OPS in 503 plate appearances is useful.

 

Conclusion

All of the top 30 or so third basemen are going to be drafted in deep leagues regardless of where their owner slots them into the lineup. That next tier is where some targets start to develop. There can be narrow discrepancies between very late players that are going 25, or even 100, spots apart in drafts.

Finding the proper sleepers in this scenario is as important as picks made far earlier because missing on these guys can be the difference between an everyday player and someone not even worth rostering at all.

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