Last week, we reviewed the top third basemen of 2016. The best players at the position were of no surprise – Nolan Arenado, Kris Bryant, and Josh Donaldson. Most third basemen produced fantasy value through their power. Eight of the top 10 hit at least 30 home runs. The other two stole 62 and 40 bases with fewer than 20 home runs.
The hot corner offers fantasy owners a distinct choice. You can have power, you can have speed, or you can have Todd Frazier’s broken batting average. If you’re targeting fewer than 30 home runs at the position, you better be getting at least 20 stolen bases. And you’ll need to make up for the lost power at another position.
We already have a theme – power and speed. The breakouts at the position either homered or stole more than expected. With a small caveat*, nobody performed like the 2015 version of Manny Machado. Not even Machado.
*Nobody expected Jonathan Villar (19), Eduardo Nunez (16), or Hernan Perez (13) to homer as much as they did, but that can mostly be chalked up to volume. They out-homered expectations by only a small amount on a rate basis. Their stolen bases were much more unexpected.
The Power Corps
Everybody talks about a juiced ball fueling the 2016 home run surge. While I can’t entirely rule that out as a possibility, I think it’s obvious another force is at play. It’s mechanical intervention. And it’s reached a tipping point.
For several years, a few players per season have made one of two adjustments. Adding a leg kick increases bat exit speed. It’s magic. Starting the hands lower usually leads to a more optimum swing path for fly balls. There are cons to both changes. It’s harder to time breaking balls with the leg kick, and lower hands makes a hitter susceptible to high fastballs. Overall, the increase in home runs more than offsets an increase in whiff rate.
Jake Lamb made both adjustments. He was banged up for most of the latter half of the season, and it showed. Prior to injury, he had a shot at a 40 home run season. He ended with 29 blasts, 81 runs and 91 RBI. Lamb was free in most leagues.
Most of the guys we’d expect to hit for power have already made these adjustments. For example, FanGraphs readers should already know that Ryon Healy added a leg kick. Donaldson has one of the most aggressive leg kicks in the game. Even Nick Castellanos is using a leg kick.
Speaking of Castellanos, he starts his hands very high. It strikes me that he could find more consistency by lowering them. Anthony Rendon starts with low hands, but he’s super quiet with his bottom half. This isn’t just a two-strike thing either. Given his high contact rates, he’s a poster child for adding the kick.
Unfortunately, we can’t do much with this over the offseason. There’s no point talking about who could make these mechanical adjustments until they actually make them. We’re playing a game of wait-and-see. Hopefully, we’ll have enough time to assess during Spring Training before our drafts.
The Flash and Friends
The alternate title for this piece is “Another Article About Jonathan Villar.” Stealing 62 bases is hugely valuable, especially when the other categories aren’t zeroes either (looking at you Billy Hamilton). We’re not going to find another five category, 60 steal season in the bargain bin – at least not a third base. I couldn’t even find a 20 steal target.
Jose Reyes isn’t really a breakout candidate. However, it’s possible he’ll be a semi-forgotten man. He was on a 25-25 homer and stolen base pace. Yesterday, Jeff Zimmerman identified Reyes as benefiting from a change in approach. Perhaps he put his time on the sidelines to good use. I have serious doubts he can stay healthy for a full season. I’ll still take a shot at a 25-25 pace for a couple dollars or a late-round pick.
A couple minor league veterans – Andrew Romine and Chase d’Arnaud – are the best candidates to fill the shoes of Nunez and Perez. If their bats improve enough to play regularly, they’ll get to 20 steals. Nunez and Perez both started with a higher offensive baseline. In other words, I would not hold out hope.
As with any position, new players are always a potential source of breakouts. Since 32-year-old Yulieski Gurriel and 29-year-old free agent Jae-gyun Hwang qualify as new, we’ll include them here. Gurriel did a great job avoiding strikeouts in his major league debut. Now he just needs to find some hard contact. Hwang might perform something like Dae-ho Lee.
Third base has a relatively modest youth infusion compared with other spots on the diamond. Miguel Sano may finally tap into his 40 home run potential after fizzling in 2016. I view Sano as the Chris Davis of third base. Remember how long it took Davis to establish himself.
Alex Bregman is the top prize, but nobody is sleeping on him. Healy and Maikel Franco are the best bets for 30 home runs late in the draft. Franco popped 25 home runs in what was widely panned as a disappointing season. Even a merely adequate campaign could cross the 30 home run plateau.
Jeimer Candelario is blocked in Chicago. He’s an on base machine. His 14 plate appearance major league debut was marred by a high strikeout rate, but he’s never struck out more than 19 percent in the minors.
Last but not least, keep an eye out for Yoan Moncada, Nick Senzel, Matt Chapman, Joey Gallo, and Hunter Dozier. They’re all within range of a big league call up. The Tigers are considering JaCoby Jones for their center field job, and he may come with third base eligibility. A sky high strikeout rate limits his value.
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