Third Base Stock Watch: April 27th, 2016 by Randy Holt April 27, 2016 As we approach the end of the first month of the 2016 Major League season, there’s obviously plenty to dissect. From a third base perspective, we’ll unpack a lot of that when we get to the first set of real, actual, less-leaning-upon-conjecture rankings in the coming days. But nothing says we can’t look at some things just a touch early. For the most part, the top guys have been the top guys. If there was a “Stock Right Where It Was Expected to Be” category, these guys would fit the bill. Manny Machado leads the category, while Nolan Arenado and Josh Donaldson aren’t too far behind. Kris Bryant is right in the mix as well, keeping all of the top tier players from those initial rankings in that upper tier, just perhaps with some reordering. Beyond that top tier, though, there’s certainly going to be some shakeup. Some guys have emerged, some guys have fallen off the map almost completely, and some guys are just there. Looking at some of these stocks will give us a better idea of what the next set of rankings could look like. (Small disclaimer: this is meant to be more of a snapshot than anything, as an in-depth look would be an overwhelming read. Nonetheless, we’ll definitely profile each of these guys individually as the season wears on, and they continue to trend one way or another.) Stock Up – Adrian Beltre, Mike Moustakas, Travis Shaw As arbitrary as the tiers may have been in those initial rankings, it’s definitely worth noting that two guys who made their way into the bottom of their respective tiers were Adrian Beltre and Mike Moustakas. Beltre was in the second tier, while Moustakas was in the third. Both came into the season with questions, but they’ve largely succeeded early on. Beltre’s questions were primarily related to his age. He had a miserable first half of 2015, but rebounded quite nicely in the second half, with a .318 average, .376 on-base percentage, and a wRC+ of 136. Which is why he was able to find himself in that particular spot on the rankings, though with an obvious “Hey, this guy is old, so just be aware of that” label. Beltre has actually run into some bad luck this season, with a .292 BABIP, but is still managing to reach base at a .345 clip and has posted a 127 wRC+ to date. His contact rate (87.3%) is the highest of his career, while his 6.0% swinging strike rate is the lowest. When you toss in that 38.7% hard hit rate, and that has to bode seriously well for Beltre moving forward, in several different statistical respects. Moustakas has managed to post very respectable numbers with a paltry .217 BABIP. Something has to give for him, though, because he’s doing everything else right. His approach has been top notch, as he’s swinging at only 42% of pitches, the lowest mark of his career, with a 4.6% swinging strike rate, also the lowest of his career. He’s making contact at an 88.9% rate, while 43.3% of that is hard contact. He’s pulling the ball a bit more than last year, but is still largely getting it opposite field at almost the same rate as last season, a major factor in his success. Even with a low BABIP, he’s still posting an off-the-charts .347 ISO thanks to seven home runs and five doubles. If that average can balance itself out, and Moustakas can maintain a semblance of the early power, he’s going to be a coveted option in the third base game. Shaw found himself with a grip on the starting third base gig for the Boston Red Sox, thanks to a disastrous period of time from Pablo Sandoval. And it’s impossible to say that they made the wrong decision in rolling with the 26-year-old. He’s benefited from a .412 BABIP, but it’s hard not to be happy about a .324 average and .392 OBP. That BABIP and a 22.9% strikeout rate could certainly indicate a regression on the horizon, but living in the moment leaves one quite happy with the work that Shaw has turned in thus far. Stock Down – Matt Duffy, Kyle Seager, Anthony Rendon I was pretty high on Duffy coming into the season, and I’ve written about the type of player that he could become as the season wears on. However, we haven’t quite seen that player develop here in the early-going. His walk and strikeout rate are almost identical to what he posted last year, but he doesn’t have the luck through his BABIP (.261) to maintain any semblance of on-base skills. It’s the slightest increase, but he’s swinging at a touch more pitches out of the zone, and swinging & missing at more pitches as a result. He’s hitting more flyballs (29.6%) and significantly less groundballs (42.6% – down about 10 percent) than he did in 2015. None of these are exactly working in his favor, so he has work to do to dig himself out of this early hole. Kyle Seager has just run into some awful luck to start the year. His BABIP on the year is at .105. That’s not a typo. He’s walking at a decent enough rate, and isn’t striking out in any significant way, but his ability to find any sort of green when he makes contact is holding him to a .133 average and .217 OBP. He’s making decent contact, but hitting more balls on the ground, which isn’t working well in his favor. It’s tough to nail down exactly what is plaguing Seager (and that may be some research for another day), but Brooks has him seeing, and subsequently swinging & missing, at more breaking pitches this year. His overall contact rate is down, and we could certainly look at something like that as at least one reason why. Not a good look for someone who we had right in the middle of that second tier to start the season. Anthony Rendon may not be struggling to the degree that the other two on here are, but he appears to have been sapped of his power to this point. Rendon is fighting off a .051 ISO to this point, with only four doubles to his name throughout the month of April. He’s swinging at more overall pitches, both inside and out of the zone, and has the highest soft contact rate, at about 17 percent, of his career. Dealing with more curveballs and changeups isn’t helping, as the percentages for both are at the highest he’s faced in his career to date. Unlike the other two, his OBP is at least over the .300 mark, but that complete and total lack of power makes him an equally unattractive option at this point. Now that we finally have some substance with third base as a position, the rankings are very likely to change, perhaps somewhat significantly. As we prepare the third base rankings heading into the month of May, expect quite the shakeup across the position, and it’ll likely begin with each of these six gentlemen, for better or for worse.