Sunday, March 1, 2009

NL East Preview Week 4: 3rd Base

The hot corner, often reserved for fielders with quick reactions and a strong arm, has produced tremendous offensive third basemen over the years as well. The NL East is no exception, with an abundance of premiere third basemen.

The Mets have the best third baseman, not on steroids, in the game. David Wright is an outstanding third baseman, with a tremendous bat. While he is criticized for not coming through in the clutch, Wright still manages to deliver some game winning hits and puts up outstanding numbers every year. Hitting .302 in 2008, he hit a career high 33 home runs and knocked in 124. He can also steal a base when he needs to, which is typically a rarity for third basemen. After swiping 34 bags in 2007, his total dropped to 15 in 2008. He has only been caught stealing five times, each of the last three seasons. Wright could stand to improve upon his overall fielding percentage, but should still be considered a strong defensive player. He makes an inordinate amount of spectacular stops at third throughout the year, but seems to lack focus at times and botch plays he should make easily. When all is said and done, Wright is as good as they come. Fernando Tatis is listed as the backup, which should scare Mets fans. No one knows if his offensive resurgence from 2008 will continue, and while he has experience at third base in the past, it is unlikely he could fit in anywhere but the outfield at this point in his career.

Larry ‘Chipper’ Jones has been one of the best in the business for more than a decade, and continues to produce at a premium level for the Braves when healthy. Health is his biggest concern, but he has managed at least 400 at bats the last three years. Jones led the league in batting in 2008 with a .364 average, the best of his career. He hit 22 home runs and 75 RBI, his lowest totals in each category since 2005. His career .958 fielding percentage is impressive, he puts the ball in play and hits to all fields, and has a knack for key hits and driving in runs. Jones will continue to torment National League hitting in 2009 if he stays healthy. Martin Prado is once again listed as backup, and while he is solid, he can’t play three positions at once. If Atlanta needs Prado to step in at one position they will be in good shape, but may be in trouble if the injury bug hits them; there is not a whole lot of depth behind their starters.

Washington’s Ryan Zimmerman is the most difficult third base occupants to judge in the division. With all the potential in the world, Zimmerman has been maddeningly inconsistent. After bursting upon the scene in 2006 with a .287 average, 20 home runs and 110 driven in, and a solid .965 fielding percentage; his average dropped to .266 in 07 with a few more home runs but 19 fewer RBI, despite 39 more at bats. Zimmerman raised his average to .283 in 2008, but hit just 14 home runs and drove in only 51, but improved upon his fielding percentage, spiking it up to .967. Zimmerman is a solid third baseman and can certainly hit the ball, and whether or not he continues his inconsistency or develops into the star player he should be, will determine where he should be ranked. The Nationals are not deep behind Zimmerman, with Alberto Gonzalez and Kory Casto listed as back-ups. Gonzalez has just 115 career at bats with a .235 average and one career home run. He is a solid defensive player that can play multiple positions. Casto has a .194 career average in 217 at bats with two home runs. Washington absolutely needs Zimmerman to stay healthy, and develop into the consistent contributor he has all the talent and potential to become.

Florida places forth with the combination of Jorge Cantu and Dallas McPherson. Both players were left for dead and picked up off the scrapheap by Florida just one season ago, but they resurrected their careers in 2008. Cantu hit .277 with 29 home runs and 95 RBI, but maintained a putrid .937 fielding percentage as a third baseman. Cantu spent some time at first base, and fared better, with a .993 percentage. Cantu set a career high in home runs, and pounded the ball on a regular basis. Florida is hoping this is not a fluke, as Cantu had a great offensive year for Tampa Bay in 2005, but struggled until going to Florida last season. If Cantu hits the ball like he did and continues to play third base, the Marlins will have a tremendous middle of the order bat, and a well below average third baseman. McPherson spent most of 2008 in Triple-A, hitting .275 with 42 home runs and 98 runs batted in. He struggled defensively also, but not as badly as Cantu. McPherson could also be a serious power threat in Florida’s loaded lineup, but neither player uses the leather well.

The Phillies finish last, but deceptively so. Pedro Feliz is the best defensive player of the five, and had an off-year in his first season with the Phils. Prior to joining Philadelphia, Feliz had hit either 20 or 22 home runs for the Giants each of the last four seasons, playing in the huge ballpark in San Francisco. In 2008, Feliz hit just 14 home runs and knocked in only 58. His 425 at bats is the lowest total since 2003, and his .249 batting average was consistent with prior seasons. Feliz has a career .971 fielding percentage, and can really pick it at third. He is a tremendous defensive third baseman, and if healthy in 2009, should regain his power stroke a bit and hit around 20 home runs. Greg Dobbs is a great back-up to have. He puts the ball in play, hits for power at times, and is about an average defensive third baseman. Dobbs will continue to start games occasionally against right handed pitchers, and contribute in several ways on a consistent basis. The Phillies do place last at this position, but not for lack of talent of depth.

1 comment:

  1. Gonna have to say "ouch" to the call-out on ARod. Like him or not, you know you want him on your fantasy team. :)