The Third Basemen

Last year around this time, you heard a lot of talk about the decline of third base production around major league baseball. Or at least I did. Or at least it seems like I did. “It’s a sinkhole!”, is an example of something someone might have said about the position. “Why don’t we just play two shortstops?” is another thing someone might have said. Although probably not. Anyway, third baseman around the league in 2011 OPSed only .707. This was below second basemen at .709, and just above catchers at .703. It was a poor showing. Only 5 teams got an OPS of over .800 out of their third basemen last year, while there were 7 teams under .650, including the Mariners at only .526. (I’m looking at you Chone Figgins)

This year, league third basemen are at .753, back above second basemen, center fielders, and left fielders. There are 9 teams that have received at least an .800 OPS from their third baseman, and just 3 teams under .650. But what’s the cause of this increase? Is it rookies who have come in to the league and torn it up? Is it players who have come back from injury? Is it a few players having career years? Let’s take a look:

2012 2011
Rank 2012 HR OPS Change Rank HR OPS
1 DET 41 1.010 0.393 27 9 0.617
3 MIL 27 0.879 0.281 29 11 0.598
10 PIT 31 0.795 0.185 28 10 0.610
19 SEA 17 0.709 0.183 30 5 0.526
7 SDP 29 0.844 0.134 14 7 0.710
5 STL 23 0.858 0.133 12 12 0.725
11 COL 8 0.759 0.130 25 14 0.629
2 NYM 20 0.881 0.118 7 16 0.763
6 ATL 22 0.846 0.092 8 20 0.754
12 MIA 18 0.749 0.086 23 6 0.663
9 WSN 24 0.803 0.079 13 14 0.724
8 NYY 26 0.821 0.074 9 19 0.747
23 LAD 9 0.695 0.064 24 10 0.631
15 MIN 22 0.727 0.055 21 14 0.672
13 HOU 19 0.735 0.047 18 11 0.688
17 CIN 19 0.720 0.028 17 16 0.692
20 KCR 20 0.707 0.024 19 9 0.683
4 TEX 32 0.861 0.023 2 27 0.838
18 BAL 17 0.715 0.019 15 26 0.696
25 OAK 22 0.676 -0.005 20 16 0.681
28 PHI 5 0.648 -0.017 22 8 0.665
30 CHW 15 0.602 -0.022 26 10 0.624
27 CLE 11 0.667 -0.029 16 15 0.696
24 ARI 18 0.677 -0.057 10 20 0.734
26 LAA 9 0.668 -0.065 11 7 0.733
22 TOR 12 0.705 -0.068 6 27 0.773
16 TBR 13 0.723 -0.078 5 34 0.801
14 SFG 14 0.731 -0.086 3 25 0.817
21 BOS 18 0.707 -0.105 4 20 0.812
29 CHC 12 0.613 -0.247 1 26 0.860

Not surprisingly, the team with the biggest increase in 2012 compared to 2011 is the Tigers. Who would have guessed that going from Brandon Inge and Don Kelly to Miguel Cabrera would increase your offensive production? The next largest increase is the Brewers, who went from second last in 2011 with Casey McGehee to third overall in 2012 with the signing of Aramis Ramirez. Pedro Alvarez’s emergence in Pittsburgh has resulted in the Pirates having the third largest increase in 2012, followed by the Mariners, who switched from Chone Figgins to someone who can actually make contact with a baseball. Other large increases include Chase Headley’s breakout with the Padres, a full season of David Freese in St. Louis, and David Wright’s resurgence. Overall, 19 teams have had increased production from their third basemen in 2012, including 8 with a jump of more than 100 points of OPS. Of the 11 teams that declined, only two were by more than 100 points of OPS; the Red Sox and the Cubs. The Red Sox decline is largely a product of Youkilis’ slow start and replacements once Middlebrooks got injured, while the Cubs lost Aramis Ramirez and replaced him with Luis Valbuena and Ian Stewart.

So really the increase in production is a combination of a number of factors. There’s some players who have had breakthroughs or returned to past form (Headley, Wright, Zimmerman). There are some teams who simply replaced sink holes with average production (Mariners, Rockies, Pirates). And then there’s Miguel Cabrera.

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