Analysis by Michael Clifford
To be sure, third base isn’t quite what it once was in the fantasy game. Five-plus years ago, names like David Wright, Kevin Youkilis, Ryan Zimmerman, Alex Rodriguez, Evan Longoria Chipper Jones, Troy Glaus, Aramis Ramirez, Adrian Beltre, and Mike Lowell meant that as long as a fantasy owner got any of the top-10 third basemen on their team, they would have themselves a pretty solid hot corner. Third base was much like first base: the separation between the top and the bottom was so little (except for A-Rod’s 2007, probably) that investing early in the position wasn’t warranted.
These days – in fact, as of today – there are six third basemen in the top-60 hitters on ESPN and there are seven third basemen among the top-110 players overall on Yahoo! (both standard 5×5 leagues). The separation between 3B-1 and 3B-12 is the difference between Todd Frazier and Carlos Santana. For reference, it’s about the difference between Adam Jones and Lorenzo Cain.
That’s why for about the last half decade, Evan Longoria has annually been a first or second round pick (maybe a third this year, but he was a top-24 pick by NFBC ADP). The mix of natural talent, huge upside, and seemingly consistent production usually made Longoria one of the first three third basemen off the board.
At the same time, Longoria has been a frustrating player to own over the years. A mix of injury and underperformance has soured some fantasy players to grabbing shares of Longoria. Those without shares this year are likely thankful.
Is he really worth a top-25 fantasy pick anymore?
Longoria was the third overall pick in 2006 behind Luke Hochevar and Greg Reynolds (heh). It wasn’t long until Longoria won the Rookie of the Year in 2008. The following year, Longoria hit 33 home runs, knocked in 113, scored 100 runs, and stole nine bases. He won a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger.
Here’s the thing about that 2009 season: Longoria hasn’t topped that number of home runs, RBIs, or runs scored since. As of today, he 10 stolen bases since the start of the 2011 season. He had nine in 2009. It has been a dropoff for Longoria, but it gets worse.
Longoria, in fantasy, was not a top-5 third baseman last year. Due to injury, he wasn’t a top-5 third baseman in 2012. Barring a monster August and July, he won’t be this year, either. It’s been since 2011 that he was a top-5 third baseman, and the earliest he’ll get a chance to do it again will probably be 2015.
One big problem is the batting average. Whether or not it’s a good way to measure a player (it’s not), it’s still a fairly common staple of fantasy baseball leagues. While he’s a career .272 hitter (not too bad), here’s where he ranks among regular players since the start of the 2011 season (the last time he was a top-5 third baseman):
Batting .262 over the last three and a half years isn’t bad luck, either.
These are Longoria’s ranks among third basemen for line drive percentages since the start of that 2011 season (minimum 300 plate appearances per season):
- 2011: Tied for 30th out of 41 players at 18-percent
- 2012: Tied for 17th out of 38 players at 21.9-percent
- 2013: Finished 32nd out of 40 players at 18.6-percent
- 2014 So far, 12th out of 29 players at 22.8-percent
Overall, out of the 20 third basemen with 1500 plate appearances since 2011, Longoria is 16th out of those 20 at 19.9-percent. In all of baseball, Longoria is tied for 117th out of 171 players with 1500 plate appearances since 2011. Tied with Derek Jeter, Gaby Sanchez, and Justin Upton.
Unless something changes in Longoria’s approach (which would change his batted ball rates), expecting him to be more than a .270 hitter would artificially inflate his value.
Knowing that his batting average likely won’t help his value in roto leagues, he needs to pick up the slack elsewhere to be considered an elite option. How about those stolen bases?
Through Longoria’s first 430 games of his career, or 2008-2010, he had 31 stolen bases. It’s not an eye-popping number but adding double-digit steals to a corner infielder is very valuable (like Edwin Encarnacion in 2012 or Paul Goldschmidt in 2013). While stealing double-digit bases at third base is impressive, Longoria’s 86.1-percent success rate over that three-year span was equally impressive (five caught stealing in 36 attempts).
Since the start of the 2011 season, or a span of 475 games, Longoria has ten stolen bases and has been caught five times, or a 67-percent success rate. Whether it’s dictated by the team or he’s just losing speed due to injuries like Troy Tulowitzki, Longoria went from a base-stealer (in corner infielder terms) to the same amount of swipes as Miguel Cabrera over that time-frame. In other words, negligible.
So if Longoria can’t be counted on for steals or a good batting average, he’s now a three-category player. Simply put, three category players cannot be elite. The only top-25 hitters from 2013 that have an argument to be a three-category player were Edwin Encarnacion and Jay Bruce, but they still had seven steals each which is a lot better than two or three.
In order for Longoria to be elite, assuming a .260-.270 average and 2-3 steals, he would have to have a monster total in another category. A season with 35-40 home runs or 120 RBIs would be necessary to comfortably say he’ll be a top-3 option at third base. There’s a reasonably high floor but I think the ceiling has been lowered. I’m not sure he can be relied upon to be a perennial top option at third base as he has been considered for years now.