Let’s talk about the Hot Corner. I’ve long been of the belief that third base is a weaker position than many in the industry believe. The position is extremely top-heavy and even at that top, it lacks true five-category stars. This might be a hot take but I do not believe it to be much different from 1B once you get past the top few tiers. However, today I’ll be looking at the position through the eyes of the Data Monster to see if there are any players that warrant more attention from fantasy managers.
Alex Bregman is an absolutely incredible talent. He had a down 2020, but when a down offensive season leads to a 123 wRC+ you know just how special you are. In an era of exploding strikeout rates, Bregman is an anomaly. Below are his Whiff percentile ranks since he made his debut.
The last three seasons are truly incredible, his swinging strike rate is about as good as any hitter in baseball. Additionally, he actually pairs that contact rate with real power. While much of the story was about if Bregman could still be successful without sign stealing, we do see that his ability to make contact has not gone anywhere. He chased a bit more in 2020 which caused the xLwOBA of his swings to drop a bit. Overall, I think he will bounce back fairly easily and he will return to be an elite offensive 3B and fantasy contributor.
On the other end of the Whiff leaderboard, the first 3B worth mentioning is Brian Anderson. This was not a name I expected to see. Anderson had the best season of his short career in terms of wRC+ but he seemed to trade some contact ability which in turn lowed his average. For fantasy purposes, this meant the production did not quite appear like those of us who had him on teams expected. Overall, the trade-off did not seem to increase his power/exit velocities but what it did was make him extremely pull happy. I would love to see Anderson return to his higher contact approach in order to be more of a spray hitter and less pull happy.
Jeff McNeil is a great example of the type of hitter that you know is going to swing a ton. That was not different in 2020. What does seem to be the case, however, is that McNeil swung and missed slightly less often than he did in 2019. This may have been a small difference in approach which caused his power metrics to decline a bit. I think with how frequently he does swing, he might be better served to trade the contact rate for power.
Bregman finds himself ranked among the most passive 3Bs and that is not a surprise. Due to his ability to make contact, I believe he allows himself to be extremely selective within the zone picking out the pitches he thinks he can do the most damage on.
When it comes to expanding the zone, the top end of the leaderboard is littered with guys who may have 3B eligibility but likely won’t be used there. The first guy of note I see is Anthony Rendon. There is not much to say about Rendon other than he is incredible and he excels are not leaving the zone. He is in my opinion one of the best hitters in all of baseball. The chase happy end of the board does not tell us much but it does show is Maikel Franco who is not a surprising addition to that end of the spectrum. He currently does not have a job making him un-draftable in most leagues. However, not too far beyond him is Rafael Devers who has always chased more than expected. However, in 2020 he whiffed significantly more than expected as well. The whiffs are a big concern for Devers but the jump in K rate also seems to be tied to a more passive approach in the zone. He remained hyper aggressive when expanding the zone but was much less aggressive within it. I hope this is something that the Red Sox can reverse as his K rates will balloon if they cannot.
It’s fairly boring talking about the best hitters in the game but looking over the top of the In_wOBA leaderboard, the name that stands out is Jose Ramirez. 2020 was the best season in terms of this metric for JRam since 2017. While it might not be smart to expect him to repeat that level of excellence it makes his 2019 season look like the outlier. We can safely draft JRam in the first round as a potential source of 30/25 numbers.
Offensively Eduardo Escobar’s 2020 season was terrible. After posting back-to-back seasons of 85th percentile or better seasons by In_wOBA, he dropped all the way to the 3rd percentile. It seems that the main change in his batted ball profile was that he lost some flyballs and added some groundballs. Outside of that, all I see is a bit more zone expanding in his profile but nothing crazy out of the ordinary. He was a good source of solid if unspectacular fantasy production and I believe he can return to that in 2021.
Lastly, we get to my favorite of the boards. I think that plate discipline is one of my favorite skills a player can show. It truly helps them set themselves up best for success. Looking at he top there a few 3B eligible guys I’ve previously covered but a little further down we get two really underappreciated hitters, Kyle Seager and Justin Turner. Both of these guys have been successful big league hitters for several seasons due in large part to their ability to select the best pitches to hit. Turner at least in recent seasons has displayed more overall offensive ability than Seager but in 2020 Seager posted a 188 wRC+. However, the average was low and for fantasy purposes, the line just didn’t look quite as pretty. He is a solid option for some average power in drafts but the average is a drag despite the great underlying numbers.
The other end of the SAE leaderboard has a few names I have already mentioned like Devers and Escobar. However, one guy that stands out a bit is Tommy Edman. Edman should be a decent source of steals with enough power to not be a drag. He also comes with multi-position eligibility. However, his 2020 season was a bit of a disappointment after a really solid MLB debut. He was also below average in 2019 in terms of SAE but the 2020 season was definitely a bit of regression in the area. Overall, he really dropped his swing rate within the zone which I think is a large reason for his struggles. With his low whiff rates, he is likely someone who would be better off being more aggressive within the zone much like a Jeff McNeil. Edman is a bit of a risky bet in fantasy in my opinion as the Cardinals are trying to win and I believe they have the pieces to replace him if need be. There is definitely a path to fantasy relevance but without a return to the 2019 approach I’m not sure if he can reach it.