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Three Up, Three Down - 2012 Third Basemen
Nate Springfield | Tuesday January 31st, 2012
Longoria could eclipse his 2011 production this season. (Icon SMI)
Longoria could eclipse his 2011 production this season. (Icon SMI)
Baseball Press presents a returning miniseries entitled "Three Up, Three Down".  We'll review player performances from last season and determine whether or not we feel they are capable of either improving upon last season's performance, or if the player had a "lucky" season in 2011.

In this article, we'll take a look at six third basemen that are going to give you something different in 2012; three that will provide better numbers from 2011, and three that will see a decrease in production.

Three Up

Alex Rodriguez - New York Yankees
Alex Rodriguez started the 2011 season by living up to expectations at the plate and posting a triple-slash line of .299/.507/.377 (average/on-base/slugging) with 13 home runs through the month of June.  In early July, he injured his right knee and required surgery to repair a slightly torn meniscus.  After a trip to the disabled list, A-Rod was never able to get back into the rhythm he had at the start of the year, and at season's end his triple-slash fell all the way to .276/.462/.361.  He also added just three more home runs for a season total of 16.  He played in only 99 games and collected just 373 at-bats in 2011, both career-lows since becoming a full-time player.

This off-season, the 14-time All-Star went to Germany and underwent surgery on both his right knee and left shoulder in hopes of increasing his durability for the 2012 season.  His fantasy value is at an all-time low and he carries an average draft position (ADP) of 60th overall (he's the sixth-ranked third baseman) according to MockDraftCentral.com.  Despite a down year, if these rankings stay true he could be a real bargain on draft day.  Staying healthy is an issue for any player, but with A-Rod there are very few concerns other than his health.  Also, the Yankees' plan to rotate different players in as their designated hitter is an idea that Alex is in favor of and one that may help keep him in the lineup.

Chase Headley - San Diego Padres
San Diego's Chase Headley is another third baseman that had his 2011 season marred by injury.  The former second round pick suffered a broken pinky finger on his left hand while sliding in early August last season, but even before the injury his power stats were not on par with his previous career numbers.  He finished the season with only four home runs (all came before the injury) and a meager .399 slugging percentage.  A big reason for the power outage was a fly ball rate of 32.3 percent (below his career average) and a homerun-to-fly-ball (HR/FB) rate of 4.3 percent, low even for a player playing his home games in Petco Park. 

Because he plays half of his game at Petco, Chase will probably never hit 25-plus home runs in a season, but reaching 20 seems reasonable.  However, from a fantasy perspective, he has added value due to his ability to steal bases on a team that likes to run.  Though his power numbers were low last year, he carried a .292 batting average before the injury and increased his season walk rate to 11.8 percent.  Having an off-season to rehabilitate and strengthen a cast-weakened forearm (from his DL stint) should provide Headley with a chance to return healthy for the 2012 season.

Evan Longoria - Tampa Bay Rays
Most remember Evan Longoria's heroics in the 2011 postseason more than his regular season production, but he also provided a big presence and was a solid contributor at the middle of the Tampa Bay Rays lineup all year long.  Longoria's 31 home runs and 99 RBI were both team highs, even though he carried a season batting average of just .244.  However, further examination reveals that both his home run total and batting average could have been uncharacteristic.  A very low .239 batting average on balls in play (BAbip) certainly hurt his season batting mark, and a lofty HR/FB rate of 17.6 percent may have inflated his 2011 home run totals.

On fantasy draft day, Longoria is most likely a late first round pick, but he is very capable of producing early first round value.  His batting average should rebound nicely to the .275 area (or higher), which will increase his run and RBI numbers.  Also, despite that inflated HR/FB rate, it was still only slightly higher than his career average of 16.1 percent, and newly re-acquired first baseman Carlos Pena will also provide some lineup protection for Longoria.  This could be the year that he ends up being a top-three producer, while playing a fairly weak fantasy position.

Three Down

Michael Young - Texas Rangers
When the Rangers signed Adrian Beltre at the beginning of the 2011 season, it was unclear whether Michael Young would even have an everyday job with the club.  However, the questions about when and where to play him all worked out well for both player and team, considering that Young finished the year with a triple-slash line of .338/.380/.474, 11 home runs, and 106 RBI in 159 games.  His .367 BAbip mark and 11.3 percent strikeout rate, both career bests, were two big reasons he was able to achieve a career-high .338 batting average.

Young typically has a high season batting average and carries a .304 career mark, but fantasy owners got a lot more from him than expected in that category last season.  That bump in batting average came with a slight deficiency in his home run total, as Young hit just 11, the second-worst season total of his career.  Plus, his very high BAbip and very low strikeout total, as described above, signal that his batting average will return to normalcy this season.  His home run total may rebound this year but, at age 35, Young's 15-plus home run seasons are likely behind him.  It's also important to keep in mind that the fall in Young's batting average this season will also affect his RBI and runs scored totals.

Ryan Roberts - Arizona Diamondbacks
Arizona infielder Ryan Roberts would have likely garnered much more attention in the first half of the 2011 season if the Diamondbacks played more games in the eastern time zone, but by the time the "rest" of the baseball world caught onto his performance, his early season hot streak had cooled.  Overall, his numbers at the end of the year were respectable:  19 home runs, 65 RBI, and a .249 batting average. 

For fantasy owners, the biggest cause for concern heading into the 2012 season comes in the 31 year-old's month-by-month breakdown.  As mentioned above, his hot start slightly skewed his season totals and, if Roberts' April triple-slash of .313/.413/.594 and five home runs were eliminated, he would have ended the season with just a .239 batting average and 14 home runs.  When considering his age, past career performance, and declining defense, Roberts may not only see a decline in performance this year, but also a decline in his opportunities to get into the lineup.

Emilio Bonifacio - Miami Marlins
Most of Marlins infielder/outfielder Emilio Bonifacio's value as a player comes via his legs and his ability to cause trouble for opposing pitchers and catchers upon reaching base, and the 2011 season was a prime example of that.  His .360 on-base percentage last season was a career high (his next highest mark was .320), and those added trips allowed him to successfully steal 40 bases on 51 attempts.  Hitting lead-off allowed the Dominican native many chances to steal, and the Marlins' need to manufacture offense helped as well.  This year, though, the Marlins are hoping there isn't as much of a need for Emilio to manufacture runs, as the addition of new lead-off man Jose Reyes, a healthy Hanley Ramirez, and a full season of slugger Logan Morrison protecting home run phenom Mike Stanton all year long should definitely help.  As a result, Bonifacio's run totals should improve, though the added help will cut into his stolen base attempts.

Of course, since nearly all of Bonifacio's 2011 fantasy value came in those 40 stolen bases, he shouldn't be drafted as high as some are projecting him.  His .296 batting average and position flexibility are definitely pluses, but if one knocks his stolen base total in half, he would be a lot lower on draft projection sheets this year.  For fantasy owners, the main problem with the Marlins' revamped look (besides seeing their orange alternate uniforms) is that Bonifacio's stolen base opportunities are going to be restricted, especially if he stays in his projected two-hole of the batting order.  Pair that with an inflated 2011 batting average (thanks to a .372 BAbip), and it leaves position flexibility as the speedster's biggest asset in 2012.
Nate SpringfieldNate Springfield joined the Baseball Press crew for the 2010 season and hosts the site's podcast. His love for the game has grown thanks to fantasy baseball, with a specialty in NL-only auction leagues. You can contact him at nate@baseballpress.com or follow him on Twitter @NateSpringfield.