When I surveyed the AL East third base landscape in March, I made the following rankings:
- Tampa Bay
- New York
How do things look halfway through 2014? Injuries and ineffectiveness have muddled the hot corner in the AL East. So to evaluate these predictions, I’m looking at guys in the AL East with at least 200 PA who have played third base in at least 25% of their games. This ensures we can count the Red Sox, who’ve used seven players at the position this year, as well as Manny Machado.
This leaves us with the following players:
- Baltimore Orioles: Manny Machado
- Toronto Blue Jays: Brett Lawrie and Juan Francisco
- New York Yankees: Yangervis Solarte and Kelly Johnson
- Boston Red Sox: Brock Holt and Xander Bogaerts
- Tampa Bay Rays: Evan Longoria
In Baltimore, Manny Machado looked lost to start the season, compiling a 54 wRC+ in May after coming off the DL. But he turned things around and posted a 112+ wRC+ in June. So far in July he’s been on fire with a 262 wRC+, but that’s only in 33 PA.
Overall he’s hit .270/.319/.422 with nine home runs in 265 PA. That’s good for 30.7 runs created. Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) has him worth 5.7 runs above average, making him the second-best defensive third baseman in the league.
I don’t know why more news outlets aren’t talking about what Juan Francisco is doing for Toronto. The marginal role player is crushing the ball, hitting .227/.293/.493 with 10 home runs in 167 PA. That’s 21.3 runs created; not otherworldly, but when you consider his role as a journeyman/castoff from other teams, it looks great. UZR has him at 1.1 runs below average, which isn’t terrible.
He’s getting his chance because starting third baseman Brett Lawrie has been sidelined since late June with a broken right index finger. Before his injury, Lawrie hit .231/.272/.399 with 12 HR, which at 19.6 runs created isn’t all that great either. UZR rated him as 4.1 runs above average in 400.1 innings.
In my pre-season look at the Yankees, I analyzed Kelly Johnson, and he’s indeed played some of the position. But Yangervis Solarte received the lion’s share of the playing time there. Solarte’s hit .255/.325/.394 with five home runs in 232 PA while manning third base. (The quintessential utility player, he’s also logged time at second base and shortstop.) That’s 27.2 runs created, while UZR rates him as average in 513.1 innings.
Meanwhile, Johnson hit .247/.330/.376 with six home runs in 106 PA as a third baseman. That’s 12.7 runs created. Defensively he rates at 1.2 runs above average in 255.1 innings.
Up in Boston, presumptive starter Will Middlebrooks has had a dismal 2014. He’s played just 21 games in Boston this year; the rest of his time has been spent on the DL and at rehabbing AAA Pawtucket. Middlebrooks’s performance forced Boston to move the team’s starting shortstop, Xander Bogaerts, back to third base and to re-sign Stephen Drew to play short.
Not that Bogaerts has a lock on the job. As a third-sacker he’s hitting an atrocious .140/.181/.225 with three home runs in 138 PA. That’s a measly 4.5 runs created, and things don’t get better looking at his defense. UZR says he was worth 4.9 runs below average in 291.1 innings.
The best third baseman on the team may be Brock Holt, who originally replaced Middlebrooks at third. As a third baseman, he hit .311/.365/.427 with one home run in 116 PA. This adds up to 17.8 runs created. Defensively, he was 1.5 runs below average in 242.1 innings.
Finally, there's Tampa Bay’s golden child. Evan Longoria is not hitting for power in 2014, but he's still getting on base. His batting line of .261/.336/.392 with 11 home runs has created 49.3 runs. Defensively, he’s been worth two runs above average in 838 innings.
So, how’d I do? Just looking at offense, here are the rankings to this point in the season:
- Tampa Bay - 49.3 runs created
- Toronto - 40.9 runs created
- New York - 39.9 runs created
- Baltimore - 30.7 runs created
- Boston - 22.3 runs created
Well, I got Tampa Bay right! I whiffed on Solarte and Francisco, although to be fair I think everyone did. I also didn’t penalize Machado enough for the time he lost while on the DL, although I do think that when healthy, he’s the second-best third baseman in the division. And yeesh, Boston is getting nothing from the hot corner.
Looking at the UZR numbers, I don't think adding them in would change much. Manny is still a great defender, but his glove can't make up for the time he missed. However, things could look different by the end of the year. He's vastly outplaying all other third basemen on defense, so he could move up a couple of spots.