Last Year’s Bums: Longoria, Wright, Zimmerman

Over the past three or four years the top of the third base rankings didn’t change much. Miguel Cabrera was the class of the position, followed by Evan Longoria, David Wright, and Adrian Beltre in some order. Ryan Zimmerman was never held in quite the same regard as those three, but he was considered a small notch below them and big notch above everyone else. In the fourth or fifth round, our palms would get sweaty. “Better grab Zimmerman here, I don’t want to get stuck with Kyle Seager or Todd Frazier.”

Ironically the rankings held steady while the performances of some these players have been inconsistent. Sure Miguel has been amazing year in and year out. And Beltre has deserved to be slotted ahead of Wright and Longoria for a couple of years now; we were just unwilling to see it, were scared of Beltre’s age, or simply had higher hopes for other choices. But Beltre has given us dependable top-of-the-line production on a regular basis. We cannot say the same for Longoria, Wright, or Zimmerman. These three have taken turns getting hurt, giving substandard performances, or being decent but leaving you wanting just a little bit more.

As we go into 2015, the positional rankings are looking very different (except for the lucky few of you who have a 3B-qualified Miguel Cabrera for one more year). Anthony Rendon is the clear top man at the position and Josh Donaldson seems to be the second choice over Beltre according to most. Frazier, Seager, and Nolan Arenado have moved up the board. Thus, evaluating Longoria, Wright, and Zimmerman is a different exercise than in years past. Are these guys finally getting taken where they should be? Or are we penalizing them a little to harshly, our years of frustration bubbling over?

For years we were choosing Longoria based on what we wanted him to be, not based on who he is. We hear a lot about him: He plays awesome defense. He’s hit some high-profile home runs. He is the leader and best player on a media-darling team. He has been called baseball’s most valuable asset. I know you’ll think I’m nuts, but these things contribute to a guy’s high sticker price, even though they have nothing to do with fantasy. Most of us think we’re better than that, but you hear these things about a guy, you see where other guys rank him, you find reasons to push him up the board, and you end up with good, but not elite performance from your second round pick.

In 2015, fantasy players have put aside their hopes for him to blossom into an MVP candidate. According to NFBC, he is going fifth at the position in a tight group with Nolan Arenado and Kyle Seager. I wonder if he will continue to go outside of the top 50 in actual drafts? If so, I like the price.

Longoria had a rough 2014 in a lot of ways. He wasn’t drawing walks. He was chasing pitches. He lost nearly 100 points in slugging. Often these are signs of decline, but Longoria has not yet turned 30. Third base might bang guys up but I’m wondering if this is a blip rather something that might be fixed with a mechanical adjustment, or if there was something nagging at him last year that might not bother him as much this year. I hesitate to declare that this is the start of a downward trend.

By the way, even with all these problems, he still contributed 83 runs, 22 home runs, 91 RBIs. This isn’t what you want out of your second round pick, but he didn’t kill you. Many second round picks killed you. Steamer projects Longoria to give you a 77/25/85/.256 line while regaining some patience and power. The batting average isn’t pretty, but a handful of hits here or there and it’s a lot more palatable. With offense down, if I can mark a guy down for 20-25 home runs with the possibility for more at a shallow position in the 4th or 5th round, that’s plenty appealing to me.

David Wright is another guy looking to reclaim former glory. While I was looking up info for this article two things struck me. The first was just how great Wright was from 2005-2008. Here is the season you would get if you took Wright’s worst stats during that time span: 96/26/102/15/.302. That guy would be at the top of the position this year.

The second thing that struck me is that was a long time ago and Wright is no longer a guy you can count on to fill your stat sheet. What happened? We can blame some of it on health. We can blame some of it on the home park. We can even blame some of it on a poor supporting cast. The point is, there is a lot of blame to go around! Someone put the maloik on this guy. There are just too many factors working against him to think he’ll recapture the 30/30 form of days gone by.

Now you may be thinking that you may not need him to be the guy from 2008 considering where you are taking him, and that is true. But he is still going inside the top 100 according to NFBC, right around where outfielders like Matt Holliday and Kole Calhoun are being selected. Steamer is calling for a line of 66/16/65/9/.275. That seems about right to me. (If it seems bearish to you, take a look at the last four years.) Wouldn’t you expect Kole Calhoun and Matt Holliday to be much better than that? Aside from the steals, can’t I get Wright’s steamer line from Aramis Ramirez, who will be taken God knows how much later? Wright may feel like a value based on where you are getting him, but I see little reason for optimism.

I feel like Zimmerman has been as big of a letdown as Wright over the past few years, but when I looked at the numbers I was shocked to see 26 dongs in 2013 and 25 in 2012. How did he do that? I feel like every June, whoever owns him (sometimes me) is debating whether or not to drop him. Then I think he gets about half of his numbers in an insane 4-6 week stretch.

As surprising as that recent history was to me, there’s no denying last year was a rough one for Zimmerman owners. Injury plagued, unproductive, mid-season position switch, it was a bumpy ride. But last year is last year and I see reason for optimism in 2015.

It’s as if every ding against Wright is a point in Zimmerman’s favor. While Wright will continue to play the demanding third base position, the Nats finally made the decision to move Zimmerman to first base, which will reduce his risk of injury (and my risk of feeling bad for him when he tries to make those throws across the diamond) and allow him to concentrate on mashing. The Nats have basically assembled a superteam, which should help his stats; the Mets, meanwhile, are the Mets. While Wright hasn’t sniffed his peak years in some time, Zimmerman gave you the home run totals I mentioned in 2012-2013. (Admittedly, Zimmerman’s 33 home runs in 2009 seem like an outlier.) At 30 years old, I can write off last year as a lost year and am looking for around the same 25 or so home runs in 2015 that we’ve seen in the recent past.

NFBC has him going around 120. I’m betting he might fall further than that, and you might be getting some sneaky pop at third base in the teens. Out of last year’s third base bums, he offers the best combination of upside and value at the draft slot. Longoria too is interesting to me just because I think he is a lot safer than people think. As for Wright, I’m going to let other owners chase after rainbows.