NL Central Preview: Third Base

Now on to the third baseman of the NL Central. There’s quite a variety of players at third base in the NL Central too. From the veterans Scott Rolen and Aramis Ramirez to the young guys in Casey McGehee, David Freese, Pedro Alvarez, and Chris Johnson there is talent both young and old.

The corner infield is usually a position that offense is relied upon and as long as you have a halfway decent glove, you’re considered capable. The top three were very easy to rank. The the rest, well that was a different story as the three of them only had partial seasons in order to judge their performance on.

6. Chris Johnson, Houston (.308, 11 HR, 52 RBI in 94 games)
No, not the football Chris Johnson. The baseball Chris Johnson plays third base for the Astros. The 26 year old righty got a chance to play every day in Houston near the end of the season and Johnson made the most of his rookie season. In his 94 games he slugged 11 HR and posted a .308 batting average. Fairly impressive and you would expect due a higher rankings, right? Well, his .908 fielding percentage of 2.02 range factor (the lowest among NL Central third baseman) scared me off a bit from ranking him higher. I’m a fan of examining both sides of the ball and if you slack in one area, the other side of the ball better be spectacular to make up for it. While he has potential, he’s definitely not due much more than this when you rank among current NL Central third basemen.

5. David Freese, St. Louis (.296, 4 HR, 46 RBI in 70 games)
“Mr. Freeze” as he was occasionally referred to on Cardinals forums last season, spent a good deal of it on the disabled list after hurting his ankle and then getting hurt again while on a rehab assignment. For the 27 year old Freese, the time is now to prove himself and the Cardinals organization seems to be letting him get an opportunity to do that. He is penciled in as the starter, and the team’s only insurance right now is Allen Craig who is far less than a defensive whiz at third base. He stacks up in the middle of the group of third basemen, but I like the next guy’s power, which pushed him over Freese in my rankings.

4. Pedro Alvarez, Pittsburgh (.256, 16 HR, 64 RBI in 95 games)
Alvarez is another young player for the Pirates who showed some potential last season as he hit 16 HR in a little more than half a season. His .938 fielding percentage was the second lowest behind Houston’s Johnson, but his 2.86 range was only one-hundredth lower than that of Scott Rolen, the best defensive third baseman in the Central. I can definitely forgive a little drop in fielding percentage if you are getting to more balls per game than your rivals.

3. Scott Rolen, Cincinnati (.285, 20 HR, 83 RBI in 133 games)
Scott Rolen had maybe the best all around season of NL Central third basemen in 2010, so why did he drop to third? Well, it was his best season since his run in ’04-’06 where the Cardinals won everything in sight and went to win a World Series in 2006. But in 2010, Rolen had a resurgence and once again established himself as one of the game’s top third basemen. Though it is safe to assume that he is unlikely to repeat his 2010 offensive performance, but maybe I’m just being extra harsh on my favorite major league baseball player.

2. Aramis Ramirez, Chicago (.241, 25 HR, 83 RBI in 124 games)
On the flip side, Aramis Ramirez had one of the worst seasons of his career and was the only NL Central third baseman not to post an OPS+ above 100 (Ramirez posted a 92). While he is obviously on the decline from the prime of his career, Ramirez will still likely regress towards the mean in 2011, which means a slightly better performance for the Cubs.

1. Casey McGehee, Milwaukee (.285, 23 HR, 104 RBI in 157 games)
Durability and performance for McGehee in Milwaukee earned him the top spot of my NL Central third baseman rankings. The Cubs reject has found a home in Milwaukee where a pair of good seasons have earned him the starting job. His $428,000 salary might make him the best value at third base in the NL Central too.

And the standings after four positions ranked?

Cincinnati — 18 pts
Milwaukee — 18 pts
St. Louis — 15 pts
Chicago — 14 pts
Pittsburgh — 13 pts
Houston — 6 pts