Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
As part of a new series, I will be ranking each starting player by position in the National League Central. I’ll be judging them based on their offensive prowess, defensive skill set, potential, age, and injury history.
Today, we’ll take a gander at the third basemen in the Central.
In 2013, the two combined for 23 home runs and 60 RBI in 480 at-bats (331 of those came from Valbuena). Murphy was a surprising spark for Cubs, as he hit 11 dingers in just 149 at-bats.
These two players come in last for a couple of reasons. First, Murphy will not be able to sustain his power numbers. Before last season, the most home runs he’d ever hit was six back in 2007. His isolated power (.275) was the sixth-highest in Major League Baseball of players who had at least 140 plate appearances. Murphy is a career journeyman who was just lucky enough to experience a flash of brilliance.
Second, Valbuena is simply not a good hitter. The 28-year-old is a .222 lifetime hitter with below average power and doesn’t have much upside/potential.
The Cubs are biding their time until Olt, whom they acquired from the Texas Rangers in exchange for Matt Garza, proves he is ready for the big leagues.
4. Todd Frazier – Cincinnati Reds
2013 stats: .234/.314/.407
Determining where to put Frazier on my list was tough. If my rankings were solely based on future potential, Frazier would be on top. He’s 28 and has only two full major league seasons under his belt.
Frazier saw his statistics drop all across the board in 2013. In 2012 during his rookie season, Frazier hit .273 with 19 home runs and an on-base percentage of .331. A year later, Frazier’s batting average plummeted to .234 and his OBP dropped 17 points as well. Additionally, his slugging percentage fell from .498 to .407.
In 2014, Frazier plans to become a better hitter with two strikes. He hit .162 with two strikes last season.
Because he exceeded expectations defensively as he took over for eight-time Gold Glove winner Scott Rolen and is capable of hitting 25 home runs with a batting average near .260, he shouldn’t stay at the bottom of my list for long.
3. Aramis Ramirez – Milwaukee Brewers
2013 stats: .283/.370/.461
Originally, Ramirez was No. 2 on my list, and if not for his injury-plagued season in 2013 he probably would have remained there.
In his first season with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2012, Ramirez was sensational. He hit .300 with 27 home runs and 105 RBI. He sat out only 13 games. 2013 was a different story, however. He struggled to stay healthy and played in less than 100 games for the first time since 2009.
His power numbers dropped significantly last season. His ISO went from .240 in 2012 to .178 in 2013. Ramirez also saw his slugging percentage fall.
Ramirez is getting up there in age. He’ll turn 36 in June and his best days are behind him. If Ramirez can stay healthy, he should return to 2012 form, but with knee problems at his age, that’ll be tough to do.
2. Pedro Alvarez – Pittsburgh Pirates
2013 stats: .233/.296/.473
Alvarez put together a career year in 2013. He was selected to his first All-Star game and hit a career-high 36 home runs. Despite having an extremely low on-base percentage, he’s the second-best third baseman in the NL Central.
The biggest knock on Alvarez is his swing-or-miss mentality. When he makes contact, the ball flies, but making contact doesn’t come easily for Alvarez. He struck out 186 times (30.3 K%) in 2013 and his OBP was a measly .296. But he does have power. Over the last two seasons, he has 66 home runs.
I ranked him as high as I did based more on his potential/age than any other factor. Alvarez turned 27 in February and is just beginning the prime of his career. He can be a .250 hitter if he cuts down on the strikeouts.
1. Matt Carpenter – St-Louis Cardinals
2013 stats: .318/.392/.481
Carpenter, 28, spent most of his time at second base in 2013, but with David Freese gone, Carpenter is expected to be the starting third baseman.
Carpenter tops my list because he’s the most well-rounded player. He brings a high batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, while rarely striking out.
He doesn’t have as much power as Alvarez or Ramirez, but he does all the little things perfectly. He’s a phenomenal contact hitter (.359 BABIP in 2013) and posted baseball’s sixth-best WAR (7.0) last season. He hits righties just as well as lefties, and is no pushover on the defensive side.
Without him, the Cardinals wouldn’t have made it to the World Series.