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The Name Game: Top-Tiered Third Basemen

I've been working on my early 2012 third base rankings, which will be released here on Monday. While I typically like to spend more time working on the back end of the ranks, I came across an interesting choice near the top, so I thought I would share my thought process with you. Let's play The Name Game.

You already know that these two players are highly regarded third basemen, which is a shallow pool to begin with. This is a very easy puzzle to figure out, but let me encourage you to try and play along. Stats:

Player A: 574 PA, .244/.354./495, .239 BABIP (.315 xBABIP), 31 HR (17.6 HR/FB%), 78 R, 99 RBI, 3 SB

Player B: 525 PA, .296/.331/.561, .273 BABIP (.304 xBABIP), 32 HR (16.4 HR/FB%), 82 R, 105 RBI, 1 SB

Pretty similar, with the obvious exception of batting average. Player B was unlucky in that department, but not nearly as much as Player A. By the way, their batted ball profiles? Also eerily similar:

Player A: 37.3 GB%, 44.7 FB%, 10.8 IFFB%

Player B: 37.8 GB%, 44.1 FB%, 10.8 IFFB%

In other words, the batting average gap isn't near as wide as it seems. For those that value simplicity, Player A's TAv was .316, while Player B's was .321.

Despite his terrible luck, Player A managed to put up a higher OBP than Player B. This is a result of an elite walk rate of 13.9%. Their other fantasy-relevant categories are a wash. Since we believe a batting average rebound is possible, this one is really too tough to call until other factors are considered (unless you play in an OBP league, in which case Player A is a more attractive option). I should tell you before we move on that Player A is usually listed ahead of his counterpart in most ranks I've seen, but there appears to be a growing movement to move Player B higher.

Follow the jump for the players' identities plus more analysis.

Player A is Evan Longoria. Player B is Adrian Beltre. The obvious differences between the two (aside from what we have already stated) are age and injury history. Longoria is almost 8 years younger than Beltre (Longoria turned 25 last month, while Beltre will turn 33 just a few days into the 2012 season).

He also has a cleaner record when it comes to injury. Longoria missed 26 games to a strained oblique in 2011, but once he returned, he experienced no setbacks the rest of the year (at least none that were reported; he didn't miss any time). It's safe to say that injury is behind him. He's only had 1 other DL stint, and it was for a broken ulna (forearm) in 2008. Beltre, on the other hand, was sidelined for 37 games in 2011 due to a hamstring strain in his left leg. Once he returned, he was instructed to remain cautious on the basepaths, and his timidity was obvious to observers. This was not the first time the same hamstring held him out of action. The hamstring has caused him to miss games on 6 different occasions since 2005. There are other nagging injuries, of course: he's had 5 different surgeries in his major league career, and then there's the famous testicle incident. Wear a cup, dude! None of this is to say that Beltre will definitely miss time or that he will miss more than Longoria, but of the two, he's certainly the greater risk.

If it's not obvious to you by now, I'm taking Longoria over Beltre. Don't be fooled by Evan's batting average, which should rebound. Tales of his demise are greatly exaggerated. His walk rate will always allow him to get on base and score, even when he's extremely unlucky, as he was in 2011. Add in his youth and relative ability to stay healthy, and you've got an elite third baseman. Adrian is still a good choice, but don't let some snake oil salesman weaving stories of a high-average high-power hitter playing at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington fool you into reaching for him first.