Am I the only one who likes to shout out THIRD BASE from the old Abbott and Costello bit?
Costello: I don’t know.
Abbott: He’s on third, we’re not talking about him.
Costello: Now how did I get on third base?
1. Alex Bregman is one of the top two at third base this year.
Justification: I feel like post-injury his value has declined, but I’m thinking the opposite. He has an issue, he corrects said issue with surgery, and theoretically we should see the 100+ runs AND RBI .290 hitting player cracking 40 or so home runs. Maybe I’m being blind to potential delay to start the year but I think he will be back in time for the start of the season—MAYBE missing two weeks. If you are curious, there are some interesting YouTube videos showing his training to return for this season.
2. Austin Riley does not top 90 runs or RBIs this season.
Justification: Long-term I am optimistic on Riley, but after two years of struggling followed by an epic step up last season where he had 91 runs, 107 RBIs and a .303 batting average (among a .368 BABIP) I think we see a bit of regression this year. He will likely see a few rough patches as pitchers will throw a few more fastballs his way (which to be fair he still clocked at a .290 pace, but over the last two years that’s one of the pitches he struggles with the most). Austin learns and adapts, as shown by his batting vs. offspeed pitches in 2020 (.074) to 2021 (.341) but I anticipate a curve as he goes along this journey.
3. Yoan Moncada has his first season with over 100 RBIs.
Justification: 2021 was a disappointing season for Yoan but he maintained 4 Wins Above Replacement (an average WAR is 2 in MLB). This was 3.7 on offense (t-47th in the league) and .6 on defense. His average exit velocity is 67th in the league while his max EV is 91st. He will continue to battle with strikeouts, but he’s improving his plate discipline, showing marked steps up last year in strikeout and walk rates. He also showed increased consistency with sweet spot contact. As I look through the White Sox roster, a healthy Luis Robert along with Jose Abreu, Eloy Jimenez, Tim Anderson, and the up-and-coming Andrew Vaughn give Moncada plenty of people to drive in.
4. Matt Chapman hits above .250 for the first time in four years.
Justification: Matt steadily watched his batting average drop from .278 to .249 to .232 to .210 last year. He’s chasing power, and it finally bottomed out pretty badly as he saw a second consecutive year with a strikeout rate over 30% and a HR/FB rate in decline. The hitting coaches tried lightening up his pre-game hitting regimen and then changing up his swing routine midseason, which saw him decline even further over the second half of the season. My bold prediction here is contingent on him being traded (he’s been part of numerous talks for months). The A’s are rebuilding and I am in hope that his new location has a hitting coach who is able to work through his individual hitting style better than his previous suitor who saw him decline for multiple seasons.
5. Eugenio Suarez returns to top 15 form among third basemen.
Justification: By some metrics Eugenio continues to defy the odds with a barrel rate among the best in the league, and yet hitting below the Mendoza line in batting average and posting an OBP below .300. His BABIP was .224 last year after being .214 the year before. His BABIP career average before the last two years was above .300. Part of this is due to a line drive rate that is almost two thirds what it once was—but ironically, his batted balls turned to fly balls which, in spite of his barrel rate aren’t leaving the park. This is likely due to his launch angle moving away from the sweet 13-14 degree range into more of an 18 degree range, meaning more pop outs. The BABIP seems unattainable without some form of adjustment and I think we see him make the necessary adjustments to return to 2019 form.