The 3B Candidate No One is Talking About

The 3B Candidate No One is Talking About

The Braves need a third baseman. Everyone knows the Braves need 3B because we all keep talking about how the Braves need a 3B. I’ve written about it. We as a blog wrote about it. Others have written about it and the general consensus is, Atlanta needs an external solution for 3B. At least in the short term. Some people are high on Austin Riley as a prospect, and even though I’m not necessarily one of them, even if you are, Riley isn’t the level of prospect you typically plan ahead for. If he’s beating down the door for a call up, then you make a move to open a spot. But it’s probably best to make him make you do that.

What all this means is, 3B solutions have been coming from everywhere this off-season. We’ve heard about signing Todd Frazier or Mike Moustakas. We’ve heard about trading for Josh Donaldson, or Evan Longoria, or Jedd Gyorko or Luis Valbuena an on and on. But there’s one name I haven’t heard. At all. From anyone. Neil Walker.

If you don’t know, Neil Walker is a free agent this year and has played third base as recently as last year. Now yes, he is traditionally a second baseman and maybe that’s why no one has pegged him as a potential solution for the Braves, but that seems a bit short sighted. One, he’s played third base in his career and while the sample sizes are small, his defensive metrics actually improve at third relative to second where range is more of an issue for him. Think of Brandon Phillips last year. And two, between the increase of defensive shifts, data-based positioning, and the hitters fly ball revolution, we’re probably entering an era where individual infield defense matters as little as it ever has.

But where he’s most interesting to me is how he stacks up with the guy who’s talked about most; Todd Frazier. Take a look at their numbers last year:

 

First thing you probably notice is the difference in WAR, but that’s entirely defense driven, where Walker was dinged for his range as a second basemen. We’ve already discussed how a move to third might help. But look at the offense. Walker has a higher wRC+, higher wOBA, higher OBP, and a lower K rate. Frazier draws a few more walks and hits more HRs (although Walker still had the higher slugging%). And these aren’t fluky numbers. You can take the timeline back to the standard three years and it still holds. Walker is the better hitter. And if you let him play third instead of second, ala Brandon Phillips, he might be the better player.

Now I know what some of you will say. Look at that BABIP. Frazier is clearly due for some improvement while Walker should stay the same. But this is a fallacy in how BABIP actually works. While the MLB average for BABIP is .300 that doesn’t mean that’s what every player should average. Todd Frazier is an extreme fly ball hitter. He started that in 2015 when his FB rate jumped up to around 47%, which is where it has stayed. His average BABIP in those 3 years is .247 which obviously isn’t really close to .300. Why? Because, while the major league average BABIP is .300, the major league average BABIP on fly balls is .130. Extreme fly ball hitters aren’t going to see the same type of batted ball luck as hitters who have a more balanced profile. Combine that with the fact that Frazier leads the world in infield pop ups the last 3 years, and you can see why he probably isn’t due for much more luck. Maybe some. But not a lot. He’s just not that type of hitter.

But it’s not just the profiles that make an interesting case for Walker but the price tags too. Dave Cameron over at Fangraphs just released his top 50 free agents and their expected contracts. Not only does Walker come in higher on the list, 11th vs 13th, but he comes in cheaper. Cameron predicts Frazier is going to sign for something around 3 years $42M. He has Walker getting 3 years $33M. It’s not written in stone of course, but even judging by how much each gets talked about, it’s not hard to imagine Frazier getting the bigger contract. If I asked you before this piece who’s getting paid more, Neil Walker or Todd Frazier, what would you have said? I can make an easy case that Neil Walker is better than Todd Frazier and is going to be paid as if he’s worse.

Now it’s at this point that it’s prudent to bring up Walker’s injury history. He’s only played in 140+ games one time in the last 5 years and last year he had a significant hamstring injury. But he’s never failed to get at least 440 at bats in a season and maybe more importantly, he’s hasn’t posted a season below 2 WAR since 2010. Despite the injuries, he’s actually been a model of consistency.

The most likely scenario is Atlanta doesn’t end up with either one these players. It’s very possible they’ll balk at any contract over 2 years and go with more of a stop gap. But given the profiles of this two veterans and the expected price tags, the discrepancy in how much one is mentioned vs the other struck me as odd. Neil Walker is a good player. And he could play 3B.

4 Comments

Walker’s an interesting idea as a potential 3B, but I can’t say I wouldn’t be more than a little disappointed if that was the route the Braves went.

Theoretically, if everything breaks well, the Braves should have a slew of Walker-ish type players in the lineup next season. Dansby, first and foremost. Albies, only with more speed. Markakis, if he’s not traded- maybe with a bit less pop.

What the Braves lack is thunder in the heart of the order, especially if they trade Kemp. Acuna might help, but he’s so young- and it’s probably a bit unfair to think a player who’s not yet old enough to legally drink is going to be able to pair with Freddie in the middle of the order. That’s why I think it’s paramount that the Braves add some power at 3B.

Walker’s not the guy for that.

Ideally, I’d like to see the Braves add Moose at the right price. I wouldn’t hate Frazier, either. If all else fails, maybe take a flier on Nick Castellanos. Yeah, his defense isn’t great- but the acquisition cost would be virtually nil, and if Riley continues to develop, Cas is easily non-tendered next season.

Just my two cents.

I’d rather leave 3rd base in the hands of a platoon of Rio Ruiz and either Adonis Garcia/Johan Carmago (depends on if The Braves want to use Carmago as the all around utility player) for 2018. The only way I’d be down to seeing one of those 3rd base Free Agents sign with The Braves…would be under a one year contract (very unlikely).

As I’ve stated before, if we’re going to spend big money on a Free Agent…it should be on someone who is a TRUE DIFFERENCE-MAKER….someone like Manny Machado during The 2018 Offseason Free Agency Period! $35 mil a year long term should get it done! He’ll only be 26 years old..in his absolute prime!

With Ronald Acuna’s skill set making him the ideal #2 hitter in our lineup. Middle of the lineup power is seriously lack in The Minors for The Braves. However, as I’ve been saying all along, Free Agency after The 2018 Season offers two PRIME CANDIDATES to fill those holes (Machado and Bryce Harper). Both will stretch our lineup out (giving Freddie Freeman serious protection)…both are young..both hit for a high average and draw walks. Pay each $35 mil a year long term…and with Freeman a relative bargain at $21 mil from 2019-2021….we can sign Freddie to an extension as well (a playoff Braves team will increase revenues even more…making it easy to pay Freddie his $35 mil-ish extension, should his performance continue to match his previous years).

For my proposal to make sense…we need our young pitching (along with Albies and Acuna) to make their mark and rise up in during The 2018 Season. Also, The Braves need Mike Soroka, Kolby Allard and possibly Kyle Wright to push/develop/rise up (similarly to how Luis Gohara advanced from High A to The Majors in less than a season….with Soraka and Allard already starting 2018 in Triple A while Wright is likely to start 2018 in Double A).

I’m excited for 2018, not because of any unrealistic 2018 playoff chances, but because of the potential development of our young players…whose rise/performance will go a long ways towards any efforts to go after Machado, Harper and Craig Kimbrel (we should offer him $18 mil a year to return to The Braves as our closer) after The 2018 Season ends! A lot of IFs….but the talent/possibility is there!

The idea of a Camargo/Ruiz platoon on the hot corner is honestly depressing, even if only for a year. Camargo’s a useful utility piece, but not an everyday 3B. Rio Ruiz is just terrible. I’d rather they resign Terry Pendleton, at 57, to play 3B than go with a full year of Camargo/Ruiz at 3B. I’m a hundred percent serious, too.

Wouldn’t be opposed to Neil Walker so long as he is signing a 1-year contract and understands his leash will be short. Obviously those two things are personal preferences and the organization may see things differently, but I have my reasons.

First, the 1-year contract requirement is not a 1-year with an option/buyout. It needs to be straight up 1 year. The reasoning is because I don’t want to be bothered by having to worry about potentially trading him the following winter or at the deadline (or being stuck with him if he gets hurt again or doesn’t produce). I also don’t want to have to pay him to go away, no matter how small the buyout is.

Second, Neil Walker needs to understand what he is going to be to the Braves. He’s not going to be coming in to be some cornerstone or untouchable franchise guy. He’s going to be a stopgap. Stopgaps are designed in such a way that you’re able to pool said stopgap at any time for whatever reason–which includes may or may not include ineffectiveness. I mean, don’t get me wrong. If he’s hitting, he’ll likely play. We may eventually trade him for profit…but he’ll play until then. However, if he stalls out and does not hit, or gets hurt, we don’t need someone whining about playing time or that he is being wronged being asked to come off the bench. The future at 3B in Atlanta, at least currently, is Austin Riley….and if/when the time comes when Riley is ready to walk through the door, Walker needs to be ready to step aside and allow that to happen.

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