This is the latest post in this series reviewing the Kansas City Royals offensively, position by position. You can go back and read the posts on catchers (including a series preview), first basemen and second basemen.
First, let’s take a look at some of the players who played third base and how they hit while they played the position.
I’m a little shocked that only three players played every single inning at third base in 2010. Update: Mike Aviles, Willie Bloomquist and Alex Gordon all got limited time at third base in 2010. Thanks to the commenters for pointing this out. I knew it seemed odd. Alberto Callaspo got the bulk of the early season duties, while Wilson Betemit was the primary third baseman later in the season. Josh Fields got some late season work after coming back from an injury and Minor League rehab assignments. Alberto Callaspo was traded near the deadline, and he’s likely going to fade into my memory as one of those “remember that one guy who was an ok hitter, but not great….oh, whats his name?” Betemit had an absolute breakout year in 2010 at the age of 28, which is when these things can usually happen. However, his defense was absolutely horrendous. Every time the ball was hit in his direction, I held my breath and then usually cursed at the television.
It’s interesting to see the difference in approach between Betemit and Callaspo. Betemit clearly sees a lot of pitches, he walks at a high rate and also strikes out at a very high rate. Callaspo is trying to put the ball in play and find a hole, and thus he has an extremely low walk rate and a very low strikeout rate. Both approaches can be successful, there’s lots of ways to skin that cat.
Let’s take a look at a heat chart of the offensive numbers for each team in the American League at third base. Red represents the best in the category while green represents the worst.
Alberto Callaspo was an OK hitter for second base, but at third he wasn’t going to cut it offensively. His 76 sOPS+ would be the third worst mark in the American League at third base. While Betemit’s glove won’t really play at third, his bat certainly will. His sOPS+ of 132 at the position is the sole reason that the Royals third base unit was above average offensively. In fact, only two teams got a better on-base percentage from their third basemen than the Royals and those teams were anchored by Adrian Beltre and Evan Longoria.
The Royals third basemen were pretty good overall across a variety of categories. A lot of that is due to the averaging of the two strengths and weaknesses of Betemit and Callaspo. However, this is one of those times where it’s very interesting to see how the players do as a combined unit. At least for 2010, the third base position was a strength offensively and was a solid contributor. Defensively, now that is a whole other ball of wax. It didn’t take a seasoned scout to come to the conclusion that neither player was a top notch defender at third base.
Third base will be one of the more interesting positions to watch in 2011. I have little doubt that Mike Moustakas will make his Major League debut after spending a couple of months at the AAA level. Until then, the Royals will likely choose from Wilson Betemit, Mike Aviles and Josh Fields to play the position. They clearly have too many players for too few positions. Something is going to have to give. If I were a betting man, I’d put money on Mike Aviles as the starter on opening day with Wilson Betemit at DH or on the bench and Josh Fields on another team or in the Minors. However, that will just be a fill-in role. 2011 will mark the debut of Mike Moustakas and hopefully a long-term answer at third for the Royals.
Nick Scott writes about the Royals for Royals Authority, podcasts about the Royals at Broken Bat Single and writes about the Chiefs for Chiefs Command. You can follow him on Twitter @brokenbatsingle, on Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.