As part of SI.com's 2014 fantasy baseball preview, our experts Michael Beller and David Gonos will be engaging in a series of debates. For our fifth debate, they argue whether you should target David Wright or Evan Longoria in your search for a reliable third baseman.
Michael Beller makes the case for David Wright:
Last year, Wright was well on his way to his best season since the 2007-08 run, in which he hit .313/.403/.540 and averaged 31.5 homers, 115.5 RBI, 114 runs and 24.5 steals. Unfortunately, he suffered a hamstring injury in the first week of August that cost him nearly the final two months of the season. Still, he had a great overall year, hitting .307/.390/.514 with 18 homers, 58 RBI, 63 runs and 17 steals. Had he kept up the pace he was on when he got injured for the rest of the season, he would have finished with 25 homers, 90 RBI, 93 runs and 26 steals. On a per-game basis, he was easily one of the most valuable players in the league.
Of course, Wright's 2013 performance built on the 2012 bounce-back he experienced after struggling the previous season. Over the last two seasons, Wright has totaled a .307/.391/.501 slash to go along with 39 homers, 32 steals, 154 runs and 151 RBI in 268 games, which is 82.7 percent of two complete seasons. He is one of just six players ranked in the top 15 in batting average, OBP and slugging for 2012 and 2013 combined. The other five are Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, Andrew McCutchen, Joey Votto and Robinson Cano. That's pretty good company.
Wright isn't doing this with smoke and mirrors. After two years of sub-20-percent line-drive rates, Wright has gotten back to his frozen-rope ways. His line-drive rate was 22.9 percent last year and 22.2 percent in 2012. Wright has put up high BABIPs in each of the last two seasons, but that is no cause for alarm. Wright's career BABIP in 2005 through 2011 was .343, so a higher-than-average degree of success on balls in play has always been part of his skill set. So long as he's hitting the ball on the screws nearly a quarter of the time, he's going to be accumulating high BABIPs.
Few players in the majors are true five-category guys. Assuming he stays healthy, Wright is a near-lock to give you a 20/20 floor. He's going to hit for a strong average. His walk rate has been north of 10 percent every year of his career, so he's going to have a high OBP, as well. The Mets may not have the league's best lineup, but he'll be hitting third and should be able to both score and drive in at least 90 runs. He is a bit of an injury risk, having missed at least 45 games in two of the last three years, but there is so much upside here that the risk is easy to swallow.
If it seems odd that I haven't mentioned Wright's adversary in this debate, it's because he has so much virtue to extol. Longoria will almost certainly be a drag on your batting average, and he'll likely be neutral, at best, in OBP. He had 32 homers last year and 31 in 2011, yet he didn't reach .500 in slugging percentage in either of those years. If your league uses slugging or OPS, he won't be as much of a benefit there as you think he will be. Yes, he's going to easily outpace Wright in homers and could again push into the 30s in the category. He also carries 100-RBI and 100-run upside. But he's a three-category player who is dependent on his power numbers for most of his fantasy value, and his HR/FB ratio fell to 15.7 percent last year. He hit 32 homers in part because he put up a 44.5-percent fly-ball rate. If he regresses to his previous career average of a 42.5-percent fly-ball rate, he could lose somewhere in the neighborhood of two to four home runs from last year's total.
Longoria is a great player, and chances are you will be very happy with him if he's on your roster. Wright is one of the few five-category players in the majors. If you have a choice, he's the guy you want over the course of a full season.
David Gonos makes the case for Evan Longoria:
I like David Wright. I like him a lot. I'm also a Rays fan, and Longoria is one of my all-time favorite players. I'll do my best to be objective and not let my fandom cloud my judgment.
Starting with Wright -- he's a stellar hitter and one of the best in Mets history, with a career batting average of .301. He has eclipsed 25 home runs and 100 RBI in five seasons of his 10-year career. He has even stolen 20 bases or more in three different seasons and averages just over 18 steals per year.
Unfortunately, that's mostly in the past for Mr. Wright, who enters his age-31 season in 2014. Wright has just one 100-RBI season in the past five years. He has missed an average of 39 games over the past three seasons, and in that span, he hasn't hit more than 21 homers in a season -- and that was 2012, when he played 156 games.
Also, let's take a look at this projected lineup Wright may have to bat within:
1. Eric Young Jr.
2. Daniel Murphy
3. David Wright
4. Curtis Granderson
5. Chris Young
6. Ike Davis
7. Travis d'Arnaud
8. Ruben Tejada
That's just not a good offense. Everyone on that list not named David Wright will struggle to post a .325 on-base percentage, and most of them are closer to .300. Who is Wright going to be knocking in? Meanwhile, Longoria finally has someone even approaching his talent level next to him in the lineup in the form of 2013 AL Rookie of the Year Wil Myers.
While I've knocked Wright for not staying healthy over the past three seasons, Longoria also has a reputation for being a bit fragile. Last season, Longoria reached a career-high in games played and plate appearances, but his strikeout rate of 23.4% was his highest since his rookie season. If he brings that number down to its 2010-12 range (18.2%), his batting average will rise along with the counting stats -- as long as he stays healthy.
The projected Tampa Bay lineup is actually one of the best the Rays have fielded in Longoria's tenure with the team. He's sandwiched between two guys who can be counted on for .350 OBP in Myers and the versatile Ben Zobrist.
Wright is a player all owners would love to have on their team, including myself. I drafted him on my Tout Wars team last season and traded him just before his August hamstring injury for Paul Goldschmidt. I owe Wright a lot of love for helping me to a second-place finish.
But that was last year. If both players hit what we think they can hit, we'd want Longoria on our team because of his power at a tough position to get 600 at-bats from.
SI.com Fantasy Baseball Debate Series:
I. Robinson Cano vs. Jason Kipnis
II. Shin-Soo Choo vs. Alex Rios
III. Adam Wainwright vs. Stephen Strasburg
IV. Prince Fielder vs. Joey Votto
V. Evan Longoria vs. David Wright
VI. Carlos Santana vs. Joe Mauer