Today, the fourth installment of Best of the Decade, which reviews the top players at each position during the 2010s. To read any of the three previous articles, click one of the links above.
Now, for the lads at the hot corner:
Fangraphs Top 30 by WAR (2010-2019)
Baseball Reference Top 30 by WAR (2010-2019)
If you want an explanation of any of the more advanced metrics in the tables, click here or navigate to the top of the page and click on the post titled “Best of the Decade: Catchers.”
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Ep. 10: Jake Ortega, NBA Restart, Mike Trout, Cardinals – Podcast By Committee
Tops of the ‘Tens
Any conversation about third basemen in the 2010s should start with the one and only Adrian Beltre. Depending on who you ask, the margin by which Beltre was the best varies but both Baseball Reference and Fangraphs agree that he was the most valuable third baseman in the decade. Aside from his on-field antics (video here), The Dominican posted at least five five-WAR (read: really good) seasons and hit over .300 in the decade. He had four seasons of 30-plus home runs and seven seasons of 30-plus doubles to go along with 227 home runs and 1466 hits. Beltre is a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer thanks to fact that he remained an excellent player into his late thirties and has surpassed 3000 career hits, which is essentially a one-way ticket to Cooperstown.
Evan Longoria, recipient of the largest contract in Tampa Bay Rays history, was nothing short of stellar to start the decade, posting a 7.5 fWAR (8.2 rWAR) season in 2010. Since then, he’s compiled 36.0 rWAR in nine seasons while playing for two teams: the Rays and Giants. Longoria is one of just 52 players with over 100 home runs in his first four seasons and, at the end of the 2011 season, was 19th all-time for home runs through a player’s first four seasons. His play has dropped off over the past few seasons but he still accrued at least 16+ rWAR in each half of the last decade, which is an excellent total. To top it all off, Longoria leads all third basemen in runs, homers, and runs batted in over the last decade. Not too shabby for the 2006 third overall pick.
Former catcher Josh Donaldson has blossomed into a three-time all star and MVP at the hot corner. Originally drafted by the cubs, Donaldson played behind the dish until getting traded to Oakland, where he transitioned to third base and the power came out. The Bringer of Rain’s 218 home runs since the start of the 2012 season, when he started playing third full time, are 10th in all of baseball and second among third basemen behind Nolan Arenado’s 227. Donaldson will be suiting up for the Twins, his fourth team in three years, in 2020 and if he can stay healthy, should continue to be one of the best offensive third basemen in baseball.
Third Base Tier Two
After signing an eight-year, $260 million deal prior to last season, Nolan Arenado is locked up as a Rockie until 2026, his age-35 season. He’s on the fast track to being the best Rockies player of all time, having accrued more WAR than all but three all-time Rockies (Tulowitzki, Walker, Helton). If he puts up anything close to his normal production, he should move into third on the Rox all-time WAR list at some point this season.
Aside from being one of the greatest Rockies to ever play, Arenado is probably the best third baseman in baseball right now. His defense is stellar; he’s first in Outs Above Average since MLB started keeping track in 2017. He’s also first in home runs, runs, and RBI among third basemen over the past five seasons and second in weighted on base average behind the aforementioned Donaldson. Sure, he gets the Coors boost, but even accounting for park factors, Arenado has been the seventh-best offensive third baseman in baseball over the past five seasons and has produced 27% above the league-average third baseman offensively. He’s averaging 39.8 home runs per season dating back to 2015 and has missed just 23 team games in that timeframe; he’s played 787/810 games since the start of the 2015 season (97% of Rockies games).
All of this is a very long-winded way of saying that Arenado is not only one of the best third basemen in baseball right now but that he has been one of the best third basemen in all of baseball over the past decade though he has only been up since 2013.
Manny Machado, much like Arenado, has been an ironman over the past five seasons, playing in 97.9% of his team’s games. Unfortunately he hasn’t been quite as productive, but the best ability is availability which makes him one of the best guys to have at the hot corner. Machado’s 174 home runs since 2015 are second only to Arenado’s 199 and Machado can also fill in at shortstop whenever necessary. At third, he’s a roughly average defender which, coupled with his offense, has earned him a top-five spot on the 2010s WAR leaderboard among third basemen on both Fangraphs and Baseball Reference. Machado’s play dipped in 2019—he posted his lowest rWAR total since 2014—but there was not a whole lot to indicate that the reduction in production will be sustained. Yes, he struck out at a higher clip in 2019, but he was hitting the ball hard more frequently and still hit line drives at a clip similar to the rest of his career. Look for Machado, who was one of the best third basemen in the 2010s, to continued to rake in the 2020s.
Anthony Rendon has quietly been one of the best players in baseball over the past three seasons. His 19.9 fWAR since the start of 2017 is fourth among all hitters behind three dudes named Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, and Christian Yelich. He has 129 doubles over the past three seasons which ranks third in baseball, appropriately earning him the nickname Tony Two Bags.
Going back a little further Rendon has been worth between 25 (fWAR) and 30 (rWAR), making him the second-most valuable third baseman behind Josh Donaldson in terms of WAR in that time period. He’s teaming up with Mike Trout in Los Angeles starting in 2020 and I’m excited to see what the future holds now that Rendon has demonstrated that he can be one of the best bats in the game. Trout-Rendon is going to be a lethal 2-3 combo.
Kyle Seager is the only guy in this category who doesn’t still perform at a good-to-great clip. In the 2010s, he was one of the best third basemen in the game but has recently not performed as he had in the middle of the decade. From 2014-2016, Seager was 15th among all major leaguers in fWAR thanks to his 81 home runs and 100 doubles. He was never an elite player but his great offense and good defense in that time period made him a top-five third baseman in that time frame. Aside from those three seasons, he has had some solid years but nothing outstanding. He doesn’t hit for a good average, walks at an average rate, and strikes out a little less than average, all of which combines to make him a good-but-not great third baseman. Fortunately, a good-but-not great third baseman who plays at least 154 games from 2012 to 2018—seven seasons, in case you’re counting—is going to put up some solid WAR totals.
It’s hard to call Matt Carpenter a third baseman considering that over the past four seasons, he has played third base in less than half of his appearances. That is one of Carpenter’s positives, though: he can play first, second, and third well. He also has a good bat and is well disciplined at the plate; Carpenter ranks first in walk rate and walks among qualified third basemen over the past decade. His 2013 season was incredible: he slashed .318/.392/.481 with 55 doubles, 126 runs, and 199 hits, all MLB highs. He finished just fourth in MVP voting that year, but that season catapulted him into the conversation for best third basemen in the game and he has stayed there ever since. Carp dealt with injuries in 2019 but if he is fully healthy in 2020, I expect to see him ripping doubles off of NL and AL Central pitching once again.
In Their Prime
Kris Bryant is one of my favorite players in MLB right now for a multitude of factors. The foremost of those is his play at the hot corner; Bryant paces all third basemen in fWAR since his debut and ranks near the top of most offensive categories among third basemen. He began his career 0-4 with three strikeouts but has since turned it around just a little bit; he won the MVP in his sophomore season in 2016 and has averaged over five fWAR per season in his five years in the bigs. KB will likely remain one of the best third basemen in the game as we move into the 2020s.
The Astros are a touchy subject right now but there’s no denying that Alex Bregman has absolutely raked since his debut. The Albuquerque native has improved with each season, most recently posting 8.5 fWAR (and 9.1 rWAR) in a 2019 season that saw him slash .296/.423/.592 with 41 home runs. How much of his success can be attributed to sign stealing is anyone’s guess but even knowing what’s coming on every pitch doesn’t get you to 41 home runs. Houston made a smart play by signing Bregman to a six-year, $100 million extension prior to his monster 2019; they probably saved themselves between $30 and $40 million dollars by buying out two free agent seasons and all three of his arbitration years. I definitely would not be excited to be an AL West pitcher who has to face Bregman a handful of times each season in the coming decade.
Matt Chapman is probably the most underrated third baseman in baseball right now for two reasons:
- Chapman plays for the Athletics
- Chapman derives a ton of his value from defense which isn’t properly appreciated by fans.
Since his debut in 2017, Chapman is second in all of baseball in defensive WAR among all players, not just third basemen. He has 9.2 rWAR from defense since 2017 which is nearly double second-place Nolan Arenado’s total (4.8) over that same period. In that same timeframe, Chapman is also one Out Above Average behind Arenado, who is first, despite playing in 100 fewer games which is to say that he’s probably been a better defender than Arenado.
On top of Chapman’s elite defense, his bat has come around. Last season, Chpaman slashed .249/.342/.506 with 36 doubles and 36 home runs in 156 games. So long as Chapman is fully healthy, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him be the best third baseman of the 2020s.
After two relatively uninteresting seasons, Jose Ramirez burst onto the scene in 2016 by hitting .312/.363/.462 with 11 home runs at 22 steals. The power wasn’t quite there but he was doing everything else, so the Indians trotted him out there every day once again in 2017, and the power showed up. Since the start of 2017, Ramirez has rapped 127 doubles, 91 home runs, and stolen 75 bases. He had a disappointing first half of 2019, slashing 218/.308/.344 with just seven home runs, but the Ramirez we all know and love returned after the all-star break. After the Midsummer Classic, Ramirez was one of the best hitters in baseball, slashing .327/.365/.739 with 16 home runs. I fully expect that we will see more second-half Ramirez than first-half Ramirez in 2020.
Full disclosure, I had no idea that Eugenio Suarez hit 49 home runs in 2019 prior to my research for this article. I knew that he’s been one of the best power hitters in baseball over the past two seasons (.550 slugging, 83 home runs) but I didn’t realize he was one bomb away from fifty in 2019. He’s coming off three straight seasons of 3.5+ fWAR and rWAR and figures to be one of the better third basemen as we enter the 2020s.
Oldies But Goodies Except A-Rod
Just getting this one out of the way quickly. Alex Rodriguez was not one of the best third basemen in the 2010s but the fact that he’s one of the best right-handed hitters to ever live makes him noteworthy. Other noteworthy things about A-Rod: his 162-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs that he got from Biogenesis and his admission that he also used steroids from 2001-2003. Now that he’s an ESPN analyst and engaged to Jennifer Lopez, people seem to have forgotten that he’s defrauded baseball fans and his teammates on multiple occasions, but the truth will catch up to him eventually. I hope.
David Wright is a perfect example of how to play the game cleanly. Again, Wright wasn’t one of the best third basemen in the 2010s but I wouldn’t be able to write an article about 2010s third basemen without including my favorite player to ever live. He hit a solid .282/.362/.460 with 102 home runs in the decade before finally retiring due to spinal stenosis. If you want to read how much I love David Wright, click here. Otherwise, you can keep reading about some guys I don’t like quite as much as David Wright.
Chase Headley, shockingly, was a borderline top-ten third baseman over the past decade. This is despite the fact that he never played in an all-star game, got MVP votes in just one season (he finished 5th), won one gold glove, one silver slugger, and led the league in an offensive statistical category just once. All of this is not to say that Headley wasn’t a good ballplayer, he was solid, but I was surprised to see him end up where he did on the 2010s WAR leaderboard given his play over the past decade.
Kung Fu Panda, Pablo Sandoval had one good year in the 2010s: 2011. That year, he slashed .315/.357/.552 with 23 home runs in 117 games. His career batting average after that season was .307. His current career batting average is .280. Sandoval put up 6.0 rWAR in 2011 and just 8.7 rWAR in the other nine years combined. He was good for the Giants for a fleeting moment of time but will probably be best remembered for his build and the fact that he once broke a belt on a swing.
Here’s a fun game. Let’s compare Justin Turner‘s stats with the Mets from 2011-2013—that was when he was full-time—to his stats with the Dodgers.
Justin Turner with the Mets (2011-2013): .267/.327/.371, 8 home runs in 297 games. 0.9 rWAR.
Justin Turner with the Dodgers (2014-2019): .302/.381/.506, 112 home runs in 754 games. 27.4 rWAR.
You don’t need a magnifying glass to see the difference.
In the middle of the decade, Todd Frazier was one of the best power hitters in baseball, playing 157, 157, and 158 games and hitting 29, 35, and 40 home runs in 2014, ’15, and ’16 respectively. He was never one of the best of the best, but he did win a home run derby and has over 200 home runs since his 2011 debut.
David Freese gets a shoutout for his 2011 postseason heroics; he won World Series MVP for delivering a game-tying hit with two outs in the bottom of the ninth of Game Six. And as if that weren’t enough, he hit the walk-off home run in the 11th inning of that game and added a game-tying double in his first at-bat in game seven. He was solid in the regular season, accruing 18.4 rWAR over the decade but really made his money in October.
Brett Lawrie‘s cup of coffee in 2011 was the highlight of his career: he triple-slashed .293/.373/.580 with 9 home runs in 43 games. He was touted as the next big thing heading into 2012 and now here we are in 2020 with no signs of Brett Lawrie anywhere. He hasn’t played in a big league game since 2016 and owns a career triple-slash of .261/.315/.419. I just threw him in here because it’s fun to remember prospects that never panned out.
Ryan Zimmerman is no longer a third baseman, but he had his best years manning third for the Nationals at the turn of the decade. He racked up 22.8 rWAR halfway through the decade and then injuries hit him, so he was forced to move to first base. The bat has stayed with him, though; he hit a career-high 36 home runs at age 32 in 2017. He would have likely been a bench bat for the Nationals in 2020 but he is one of two Nats that has decided to sit out the 2020 season entirely due to the pandemic.
Brett Lawrie, like I just mentioned, was a prospect that never turned out. Rafael Devers looks as though he will be the opposite. Devers, just 23 years old, led the American League in doubles (54) and total bases (359) last year. He slashed .311/.361/.555 with 32 home runs and, most of all, his defense improved drastically. After logging -18 OAA from 2017-2018, he put up a +7 mark in 2019. Devers, with another solid season, could be joining the gentlemen at the top of this article for best third baseman in baseball.
It looks as though Alec Bohm will get his first taste of the big leagues in 2020. Bohm, a former third-overall pick out of Wichita State, has hit 21 home runs in 165 minor league games and is most well known for his powers. He’s in the Phillies 60-man pool for the 2020 season and the Phillies don’t really have an incumbent player blocking him, so we could see him launching Bohms (I know that’s not how you pronounce it but the wordplay was too good to pass up) in Philadelphia soon.
Indians prospect Nolan Jones, like Bohm, is known for his power. Jones strikes out a ton more, though, so he may not be as exciting to watch. I can see Jones turning into a Joey Gallo lite: lots of strikeouts and some walks and home runs thrown in there.
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