Analysis

Top 10 MLB Third Basemen

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We move on to third basemen in the JD’s continuing series of top 10 at each position.

The categories I use to determine my rankings:
HR
K%
ISO
AVG
wOBA
wRC+
WPA
WPA/LI
Z-Contact%
Whiff%
UZR/150 (DEF)
DRS (DEF)
WAR

All categories will be graded on a 1-5 scale. If two players have similar numbers, they share the points. Meaning, three hitters have HRs of 34, 31, and 30, they all get the same point value.

I gave double weight to: K% (can’t strike out a lot), ISO (extra base hits), wOBA (more explicit than OBP), WPA (does he help his team win), and UZR/150 (defensive ability scaled to 150 games)
Triple weight goes to: wRC+  and WAR

All third basemen must play at least 50% of their games at the position and have no less than 800 plate appearances from 2016-2017.

#10- Eduardo Nunez, —
Still unemployed, Nunez is a Swiss army knife defender capable of playing several different positions. Despite that, Nunez isn’t the greatest fielder but certainly not terrible. He leads all third basemen in zone contact, 3rd in batting average and K%, and fourth-lowest whiff percentage. While Nunez won’t ‘wow’ you with his skills, he’s one of the most flexible and balanced players in the league.

#9- Kyle Seager, Mariners
With power, a great eye and strong defense, Seager comes in at number 9. Top 5 in home runs (57), zone contact and whiff rate, and has posted 13 defensive run saved the last two seasons. Seager’s WAR, since 2014, has fluctuated from 5.4 to 3.9 to 5.5 to 3.5. If this trend continues, he could be in for a strong year for the M’s.

 #8- Manny Machado, Orioles
Machado had a pedestrian year in 2017 with his WAR dropping nearly 4 wins. With the exception of his rookie year and his 82 games in 2014, Machado has carried a 6+ WAR every season. I wouldn’t be surprised if he bounced back but he’s going to have to prove it in 2018. Obviously he can play good defense and has elite power, but his BABIP plummeted. Unlucky? Probably, but he’s going to have to prove otherwise. Due to his overall drop last year, he drops in my rankings.

#7- Anthony Rendon, Nationals
Every full season Rendon takes part in, he’s been at least a 4.5 win player;  places third among third basemen with an 11.6 WAR. He could be considered the best defender of the group; 13.9 UZR/150 (first) and 15 runs saved (third). 2017 was Rendon’s best year yet but can he continue to play at this high a level? For now, Rendon meanders within the top five of the major stat categories, offensively and defensively.

aRendon

#6- Jose Ramirez, Indians
A third baseman who also plays a little second base, Ramirez has markedly improved over the last several years and blossomed into one of the premier MLB players. No third baseman has a better batting average, K-rate, Z-Contact percent, or whiff rate. Add to that the fourth-best wRC+ (135), high leverage win probability added (5.5) and WAR (11.3). Still in the top portion of third basemen in DRS, his UZR/150 oddly sits in the negative. Regardless, Ramirez could have a big year in 2018 as his numbers have continued to improve since 2015.

#5- Justin Turner, Dodgers
Turner appears in the top portion of every major category I evaluate for this list. He’s not the best, but he places in every stat group. 5th best in batting average and wOBA, 4th in K% and second in whiff rate, Turner is also an excellent defender (9.6 UZR/150 and 13 DRS). Oh, and you want power? Turner’s got lots of it.

jTurner

#4- Adrian Beltre, Rangers
This guy never gets old, does he? He’ll be 39 in April and is still one of the best defenders in baseball. Never mind he can still rake; .304 BA, great contact in the zone, low strikeouts and whiffs. Like Turner, he places in every weighted category for this list. In terms of the others above him, they simply performed better over the last two years. Beltre is still great, the only question is for how much longer. He could still retire right now and practically go out on top. H/T to the veteran!

aBeltre

#3- Kris Bryant, Cubs
After just three seasons, Bryant has become a World Champion, an MVP, and a Rookie of the Year. Pretty impressive resume for a hitter who hasn’t even begun to hit his peak. True, Bryant is head and shoulders above other third basemen in terms of WAR. He’s number one in wOBA and ISO. The fact remains that he swings and misses. A lot. He’s not a strong contact hitter in the zone; 83% z-contact, which places him near the bottom of my qualified hitters. His K-rate, though not terrible, is barely top-10 in the group. Defensively, Bryant holds down the hot corner well. (middle of the pack in terms of DRS and UZR/150). His biggest selling point for #1 is his positional-best WPA/LI. Maybe after 2018, he’s the hands-down number one. For now, he’s slightly lagging behind.

#2- Nolan Arenado, Rockies
I wrote a while back about how I felt Arenado was the most complete slugger in baseball. Many felt I was off my rocker but he’s undeniably a top five third baseman and, perhaps, baseball player. Not only is Arenado tops in slugging and home runs (check my article for any arguments pursuant to him playing in Coors) he’s the leader in defensive runs saved; it isn’t even close to his contemporaries. In most evaluated categories, Arenado is either first or second (AVG/HR/ISO/DRS) with a few third and fourths sprinkled in (Z-Contact/K%/WPA/LI). He’s projected to be a 5+ WAR and 35+ HR hitter in 2018. If his numbers continue to trend up, we might be looking to Arenado as the National League MVP.

#1- Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays

The Jays did the best thing they could this offseason bringing back the number one third basemen in MLB. Unlike a couple of the other lists, this choice wasn’t obvious. Donaldson, second in WAR and HRs, is tops in wOBA, ISO, WPA, and wRC+. His defense is OK and that’s good enough because he’s an incredible hitter. Like Bryant, he does swing and miss often and doesn’t make consistent zone contact.  That said, could you imagine if he did?

Check back for more misguided rankings as I finish up the rest of the positions in the coming days!

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