2016 Top 10 Third Basemen

The sun is shining a little brighter.  The air is warming up.  The grass is turning green again.  And, games are being played in Arizona and Florida.  It’s an exciting time of year!  As we continue to look through MLB Network’s “Top 10 Right Now” lists, we’ve come to the hot corner.  There is some impressive young talent at this position right now.  Several names that weren’t even in consideration just a year ago.  So, let’s take a look at MLB Network’s list:

  1. Josh Donaldson (TOR)21665415229_16f1a71113_k
  2. Kris Bryant (CHC)
  3. Adrian Beltre (TEX)
  4. Manny Machado (BAL)
  5. Justin Turner (LAD)
  6. Nolan Arenado (COL)
  7. Jung Ho Kang (PIT)
  8. Matt Carpenter (STL)
  9. Kyle Seager (SEA)
  10. Todd Frazier (CHW)

Before I even look at the numbers, my initial reaction is that this list is probably a little closer to what I would expect than the other lists have been.  The biggest question mark, for me, is Kris Bryant.  Yes, there seems to be an incredible amount of potential there, and yes he won the Rookie of the Year award.  But, he also led the league in strikeouts (199!), and has just one season under his belt.  Ranking him as high as #2 seems to be putting an enormous amount of stock in what he probably will be, rather than what he is right now.  Arenado seems a bit low, considering the year he just had.  And, while names like Justin Turner, Kyle Seager and Jung Ho Kang don’t strike me as guys that I would assume would be on the short list of great third basemen, I don’t immediately know who should be ahead of them.

After looking at the statistics, I see that my list ends up being even more similar to MLB Network’s list than I first imagined.  There just aren’t a lot of third basemen that are performing at a high level in today’s game.  Or, perhaps the best way of saying it is this:  there are very few third basemen that are excelling in a wide number of categories.  The difficult part of putting this list together ended up being where to place emphasis.  One guy gets on base a lot (Carpenter), but doesn’t really excel at anything else, and is actually atrocious defensively.  One guy has huge power numbers (Arenado), and is a top-5 defender, but his overall offensive production is mediocre because he doesn’t run well, and doesn’t get on base much.  Some guys have health concerns, some guys don’t have a lot of experience, and so on.

My list ended up with 12 guys being considered seriously, when it was all said and done.  Honorable mention goes to Matt Duffy, of the Giants.  It was a very close call at the bottom of my list.  Trying to decide between three guys for the last spot was nearly impossible.  Duffy is a top-10 defender, and an excellent baserunner.  But, his overall offensive production is closer to the middle of the pack, because his power just isn’t there.  It may still come, as he’s just going into his age 25 season.  But, for now, I had to put him at #11.  So, here are my top 10:

  1. Josh Donaldson
  2. Kris Bryant
  3. Manny Machado
  4. Adrian Beltre
  5. Anthony Rendon (WSH)
  6. Justin Turner
  7. Todd Frazier
  8. Jung Ho Kang
  9. Kyle Seager
  10. Nolan Arenado

Let’s start with the name left off my list – Matt Carpenter.  He ranks 12th for me.  He ranks 2nd only to Turner in OBP over the last two seasons, which is the primary reason his wRC+ is 5th among third basemen.  But, beyond these numbers, Carpenter goes from average (12th in SLG), to below average (19th in baserunning), to just plain awful (40th in DRS and 34th in UZR).  The only other person anywhere close to that bad in any category was Arenado (32nd in baserunning).  So, I couldn’t justify placing Carpenter ahead of any of the others who were at least able to be average in most areas.

14430676940_b00412109c_zThe biggest surprise, to me, was Rendon.  Not only was he not on MLB Network’s list – but, he didn’t crack any of the analyst’s lists on the show.  My first thought was – is he actually playing 3rd base?  And, he is projected to be the Nationals’ starter.  I’m guessing that what many have forgotten is how great his 2014 season was.  Yes, he played well below that in 2015 – but, he also only played 80 games due to an injury.  And, he’s going into his age 26 season, which tells me he’s still coming into his own.  So, I believe 2014 is much more the type of player he is than 2015.  And, even with a bad 2015 season, he still ranks 8th in OBP, 8th in DRS, 10th in wRC+, and doesn’t rank below 14th in anything else over the last two seasons.  That’s more than anyone ranked below him can say.

Arenado dropped to the bottom (and nearly out), because his OBP is below average (.325 – 22nd), which impacts his wRC+ (117 – 12th), and his baserunning is poor (-2.4).  Yes, his power numbers are great (.544 SLG – 1st), but don’t forget where he plays – his SLG was 71 points higher at home than on the road last year.  What got Arenado into the top 10, for me, was his defense.  Frazier, Kang & Seager were all very very tight.  The only area Frazier seems to struggle is OBP (.322 – 26th).  Other than that, Frazier is in the top 11 in everything.  Kang is a below-average fielder (17th in DRS & 23rd in UZR), but is very productive overall with his bat (130 wRC+ – 4th).  Seager is good, but not great, at pretty much everything – with the exception of being a terrible baserunner (-6.4 BsR – 40th!).

Justin Turner surprised me – he’s at the top in wRC+ and OBP, and is 3rd in SLG over the last two seasons.  And, while he’s an average defender, and only a below-average baserunner, I just couldn’t bring myself to put him any higher on the list than I did.  I was actually tempted to put him behind the Frazier/Kang/Seager pack.  Turner is going into his age 31 season, and has yet to play a full season.  His 126 games last season were the most he has played in his career.  And, he had knee surgery during the off season.  Yes, he has been very productive over the last two years – when he has played (235 games total).  But, they have also been, by far, the most productive seasons of his career.  I’m just not comfortable expecting great numbers to continue.

Kris BryantThe other surprise, to me, was Kris Bryant.  I tried to find a way to move Machado or Beltre ahead of him, but just couldn’t do it.  Beltre and Machado are clearly the superior defenders (along with Donaldson, they are the gold standard at 3rd), but it isn’t as if Bryant is stinking it up.  He’s 18th in DRS (which is a cumulative stat, and he has only one season under his belt), and 15th in UZR – putting him right in the middle of the pack.  And, Bryant’s offensive production (3rd in wRC+ & OBP, 4th in SLG) and baserunning skills (2nd in BsR) are so far ahead of Machado & Beltre, I just couldn’t justify moving him down.  And, if you throw in my subjective category of “age factor,” Bryant’s only going to get better.

Donaldson was the easiest choice of the entire group.  No one excels both offensively and defensively the way he does, at third base.  He’s in the top two in wRC+, SLG, DRS & UZR, 5th in OBP, and his lone “bad” category is his 2.4 BsR, which ranks 15th.  And, he’s still in his prime (just turned 30 in December), so I don’t expect him to relinquish the top spot anytime soon.

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