Continuing along with the top ten lists, let’s take a look at third base. This position is stacked with some of the game’s premier talents, which made this list so difficult to make. The fact that two former MVP winners don’t even make the top five speaks to the amount of talent on this list. Honestly, everyone on this list has a case to be in the top five, if not top three. Let’s take at the look at the top ten third basemen, based on how I believe they’ll do in 2019.
#10 Josh Donaldson, Atlanta Braves
Projected Stats: .253/.367/.481 (.848 OPS) 23 HR 2 drs 3.2 WAR
Speaking of former MVP winners, 2015 AL MVP Josh Donaldson starts this list off at #10. Donaldson was arguably the top third baseman a year ago, but a down year has sent his stock sinking down. The 33-year-old played in just 52 games due to a number of injuries, and wasn’t his usual self in the games he did play in, posting an .801 OPS and a 1.2 WAR. Still, Donaldson posted a .920 OPS in 16 games as an Indian once he returned from injury, and a number of factors signal he should bounce back in 2019. For starters, Donaldson’s 41% hard contact rate was actually up from 2017, including a 50% hard contact rate once he returned from injury. While his K rate was abnormally high in the first half, that rate dropped back down to 16.7% once he returned. In fact, that .920 OPS likely should have been higher, considering his .297 BABIP with them doesn’t reflect the insane amount of hard contact he was producing. Donaldson will likely return to a well above hitter next season, but his defense (6 drs last 3 years) is no longer elite and figures to get worse as he ages. Therefore, he’s no longer the all two-way threat he used to be, unlike most players on this list. Donaldson is a terrific player, but his injury concerns and his age make tenth the highest he can rank on this stacked list.
#9 Eugenio Suarez, Cincinnati Reds
Projected Stats: .273/.360/.496 (.856 OPS) 30 HR 3 drs 4.1 WAR
Being able to identify when a player is about to burst onto the scene is an outstanding method for finding the best time to extend a player before his stock soars. That’s what the Reds did when they signed Eugenio Suarez to a seven-year extension worth just $66 million after he posted a .828 OPS in 2017. How did the 27-year-old reward them? By posting an .892 OPS with a 3.9 WAR, that’s how. How did Suarez have this breakout season? He greatly improved the quality of his contact; his hard contact soared to 48.5%, proving that this breakout was not a fluke by any means. Suarez was practically unstoppable in the first half with a .973 OPS, but he regressed in the second half with just a .785 OPS. Still, he had a 44% hard contact rate during that “slump”, though his K rate did skyrocket to over 28%. Suarez has shown enough however, for me to give him the benefit of the doubt, and his overall numbers are just too magnificent to focus too much on the second half. He’s also a solid defender (6 drs last 2 years), though that’s definitely not what makes him deserving of a spot in the top ten. Suarez is now just entering his prime at age 27, and I’m not sure we’ve even seen the best version of him yet. Considering how productive he was in 2018, that has to frighten opposing teams. Suarez’s limited track record to some of the other players keeps him at #9, but another strong season would certainly vault him into conversation for a spot inside of the top five next year.
#8 Matt Carpenter, St.Louis Cardinals
Projected Stats: .253/.373/.499 (.872 OPS) 28 HR 3 drs 3.8 WAR
Baseball can be very strange at times. It’s a very streaky sport, which means it’s possible to go from being one of the league’s worst hitters to one of the league’s best, even in-season. That’s what happened with Matt Carpenter. After posting just a .579 OPS, he had a 1.052 OPS from May to August, only to post a .558 OPS. Overall, Carpenter had an .897 OPS with a 5 WAR, finishing ninth in the NL MVP voting. Even more impressive is Carpenter’s other numbers. His hard contact rate jumped to an absurd 49%, the best in the MLB. Yet, his .291 BABIP doesn’t reflect that, meaning Carpenter could be in line for an even better season this year. While his plate discipline was a little worse in 2018, his walk rate was also still terrific at 15.1%. While Carpenter has mostly been a first baseman, but he did post 6 drs at third base in a small sample this season. Now playing the position full-time after St.Louis acquired Paul Goldschmidt, he should be at least an average defender at third. Carpenter may be a little streaky, but he’s still an outstanding player. If he can prove that his terrific mid-season stretch last season wasn’t an aberration, he can move up even higher on this list, but for now, there’s too much talent on this list for him to rank better than #8.
#7 Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs
Projected Stats: .273/.387/.485 (.872 OPS) 23 HR 0 drs 4.5 WAR
In his four-year career, Kris Bryant has put himself possibly on track to reach the Hall of Fame. With a career .900 OPS, .385 OBP, and a 21.6 WAR, the 2016 NL MVP has been as excellent as advertised to start his career. However, dealing with injuries last season, he regressed slightly to a .834 OPS and a 1.9 WAR. Notably, Bryant’s hard contact rate dropped to 31.2%, while his .342 BABIP suggests he got a little lucky. His walk rate also dropped to 10.9%, while his strikeout rate increased to 23.4%. Still, considering Bryant’s first three season were elite, we can likely blame most of this relapse on the injury problems. Defensively, Bryant’s defense has always been a little overrated; the metrics suggest he’s more of an average defender than a top-notch defender. Still, he was a MVP candidate in his first three seasons, and has the upside to do so again this season with a return to form. Last year’s rough season keeps him at #7, but Bryant could definitely sneak into the top three with a bounce-back season next year.
#6 Alex Bregman, Houston Astros
Projected Stats: .280/.371/.493 (.864 OPS) 26 HR -3 drs 6 WAR
Since being drafted with the second overall pick in 2015, Alex Bregman has done nothing wrong. The 24-year-old has posted an .866 OPS in his two and half seasons with the team, has won a World Series, and even won the All Star game MVP last season. In that All Star season last year, he had a .926 OPS, 157 wrc+, and a 6.9 WAR. Bregman’s plate discipline may be his most impressive trait. His walk rate (13.6% BB) was higher than his strikeout rate (12.1% K), and his contact rate (88.5%) ranked in the top five. Still, his hard contact rate of 35.4% was lower than everyone on this list outside of Bryant, and his overall batted ball profile is worse than the rest. The metrics also rate him as a below average defender (-9 drs past two seasons), and as the worst one on the list. Nevertheless, Bregman’s outstanding season last year was no slouch, and his upside is off the charts. He’s not quite top five caliber yet, but he certainly has the potential to be that and much more.
#5 Matt Chapman, Oakland A’s
Projected Stats: .261/.338/.470 (.808 OPS) 25 HR 31 drs 7.1 WAR
If you’re going to win 97 games with a bottom five payroll, you desperately need for young, affordable players to produce at an extremely high level. That’s exactly what Matt Chapman did in 2018. The 25-year-old broke onto the scene last year, with an .864 OPS and an 8.1 WAR. Furthermore, his hard contact rate was terrific at 43.2%, his chase rate dropped to 23.5%, and he put up terrific numbers despite playing at arguably the league’s toughest stadium to hit in. It clearly affected him; his OPS at home (.749 OPS) was 200 points lower than it was on the road (.984 OPS). Plus, in the second half, he was on fire with a .961 OPS, and while his .371 BABIP in that span is higher than usual, so is his 42.4% hard contact rate in that span. Chapman may not be as high quality of a hitter as the other members of his list, he’s arguably on pace to become the greatest defender at third base on time. With 48 drs and a 20.3 UZR in his first two seasons, he’s on another level than any other player in the game defensively. Chapman has to be in the top five his due to his superb defense, and with another solid season offensively, he’ll have a spot in the top three for sure. For now, he checks in at #5, with likely another Platinum Glove awaiting for him this season.
#4 Anthony Rendon, Washington Nationals
Projected Stats: .300/.379/.525 (.904 OPS) 24 HR 10 drs 5 WAR
When you play with Bryce Harper for six seasons (five full), it’s very likely that you’ll go under the radar. That’s definitely the case with Anthony Rendon. In his past two seasons, the 28-year-old has averaged a .923 OPS and a 5.1 WAR. That’s incredible numbers, yet Rendon’s name barely comes up with fans when discussing who the top third basemen are. There’s not much else to say. Rendon rarely strikes out (13.7%), and increased his hard contact rate and line drive rate. While his defensive numbers were unusually poor (-6 drs) last season, he’s usually outstanding with 27 drs in the four seasons prior. Rendon could easily rank higher on this list, but there’s a couple of concerns I have. His chase rate increased all the way to 28.5%, while his walk rate decreased four percent to 9.2%. These are not promising numbers, so Rendon definitely wants to stop this regression with his plate discipline if he wants to continue to perform at an All Star level. Still, it didn’t affect him in 2018, and until it does, it’s impossible to punish Rendon with a lower ranking. With Harper gone, Rendon will finally have the spotlight on him this season, and will be tasked with leading the Nationals to a playoff spot, and much more. I have little doubt in my mind that he’s up for the task; he’s a premier talent at a premier position.
#3 Justin Turner, Los Angeles Dodgers
Projected Stats: .304/.396/.506 (.902 OPS) 18 HR 3 drs 5.7 WAR
Speaking of quiet, underrated stars, Justin Turner fits that bill as well as anyone else. After a rough beginning to his career with the Mets, the 34-year-old has been marvelous with the Dodgers, posting an .892 OPS in his five seasons with the club. He seems to get even better with age; his OPS has jumped to .935 over the past two seasons. Turner missed the first month and a half of the season after breaking his wrist in spring training, but still came back to post a .924 OPS with a 4.5 WAR in 103 games. Furthermore, Turner the farther he got from the injury. His OPS in the second half was ridiculous at 1.066, while more than half of the balls he put in play were of high contact. Turner also walks (11%) nearly as much as he strikes out (12.7%), and is without a doubt one of the game’s most complete hitters. He’s also a solid defender with 14 drs over his past three seasons, so he fills the profile as a two-way threat at the position. While some would argue that Turner should rank lower since he’s likely already reached his ceiling at age 34, he’s yet to show any signs of regression. Plus, consistency matters, and if Turner continues to produce at this level, it’ll be extremely difficult to keep him out of the top three next year despite his age.
#2 Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies
Projected Stats: .291/.370/.533 (.903 OPS) 36 HR 12 drs 6.5 WAR
While playing in Colorado would seem like a blessing for any hitter, it may actually be a curse in disguise. We’ve seen many players on the fringe of the Hall of Fame (Larry Walker, Todd Helton) be overlooked due to playing half their games at Coors Field. The same could be happening to Nolan Arenado. The 27-year-old is a four-time All Star, four-time Silver Slugger, and a six-time Gold Glove winner. He’s also finished in the top five in the NL MVP voting the past three seasons, but can’t seem to get over the hump. Why? There may be other reasons, but some of the reasoning has to be where he plays his home games. It’s true that his road OPS (.772) was much lower than it was at home (1.105), but it’s also true that those numbers may not be valid. Arenado’s hard contact rate (43.7%) was slightly higher on the road than it was in home, yet his BABIP on the road was just .270. If Arenado’s contact is of higher quality than it is at home, can we blame him for being an unlucky player on the road? Furthermore, there’s absolutely no way that Arenado’s OPS over the past three seasons of .942 can’t all be credited on his home ballpark. At some point, we’re going to have to admit that not all players who play for the Rockies have inflated numbers, and some are simply MVP caliber players. If Arenado played for any other team, I’d still expect for his OPS to be around .900, as he’s clearly more than a product of Coors Field. That stellar offense combined with his superb defense (109 career drs, 37.6 career UZR) makes him a Hall of Fame caliber player, and there’s no way I’d consider ranking Arenado lower than two. The only reason he isn’t number one, is because that spot is reserved for all around superstar.
#1 Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians
Projected Stats: .285/.377/.524 (.901 OPS) 31 HR 2 drs 7.4 WAR
With all due respect to Arenado, there’s no way I’d ever consider ranking anyone ahead of Jose Ramirez. The 26-year-old has been a force the past two seasons, with a .948 OPS and a 14.8 WAR in that span. There’s nothing that Ramirez can’t do. Obviously, he’s an elite hitter, and a huge part of that is due to his unreal plate discipline. His walk rate (15.2%) is much higher than his strikeout rate (11.5%), partially due to a very low chase rate of 22.5%. Some may be worried about his second half struggles (.793 OPS), but I’m not. His walk rate was higher during that time (17.6%), while his .208 BABIP in that span suggests that most of those struggles were due to bad luck. With better luck this season, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ramirez’s OPS was well over 1.000. Ramirez also fields his position well (3 drs, 3.3 UZR), and is able to play second base, short stop, and the outfield, and that versatility is very unique at the position. What’s also unique for a third baseman is Ramirez’s base running; he had 34 stolen bases and posted an elite 12 BsR this past season. There’s no weakness to Ramirez’s game, he’s one of the few remaining five tool players in the sport. He’s the clear-cut top third baseman, which is saying something consider the amount of supreme talent on this list, and there’s no doubt in my mind that he’ll be back on top next year as well.