2020 MLB Top Ten: Third Baseman

Last week, we looked at the top ten second basemen; the list contained some high-end players, but right now, the position as a whole lacks depth leaguewide. That’s certainly not an issue at third base, which is undoubtedly the most stacked position in terms of talent. Essentially, if you’re not an All-Star who is producing offensively and defensively, then making this list will be a daunting task; players such as Kris Bryant and Yoan Moncada failed to make the list. Perhaps most intriguing though is the relative youth at the position, as with eight of the ten players on this list being under the age of 30, this should remain the deepest position in the MLB. So, who managed to make this unbelievably talented list? Let’s rank the top ten third basemen in the MLB!

Stats Used (Via Fangraphs and Baseball Savant):

wrc+= Weighted Runs Created Plus; 100 is league-average (Ex: A player with a 111 wrc+ is 11% better than league average offensively, while a player with a 93 wrc+ is 7% worse)

xwOBA= Expected Weighted On Base Average

xSLG= Expected Slugging Percentage

drs= Defensive Runs Saved

UZR= Ultimate Zone Rating

ISO= Isolated Power (slugging percentage minus batting average)

OAA= Outs Above Average

Before we get into the top ten, let’s take a look at the players that just missed making the list

  • Kris Bryant (CHC) was once arguably the best third baseman in baseball, but he’s really regressed since his 2016 MVP season, and although his offense is fine, it doesn’t make up for his poor defense.
  • Yoan Moncada (CHW) had an excellent season last year, both in terms of production and hitting the ball hard, but his walk rate declined, and he doesn’t have much of a major-league track record.
  • Jeff McNeil (NYM) is an excellent utility player that will play third base this year, but he overachieved a little bit last season, so now wouldn’t be a good time to buy too much into his stock.
  • Eduardo Escobar (ARI) is a consistent contributor, but his expected statistics aren’t very good, and it’s not like he’s a superb defender.
  • Kyle Seager (SEA) and Evan Longoria (SF) are both veterans who had renaissance seasons last year, but they’re still past their prime.
  • Gio Urshela (NYY) had a great season last year, but I’m skeptical that he’ll replicate it.
  • One day, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (TOR) may be at the top of this list, but the time is certainly now, as he was putrid defensively last season and was relatively average offensively.

#10: Rafael Devers, Boston Red Sox

devers
Photo Cred: Bleacher Report

Age: 23

2019 Rank: N/A

2018 Stats (121 Games): .240/.298/.433 90 wrc+ -13 drs -4.5 UZR -7 OAA 1 fWAR

2019 Stats (156 Games): .311/.361/.555 132 wrc+ -6 drs 2.7 UZR 7 OAA 5.9 fWAR

2020 Projected Stats: .286/.336/.504 121 wrc+ -4 drs 3.1 UZR 5 OAA 4.4 fWAR

Ever since he debuted as a 20-year-old, it was clear that Rafael Devers had the potential to be one of the top third basemen in the MLB. However, his first full season didn’t go as planned, as he was below-average all-around; the team won the World Series in spite of him, rather than because he was a key producer. Ironically though, it was when Boston missed the playoffs entirely when Devers finally maximized on his potential, as he was nearly a 6-win player. Notably, the 23-year-old cut down on his strikeout rate significantly, and maximized on that extra contact- he ranked in the 94th percentile in exit velocity. Plus, for what it’s worth, his production was even better before he cooled off in September, and considering that this was his first true full season in terms of games played, he should better sustain a complete season in the future. Considering that he improved in practically every area this season, I’m very optimistic about Devers’ future, as even if he regresses slightly (.377 wOBA versus .360 xwOBA), he’ll still be on his way to being one of the game’s best young players. Even with Mookie Betts’ future in doubt with Boston, he’s a reason why Red Sox fans should continue to have optimism about their team moving forward.

#9: Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians

jose ramirez
Photo Cred: CBS Sports

Age: 27

2019 Rank: 1

2018 Stats (157 Games): .270/.387/.552 146 wrc+ 3 drs 3.3 UZR 3 OAA 8 fWAR

2019 Stats (129 Games): .255/.327/.479 104 wrc+ 3 drs 4.2 UZR 0 OAA 3.3 fWAR

2020 Projected Stats: .267/.339/.479 109 wrc+ 4 drs 3.9 UZR 2 OAA 4.2 fWAR

After posting an 8 fWAR season in 2018, Jose Ramirez appeared to have cemented himself as not only the game’s third baseman, but arguably a top-five player in all of baseball. Therefore, it was to the surprise of practically everyone when he came out off the gates as essentially a below-replacement level player; countless articles were written trying to figure out what was wrong with him. Now, he was a monster in the second half, and his 46.4% hard contact rate during that span means that his improvement was legitimate, and in all, a 3.3 fWAR in a bad season isn’t a bad feat at all. Yet, I’m not as optimistic about a complete bounceback for Ramirez as others may be. After all, he dramatically outperformed his expected statistics in the previous two seasons, so that may be catching up to him. Plus, it wasn’t as if his regression wasn’t warranted; both his strikeout rate and walk rate declined, and he also didn’t square up the ball (6.3% barrel rate) as much. Sure, his second half was much better, but considering the lay-off between the second half and the start of the next season is such a long time, so I’m not sure we can give him that much credit for that. Ramirez remains a 4-win type of player that can contribute in a variety of ways, but he clearly was never truly an elite third baseman, and should he have a similar season in 2020, he could be off this list entirely in the future.

#8: Manny Machado, San Diego Padres

machado
Photo Cred: Bleacher Report

Age: 27

2019 Rank: 2nd (As a Shortstop)

2018 Stats (162 Games)*: .297/.367/.538 140 wrc+ 3 drs 1.8 UZR 4 OAA 6.2 fWAR

2019 Stats (156 Games): .256/.334/.462 108 wrc+ 5 drs 3.1 UZR -5 OAA 3.1 fWAR

2020 Projected Stats: .272/.350/.481 119 wrc+ 8 drs 5.4 UZR 5 OAA 4.6 fWAR

*=Only Played 143 Innings at 3B

After signing a $300 million contract with the Padres, the largest in franchise history, expectations were extremely high for Manny Machado to be the leader of an up and coming team. Instead, the 27-year-old’s fWAR was cut in half, and due in part to that, the Padres finished in last place in the NL West. Nevertheless, San Diego’s roster looks ready to make a postseason push this season, and Machado remains at the front and center of it all. Sure, there are legitimate concerns about his play moving forward; he struck out more, his .342 xwOBA was much lower than usual, and his defense declined. Yet, he didn’t chase any extra pitches out of the zone, and overall, his track record offensively and defensively is too strong to ignore. That’s particularly true when considering his monthly splits, as when the team plummeted at the end of the season, that’s when he was at his worst, even though his hard contact rate remained strong. It was a rough first season in San Diego for Machado, but he’s still as talented as it gets; you don’t post three 6 WAR seasons by accident, after all.

#7: Eugenio Suarez, Cincinnati Reds

suarez
Photo Cred: Cincinnati Enquirer

Age: 28

2019 Rank: 9

2018 Stats (143 Games): .283/.366/.526 135 wrc+ 1 drs -4.8 UZR 5 OAA 3.9 fWAR

2019 Stats (159 Games): .271/.358/.572 133 wrc+ 2 drs -0.2 UZR 1 OAA 4.5 fWAR

2020 Projected Stats: .262/.349/.532 124 wrc+ 2 drs -0.9 UZR 2 OAA 4 fWAR

When the Reds signed Eugenio Suarez to a seven-year extension worth $66 million, it looked like a great move for the team to lock up a rising star coming off of a 3.9 fWAR season. Sure enough, all the 28-year-old has done in the two seasons since then is post a combined 8.4 fWAR, while establishing himself as one of the game’s premier power hitters. Even though he outperformed his expected statistics, Suarez still ranked in the 75th percentile or better in xwOBA (.355) and xSLG (.503); he’s a .360 xwOBA-type of hitter, and I can say that with far more certainty than I can for players like Ramirez or Machado. Plus, by increasing his launch angle (17.7 degrees) and barrel rate (14%), he was able to maximize his power (.301 ISO) even more, which should remain the case no matter what the baseball looks like in 2020. He doesn’t have the upside that Bryant, Machado, or Devers possess, but at the same time, Suarez is certainly reliable, which is an attribute that cannot be overblown. Had he not signed that extension, he’d be heading into his contract season primed to earn over $100 million in free agency. Instead? The Reds will have under contact at an incredibly affordable rate through 2025 (club option for 2025), and when it’s all said and done, that investment may go down as one of the top decisions in franchise history. There’s one decision made by the organization that may be even better than that one- they acquired him from the Tigers following the 2014 season for Alfredo Simon, of all people.

#6: Justin Turner, Los Angeles Dodgers

justin-turner-astros-cheating
Photo Cred: Sports Illustrated

Age: 35

2019 Rank: 3

2018 Stats (103 Games): .312/.406/.518 154 wrc+ 1 drs -1.8 UZR -3 OAA 4.2 fWAR

2019 Stats (150 Games): .290/.372/.509 132 wrc+ -7 drs -6.7 UZR 4 OAA 3.4 fWAR

2020 Projected Stats: .293/.375/.509 133 wrc+ -6 drs -5.3 UZR 3 OAA 4.1 fWAR

Because there are so many flashy, star-studded third basemen, some of the game’s more stable veterans tend to go under the radar. Justin Turner certainly fits that mold, especially on a Dodgers team that is filled with young superstars. The 35-year-old’s best years may be behind him, but nevertheless, he remains a force offensively. His .378 xwOBA ranked third (tied with Alex Bregman) at the position, and if he really is hitting the aging curve, his batted ball profile isn’t showing it- his 50.4% hard contact rate was a career-high. Now, his plate discipline numbers did regress last season, as did his defensive metrics (outside of OAA), which are legitimate concerns. Yet, his offense is still elite, and there isn’t enough the suggest that his defense truly is on the downswing; he may no longer occupy a spot in the top-five of this list, but he still has at least a few more years left of All-Star production, and I expect him to have another excellent season in what is a contract year for him.

#5: Josh Donaldson, Minnesota Twins

Minnesota Twins Introduce Josh Donaldson
Photo Cred: twincities.com

Age: 34

2019 Rank: 10

2018 Stats (52 Games): .246/.352/.449 117 wrc+ 1 drs 1.3 UZR 2 OAA 1.3 fWAR

2019 Stats (155 Games): .259/.379/.521 132 wrc+ 15 drs 2.4 UZR 8 OAA 4.9 fWAR

2020 Projected Stats: .261/.381/.533 137 wrc+ 12 drs 2 UZR 6 OAA 5.2 fWAR

Coming off an injury-shortened 2018 season, Josh Donaldson could’ve accepted a multi-year contract with a low average annual salary, but rather, he chose to bet on himself by taking a one-year pillow contract with the Braves. It’s safe to say that paid off; the 34-year-old got back to his usual ways, and because of that, earned a four-year, $92 million contract with the Twins. On the surface, that’s a very risky contract for Minnesota, as Donaldson is already in his mid-30s. So, why would a smart, small-market team make such a move? Well, because a the moment, he’s simply an amazing player. One look at Donaldson’s Baseball Savant page can tell you all you need to know about the former MVP, as he ranked in the 94th percentile or better in xwOBA (.387), hard-hit rate (50%), exit velocity (92.9 MPH), and OAA (6). In other words, he’s a standout player on both sides, and honestly, has no glaring flaw besides his age. Heck, he even improved in the second half, as he got more adjusted to his new team and back to playing after being sidelined for most of 2018; there’s a chance that last season was just a benchmark for  Donaldson moving forward. With him in the fold, Minnesota has a chance to have one of the best offensive seasons of all time- I truly believe he may be the player than can finally get the Twins over the hump in the American League, particularly against the Yankees.

#4: Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies

arenado
Photo Cred: Sports Illustrated

Age: 28

2019 Rank: 2

2018 Stats (156 Games): .297/.374/.561 132 wrc+ 5 drs 5.8 UZR 8 OAA 5.7 fWAR

2019 Stats (155 Games): .315/.379/.583 128 wrc+ 8 drs 10.3 UZR 17 OAA 5.9 fWAR

2020 Projected Stats: .302/.364/.529 123 wrc+ 7 drs 9.1 UZR 15 OAA 5.3 fWAR

Right now, the talk around Nolan Arenado certainly isn’t about his production on the field, but his dissatisfaction with the Rockies organization; there’s a chance he’s traded just one year into his eight-year extension. Therefore, that makes the Coors Field effect conversation more relevant, as obviously, he won’t have the benefit of playing at a high altitude if he were to be traded to a different team. With a 118 road wrc+ and just a .353 BABIP at home (not that high in Colorado), it’s clear that he’s not completely a product of the ballpark. Yet, there’s also truth to the fact that Arenado might not be as elite of a hitter were he to be traded. After all, the difference between his xwOBA and his wOBA throughout his career has been substantial, which included a monumental gap this year (.392 wOBA versus .344 xwOBA). Sure, he may just naturally overachieve his expected statistics, like some players do, but since he actually ranked below average (40th percentile) in hard-hit rate, there is reason to be skeptical of the 28-year-old. On the bright side, he did cut down on his strikeout rate (14%) and remained one of, if not the best defensive third baseman in the MLB. Yet, he’s a pretty streaky player, based on his monthly splits, and if he is traded, I’m not sure he’ll be quite the elite performer that he currently is. In Colorado, however, he’s a fringe 6-win player, and until he leaves, we’ll never be able to quantify the legitimacy of the former second-round pick’s overall numbers.

#3: Matt Chapman, Oakland A’s

mattchapman
Photo Cred: NBC Sports

Age: 26

2019 Rank: 5

2018 Stats (145 Games): .278/.356/.508 138 wrc+ 29 drs 10.9 UZR 8 OAA 6.6 fWAR

2019 Stats (156 Games): .249/.342/.506 125 wrc+ 18 drs 14.9 UZR 14 OAA 6.1 fWAR

2020 Projected Stats: .258/.351/.484 124 wrc+ 22 drs 13.1 UZR 13 OAA 6 fWAR

In the past two seasons, the A’s have been an absolute juggernaut, winning 97 games in each of those years. That just happens to coincide with Matt Chapman’s first two full seasons, which in my opinion, is no coincidence. The 26-year-old has posted back-to-back seasons with a 6 fWAR, which is quite the turnaround for a player that was seen as an offensive liability when he was in the minor-leagues. Since then, he’s completely transformed his approach at the plate, as his 10.9% walk rate and 21.9% strikeout rate were career bests. Plus, he’s also hitting the ball very hard (92.6 MPH exit velocity, 96th percentile), and with that, has also increased his launch angle (16.3 degrees). Oh, and offense isn’t even his strength- it’s close between him and Arenado, but based on all defensive metrics, Chapman is probably the best defender at the position. Heck, we’re only two years into his career, so we perhaps haven’t even seen the best of him. Either way, he’s probably the most well-rounded third baseman, with the potential to be even more; this is a player that Oakland, with their limited budget, needs to find a way to keep past his arbitration years.

#2: Alex Bregman, Houston Astros 

bregman
Photo Cred: USA Today

Age: 25

2019 Rank: 6

2018 Stats (157 Games): .286/.394/.532 156 wrc+ -6 drs -3.1 UZR 4 OAA 7.6 fWAR

2019 Stats (156 Games): .296/.423/.592 168 wrc+ 7 drs 2.4 UZR 4 OAA 8.5 fWAR

2020 Projected Stats: .278/.405/.500 141 wrc+ 5 drs 2 UZR 5 OAA 6.7 fWAR

Currently, few players are under as much scrutiny as Alex Bregman, who is one of the main focal points of the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal- he refused to answer questions about it, which has led to him being on the receiving end of plenty of criticism. However, in this section, we’ll not be addressing whether Bregman’s production was legitimate or not in terms of sign-stealing, but rather his future outlook as a player. The 25-year-old was extremely close to winning the AL MVP this past season, and his combined 16.1 fWAR over the past two seasons is the best for a third baseman by a wide margin. So, why isn’t Bregman ranked #1? Based on his batted ball profile, I’m not sure he can sustain his current level of production. The former second overall pick doesn’t have a great knack for hard contact, which means his expected statistics aren’t on par with the numbers he has posted in the past. Nevertheless, his plate discipline (17.2% walk rate, 12% strikeout rate) is off the charts, and whether it’s at third base or shortstop, he’s a solid defender. I have no doubts that Bregman can continue to be an MVP-caliber player in the future, and he’d rank #1 on almost any other list. Unfortunately for him, third base is no normal position in today’s game; there’s a third baseman in his own division that is  a better player at the moment.

#1: Anthony Rendon, Los Angeles Angels

rendon
Photo Cred: Federal Baseball

Age: 29

2019 Rank: 4

2018 Stats (136 Games): .308/.374/.535 139 wrc+ -6 drs 5.9 UZR 4 OAA 6.2 fWAR

2019 Stats (146 Games): .319/.412/.598 154 wrc+ 2 drs 2 UZR 2 OAA 7 fWAR

2020 Projected Stats: 315/.408/.577 152 wrc+ 1 drs 3.4 UZR 1 OAA 6.9 fWAR

The Angels have desperately tried to, and have failed to build a contender around Mike Trout. After another postseason-free season, the front office has once again gone all-in to win, signing Anthony Rendon to a massive seven-year deal worth $245 million. That means that expectations will be very high on the team, and especially Rendon, to help give Trout what he deserves; the 29-year-old also has to live up to a monstrous amount of money. Will he be successful in that quest? Right now, I don’t see how he couldn’t be. Sure, Rendon is coming off a fantastic postseason with the World Series champion Nationals, but it’s what he did in the regular season that truly matters. When you rank in the 98th percentile in xwOBA (.418) and xSLG (.599), you’re in amazing company, and improving his launch angle (19.5 degrees) and plate discipline (12.4% walk rate, 13.3%), he’s established himself as one of the five best hitters in the MLB. Rendon offers both consistency and MVP upside, and I’m glad that he’s no longer being overlooked. It’s obviously early into his career, but when his career is finished, I think we’re looking at a Hall of Famer.

One thought on “2020 MLB Top Ten: Third Baseman

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