MLB: Ranking the Top 10 Third Basemen Entering 2018

The hot corner has seemingly never been hotter across the major leagues than it is right now. From the young stars such as Nolan Arenado and Kris Bryant to the veterans who refuse to regress such as Adrian Beltre and Justin Turner, the talent level at third base in the MLB is unreal.

With that, trimming down the list of third baseman in the league to just the top 10 was a hard task. Many deserving players were left out. However, that does not mean you may not see some of them crack the top 10 at some point over the season. The main statistics, which are all courtesy of ESPN, while considering the top third basemen were:

  • Offensive and defensive WAR
  • BA, OBP, SLG, HR, RBI, H, K’s
  • Fielding percentage, putouts, and errors

Honorable Mentions

Evan Longoria (SF), Zack Cozart (CIN), Todd Frazier (NYM), Matt Chapman (OAK), Eugenio Suarez (CIN), Miguel Sano (MIN), Mike Moustakas (FA), Jake Lamb (ARI), and Eduardo Nunez (BOS).

10. Adrian Beltre (2017: 3.7 OWAR, 0.5 DWAR)

The ageless Adrian Beltre put together another solid season in 2017. If not for a hamstring injury that cost him a chunk of the season his numbers would look a lot better. Even still, Beltre showed very little signs of slowing down as his numbers were still solid in his 94 games played. Just a side note, the 94 games Beltre played in the season was the least in his career since his first season in 1998 (77 games played).

Although he had just 340 at-bats, Beltre finished fourth in batting average among third basemen. If he was healthy there’s no question he would have had more than 17 home runs and 71 RBI. Even while being limited to under 350 at-bats Beltre still had over 100 hits for his 19th straight season.

As for his fielding, Beltre showed little sign of slowing down there as well. Again, thanks to his injury he was limited to 552 defensive innings. Even with that being the case Beltre was still efficient in the field, having just five errors in 190 chances. He also showed he still has plenty of range with a range factor score of 3.01. To put it in perspective, first place Kyle Seager’s score was 2.93. If Beltre were healthy all season there is a good chance he would be the league leader in that stat as well as quite possibly a few others.

Until Beltre retires or shows major decline it is hard not to consider him as still being among the top 10 third basemen in baseball.

9. Travis Shaw (2017: 4.0 OWAR, 0.6 DWAR)

Shaw backed up his impressive first full season with the Boston Red Sox in 2016 with an even better 2017 season with the Milwaukee Brewers.

Shaw’s improvement over the past year is something to behold. He belted 31 home runs in 2017 which in total was three more than he had in his first two seasons combined. His 31 home runs also ranked sixth among all major league third basemen last season. He also drove in more runs last season with 101 RBI compared to 71 in 2016. He also improved his batting average from .242 in 2016 to .273 in 2017. All signs point upward for Shaw on offense in 2018.

The same would go for his glove, if it could get any better.

As good of a hitter as Shaw was in 2017, he was even better in the field. He had just nine errors in 1,221 defensive innings. That accumulated to a .975 fielding percentage which was the fourth best among qualified third basemen.

With a much-improved roster surrounding him, look for Shaw to put together an even better 2018 campaign.

8. Josh Donaldson (2017: 4.8 OWAR, 0.5 DWAR)

There will be some people who think he is too low on the list. Others will say he is too high after last season.

Either way, it was a down year for Josh Donaldson and undoubtedly so. Sure, he missed time thanks to an injury just like Beltre did. However, over the past few seasons we have grown accustomed to an All-Star caliber Donaldson. Last season was not that, to say the least.

It wasn’t that he played awful, it just wasn’t the same Donaldson that was an All-Star for three straight seasons. Even while regressing, in nearly every statistical category Donaldson still remains a top 10 third baseman. He is clearly one of the most talented in the league and bad seasons happen.

Now, if Donaldson is to regress more in 2018 then there is a good chance he could be counted out of the top 10 in 2019. However, for the time being, he will be given the benefit of the doubt. Every baseball fan has seen and knows what Donaldson can bring to the table. It’s now a question of if he can return to that form and remain a consideration for one of the top 10 best third basemen in the league.

7. Manny Machado (2017: 3.5 OWAR, 1.0 DWAR)

Speaking of players who regressed in 2017…

However, just like Donaldson, Manny Machado is a proven talent. Until he puts together two or three bad seasons he will be considered a top 10 third basemen. Not to mention his 2017 fall off was not as bad as everyone may think.

His average may have dipped from .294 to .259, however, he only had four less home runs and one less RBI than he did in 2016 with 10 less at-bats in 2017. One positive note from Machado’s 2017 season was that he recorded less strikeouts. Hey, you take what you can get.

Although his offense saw a decline, Machado’s glove stayed on par. He played the most defensive innings among third basemen at 1,370. He had 14 total errors in his 1,370 innings which turned out to be a .967 fielding percentage. It may not be the best mark of his career but it also isn’t his worst. He also showed he still has plenty of range and arm strength as he had a range factor score of 2.70 which was third among third basemen.

Although Machado declined a bit in 2017, he is expected to turn it around in 2018. Until he shows otherwise Machado is without a doubt a top 10 third baseme,n in the MLB.

6. Alex Bregman (2017: 4.1 OWAR, 0.0 DWAR)

2017 was Alex Bregman’s first full MLB season and he made it one to remember. He was inside the top 10 among third basemen across the league in virtually every statistic. Well, mainly every statistic besides home runs and RBI.

That is nothing to worry about with Bregman as he is set to turn just 24-years-old at the end of March. His power will come sooner rather than later. As for what he displayed last season, the now World Series champion showed that he is a pure hitter with a sweet swing. He came up at big times over the course of the regular season and postseason for the Houston Astros en route to delivering the franchise their first ever title.

His fielding was something else to behold. His effort level was always off the charts and he was very efficient despite what his DWAR may tell you. He committed 10 errors in 1,093 total defensive innings and finished with a .970 fielding percentage, which places him in the top five. He also had the fourth best range factor among third basemen with a score of 2.69.

Although he has played in just 204 career games, it is hard to keep Bregman outside of the top 10. He topped off his impressive 49-game stretch in 2016 with an even better 2017. All signs point up for Bregman moving into 2018 and beyond.

5. Anthony Rendon (2017: 5.9 OWAR, 1.0 DWAR)

Thanks to being on a team full of talent, Anthony Rendon has often been an overlooked piece of the Washington Nationals success over the past few seasons. However, that shouldn’t be the case.

Rendon is an elite defender, good base-runner, and his offensive game is starting to take form. Consider the areas in which he set career highs in last season: batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, on-base plus slugging percentage, doubles, home runs, and RBI. He also walked more and struck out less last season, which is always a plus.

Then consider where he ranked among all the other third basemen. He was top five in doubles, RBI, OBP, and WAR. He was top 10 in nearly everything else except for home runs which he finished with two less than 10th place Todd Frazier.

His 2017 season also helped him enter the conversation for the best defensive third basemen. Among qualifiers at the position Rendon finished with the least amount of errors (seven) and topped that off by tying for the best fielding percentage (.979) with Nolan Arenado.

Next time you overlook Rendon, think again before doing so. He is someone who deserves to put recognized more for all his contributions. Those contributions also helped him become a top 10 third basemen in the league.

4. Justin Turner (2017: 5.7 OWAR, 0.8 DWAR)

If you don’t fear the beard you may want to start. Although he missed 32 games in 2017, Justin Turner still checks in at number four among the top 10 third basemen.

First and foremost his .322 batting average was the best among third basemen. Seeing as how Turner missed 32 games and not 64 games we could assume his average would still be the best among third basemen even if he played in 10-15 more games. He has never been a power threat, however, he hit at least 20 home runs for the second year in a row while pushing across 71 runs. Nothing eye popping but that’s never been his style.

Most impressively, Turner nearly cut his strikeouts in half from 107 in 2016 to 56 in 2017. With his strikeout numbers declining last season it shows how Turner was taking a more patient approach to the plate. This ultimately allowed him to force more walks than he ever has in his career.

Turner finished the season having played 1,000 defensive innings. He had eight errors with a .969 fielding percentage on his 261 total attempts. Looking beyond statistics, Turner plays with a purpose and a lot of heart. His hustle and leadership are just two of his many traits that make him a top third basemen that the numbers don’t show.

Turner is a lot of fun to watch play. Hopefully, he (and everyone else for that matter) has a healthy 2018 season and can prove why he is near the top of the list.

3. Jose Ramirez (2017: 6.9 OWAR, 0.9 DWAR)

This was, without a question, the best season Jose Ramirez has had thus far in his young career. He set career highs in every statistic except for stolen bases. However, that also includes strikeouts as his 69 last season were the most in a single season in his career.

Even while striking out more times in a season than ever before, Ramirez is the only third baseman who is in the top 10 in at-bats while also having less than 90 strikeouts. Out of the 14 players who recorded over 500 at-bats, Ramirez still has the least amount of strikeouts and just four others had less than 100 strikeouts. In other words, even while setting a career high in strikeouts he was still one of the least struck out third basemen in the league.

Looking at the positives, which there are many, Ramirez was either in the top five or top 10 in every statistic among third basemen. And to think, at just 25-years-old Ramirez still has yet to hit his prime. Scary, right? What’s even more scary is how quickly he added power in 2017. He jumped from 11 home runs and a .462 slugging percentage in 2016 to 29 home runs and a .583 slugging percentage last season.

For the 737 defensive innings Ramirez logged at third base he was pretty efficient. He had six errors on 213 total chances which turned out to be a .972 fielding percentage.

Assuming Ramirez matches or exceeds his productivity from last season in 2018, the debate of who the best third baseman in the league is will become even harder to defend. He may find himself number one on this list over time. You never know with baseball, anything could happen.

2. Kris Bryant (2017: 6.1 OWAR, 0.4 DWAR)

The 2016 NL MVP put together yet another solid season in 2017. With another stellar season, Bryant proved why his age and experience mean nothing. He is very simply one heck of a baseball player. His youth makes him a blast to watch while his athletic ability and pure nature of the game make him the player he is. However, 2017 wasn’t all candy and gumdrops for Bryant.

He would have a better case for number one heading into the 2018 season if not for a dip in his power numbers and his defense worsening. Bryant did just set single-season career highs in doubles, walks, batting average, and on-base percentage. He also struck out 26 less times in 2017 than in 2016, which is an excellent sign for Bryant and the Cubs.

However, in 2017 he saw his home run and runs scored totals drop by 10, his hits total drop by 14, his RBI total drop by 29, and his slugging percentage drop by .17 points. It isn’t anything too drastic by any means. It should, however, raise a bit of concern.

Actually, if anything should be a cause for concern it would be Bryant’s glove. Hopefully, he left it in 2017 and is starting from scratch in 2018. His 18 errors in 350 chances gave him a .949 fielding percentage. He has displayed good range and arm strength over his first three seasons. Bryant will now need to put it all together to be considered the best third baseman in baseball.

He has the ceiling to become the best in the game today. However, thanks to the next guy at number one, Bryant will need to work much harder over his career to do so. He will always be above average, don’t get me wrong. It’s now a question of if and when he makes the push to become consistently great.

He’s young, let’s give him time to do so. All signs point to it happening.

1. Nolan Arenado (2017: 7.2 OWAR, 2.3 DWAR)

Where to even to begin with this man. For starters, the way he plays the game of baseball and how well he plays it is something I hope baseball fans are appreciating as it’s happening. At this point, it is fair to say that Nolan Arenado is the best third baseman in the game today.

How about this thought. Arenado has a good shot to become the greatest Colorado Rockies player ever within the next three to five years. Yes, I believe he can that quickly. That is the kind of five-year tear Arenado has been on since entering the league in 2013. Not to mention the Rockies have not had many household names in franchise history.

What’s insane is the fact that he has won five Gold Glove awards in five tries. He has won the last three Silver Slugger awards while also being named to the last three All-Star games.

He has averaged 40 home runs and over 130 RBI’s over the past three seasons while watching his batting average improve each year. Again, that’s all over the past few seasons. What Arenado did in 2017 was insane.

First, he finished first among third basemen in both offensive and defensive WAR. He also finished first among third basemen in hits, RBI, slugging percentage, and on-base plus slugging percentage. His 37 home runs put him third among third basemen behind Joey Gallo and Mike Moustakas.

If his bat could do no wrong in 2017 then neither could his glove. Arenado finished 2017 tied for first in fielding percentage at .979. His effort is something that can’t be taught and his execution on tough plays is as good as one can find.

Putting together the top 10 was hard. Ironically, figuring out who is number one going into 2018 was not. Arenado has many years to go in the league if health stays on his side. If that turns out to be the case, Arenado may very well be number one for a long time as well as potentially ending up as one of the all-time greats.