The Determinator: Third Basemen: #1-5 + Honorable Mentions
Before every season, baseball minds across the sport test their skills with crunching numbers, diving deep into analytics, and reviewing game footage in order to determine who the best players are in the game. Often times they give their analysis fun names; one of the most notable being The Shredder from MLB Network.
Sometimes the results astound people- like in 2015 Hanely Ramirez was rated the top Left Fielder in the MLB before ever playing there. Other times, the results are unsurprising- spoiler alert, but Mike Trout was probably the best CF in baseball, and most likely will be again.
Starting today, and every weekday at 4:00 PM throughout the next few weeks, I will be posting my own analysis on who the top players at each position truly are.
Welcome to The Determinator.
Today I will reveal the Top-5 Third Basemen in the MLB, as well as explaining my methodology for these rankings. Tomorrow, will be the #6-10 Shortstops in the MLB.
The Determinator: My General Methodology
The Determinator is a ranking system that is built upon the analyzation of 16 carefully chosen stats through a very simplistic system of comparisons. Some of these stats are more classical (Games Played, Home Runs, etc.), others are more advanced (wRC+, WAR, etc.). From this come 7 offensive stats, 4 defensive, 2 baserunning, and 3 general stats, set to contribute towards the importance of each part of the game.
The Offensive stats are: AVG/OBP/SLG, wRC, wRC+, HR, and Off (Fangraphs)
The Defensive stats are: Fielding, DRS, UZR (or Framing for Catchers), and Def (Fangraphs)
The Baserunning stats are: Stolen Bases and BsR (Fangraphs)
The Overall stats are: Games Played, Innings at Position, and fWAR (Fangraphs)
After determining this list of statistics, I then had to input each into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet I sorted how each player did in each statistic from best-to-worst. If you were top 5 in a category, you got ranked as a ‘Green’. Top 6-10 was a ‘Yellow’. And, Top 11-15 was labelled as a ‘Red’. The number of each ranking was counted- so it was possible to come out with a score of zero- and given values of 5, 3, and 1 respectively.
Key Note: If player/s across a statistic had the same numbers across a border- for example the 5th and 6th players with the most Home Runs- then they would both be counted as the better ranking- in this case both ‘Green’ or 5 points- and replace one spot from the following ranking- in this case a ‘Yellow’ or 3 points. This could also stretch some statistics to include more ‘Red’ players who had equal stats to the 15th best.
Additionally, if no stats were recorded in a counting statistic that could fit into a ranking- as is seen with Catchers and Stolen Bases- then no ranking is given to those players. This would greatly increase the number of points given out, and lessen the value of each point. This is not true for advanced metrics that can produce negative values- as is seen with Catchers and BsR.
The results were then tallied, sorted from greatest to least, and a ranking was created.
Finally, player age, 2020 salary, and contract status, were all not considered in this experiment. This is entirely statistic-based.
The Determinator: Third Base-Specific Information
To easily work through and cut-down the list of 176 different players who played any amount of time at third base during the season, I set-up two separate boundaries for third basemen:
They must’ve had at least 250 PA’s during the 2019 season.
They must’ve had at least 500 innings at second base during the 2019 season.
This limited the number of second basemen down to 32.
However, without further ado, let’s get to the Top-5:
If a player led a statistic for their position, it will be bolded.
Number 4 (Tied): Anthony Rendon, Los Angeles Angels
Top-5: AVG, OBP, SLG, wRC, wRC+, Off, WAR
Top-10: HR, SB, BsR, Innings
Top-15: Games, Fld, DRS, UZR, Def
Total Score: 52Embed from Getty Images
Anthony Rendon was the hottest offensive commodity on the free agent market this year, and took that title to the bank, the bank of $245 Million to be exact. And, while he ranks tied for 4th amongst 3B in the MLB, that figure isn’t outlandish for a player of Rendon’s caliber. Rendon was one of two 3B- the other being the #1 Ranked 3B according to The Determinator– who ranked in the Top-15 across every single statistic measured. Even with this however, it is clearly noticeable that Rendon lacks top-of-the-line defense at his position, as shown by Top-15 finishes in al 4 defensive metrics: Fld (2), DRS (2), UZR (2), Def (4.2). However, Rendon’s offensive value renders his defensive shortcomings a mere desire for improvements than necessary, as he led all 3B in AVG (0.319) and SLG (0.598)- both crazy good numbers- in 2019 towards an Off of 46.5 and the NL Silver Slugger at 3B. A 7.0 fWAR All-Star season from 2019 is nothing to sneeze at, and Rendon should only be able to improve as he joins one of the games best ever (so far), Mike Trout in Los Angeles.
Number 4 (Tied): Matt Chapman, Oakland Athletics
Top-5: Games, HR, WAR, Fld, Innings, DRS, UZR, Def
Top-10: wRC, BsR, Off
Top-15: OBP, SLG, wRC+
Total Score: 52Embed from Getty Images
On the flip-side of most everything I said about Anthony Rendon comes Matt Chapman of the Oakland Athletics. Chapman is a player who is still under a rookie contract, has an average offensive game, and is beyond brilliant in the field. He led all 3B in every single defensive metric in 2019, topping Fld (14.8), DRS (18), UZR (14.8), and Def (17.1), en route to the 2019 AL Gold Glove at 3B, and the 2019 AL Platinum Glove, combining both from when he won each in 2018 as well. While this supreme defense did help Chapman accumulate a Top-5 3B fWAR (6.1), he isn’t a slouch with the bat either, as he hit to a respectable 0.249/0.342/0.506 triple-slash with 36 HR’s, an Off of 22.4, and a 125 wRC+.
Number 3: Yoan Moncada, Chicago White Sox
Top-5: AVG, SB, wRC+, BsR, Off, UZR, Def
Top-10: OBP, SLG, wRC, WAR, Fld, Innings
Total Score: 54Embed from Getty Images
Yoan Moncada is The Determinator’s surprise pick to be amongst the best of the best 3B in the MLB. He won no awards in 2019, nor was he an All-Star, or a Top-5 player by fWAR (5.7), so why does The Determinator like him so much? It’s actually quite simple when you look at the statistics that has a very varied game: ranking Top-10 across 6 (of 7) Offensive categories, 3 (of 4) Defensive categories, both Base-Running categories, and in 2 (of 3) General categories. He failed to rank in only Games played (132) and DRS (-7) and was only Top-15 in HR’s (25). HIs 0.315/0.367/0.548 triple-slash was great amongst 3B, as was his 141 wRC+, 3.5 BsR, and 32.6 Off. While not a superstar amongst any statistic, Moncada is versatile enough around the sport that no part of his game stands out as a need for major improvement, and could surprise many going into 2020 with his play.
Number 2: Rafael Devers, Boston Red Sox
Top-5: Games, AVG, SB, wRC, Off, WAR, Innings
Top-10: OBP, SLG, HR, wRC+, BsR, Def
Top-15: Fld, UZR
Total Score: 55Embed from Getty Images
Rafael Devers is a bat-first 3B, who hit an ungodly amount of doubles (54) and seemed to have a very poor defensive season- sound like somebody else you know?- due in large part to his 22 errors committed at 3B in 2019. However, when looking at more of the advanced defensive metrics, Devers who put up the most innings at 3B in 2019 (1353.0) doesn’t grade out terribly, coming out with a Def of 5, 9th best amongst qualified 3B. However, most of his value comes because of his tremendous bat- as it true with many 3B not named Matt Chapman or Nolan Arenado. With a triple-slash of 0.311/0.361/0.555 with 32 HR’s, a wRC+ of 132, an Off of 31.4, and an fWAR of 5.9, Devers had a fantastic season. While he didn’t come up with any hardware from it, he did end up 12th in AL MVP Voting with a 10% MVP Share.
Number 1: Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies
Top-5: AVG, OBP, SLG, HR, wRC, BsR, WAR, Fld, Innings, DRS, UZR, Def
Top-10: Games, Off
Top-15: SB, wRC+
Total Score: 68Embed from Getty Images
Nolan Arenado is lightyears away from his positional foes in terms of value. The difference in score between Arenado and Devers (13 points) is the same as Devers to Josh Donaldson (#8). There is honestly so much you can say about how good Nolan Arenado is in every facet of the game. 2019 brought Arenado a 5th straight year with a Top-8 MVP selection in the NL, his 5th straight All-Star Game appearance, and his 7th straight 3B Gold Glove, and his 3rd straight Platinum Glove. Just to put in into perspective how good Nolan Arenado is, here are some numbers to make my case for me: 0.315/0.379/0.583 triple-slash with 41 HR’s, a 128 wRC+, 27.1 Off, and 5.9 fWAR, plus Top-5 in every defensive statistic with Fld (10.3), DRS (8), UZR (10.3), and Def (12.5). It’s amazing that he is on the trade market because of his salary, and it seems to look as though he could very well be in a new uniform next year…maybe with the St. Louis Cardinals?
Third Base may the least represented offensive position in the Hall of Fame, but in modern baseball features a bunch of notable names across the game. As with First Base and Catcher, Yankee fans with wonder where Gio Urshela ended up on The Determinator’s list, but we’ll get to that after a few quick mentions:
Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians – 3B Leader in SB and BsR, Scored 25 Points, Ranked #12 (2-Way Tie with Brian Anderson)
Manny Machado, San Diego Padres – Scored 23 Points, Ranked #14
Kyle Seager, Seattle Mariners – Scored 18 Points, Ranked #15 (2-Way Tie with Justin Turner)
Miguel Sano, Minnesota Twins – Scored 15 Points, Ranked #18
Evan Longoria, San Francisco Giants – Scored 12 Points, Ranked #19
Mike Moustakas, Cincinnati Reds – Scored 8 Points, Ranked #23
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays – Scored 1 Point, Ranked #29 (2-Way Tie with Todd Frazier)
So, where did Gio Urshela rank?
The Quick Tale of Gio Urshela:
Gio Urshela ranked #17 out of 32 qualified 3B, scoring 17 points and ranking in the Top-15 across 7 different statistics. I personally think this placement makes a lot of sense, even given his (massive) improvements from before, not only because of the extreme talent currently at 3B but because he has only shown that performance for one year.
Last season, Urshela played to a bWAR of 3.4 and an fWAR of 3.1. Both very good for a starting 3B in the MLB. However, that bumped his career bWAR to 2.3 and his career fWAR to 2.4. His previous parts of 3 seasons in the MLB (2015, 2017, 2018) were not good at all, and this sudden emergence needs to evaluated with care.
That being said, Urshela put up an equal amount of fWAR (3.1) to that of Manny Machado last season, and was only 0.6 fWAR away from a tie with Eduardo Escobar for 10th (3.7). There is an outside chance that if Urshela didn’t get hurt for a week between August and September that he may have been able to get there. Not supremely likely, but there was an outside chance.
As there is a difference in 17 points between Urshela and Eduardo Escobar- The Determinator’s #10 3B- there are just about an infinite number of possibilities that would’ve needed to happen in order for Urshela to crack the Top-10. A large place that would help Gio Urshela (apparently) improve would actually come on defense, as the advanced metrics seem to not favor him at all, failing to rank Top-15 in any statistic.
That being said, Gio Urshela was a surprise candidate to even be playing 3B for the Yankees in 2019, and he handled it with producing towards a career year. This has placed himself as the front-runner for the starting position battle with Miguel Andujar on what could be a World Series team in 2020.
The Determinator is a way I used to determine the best players at each position. Like any metric or formula, I am sure it has flaws. No statistical compilation is perfect. That being said, The Determinator, seems pretty effective at assigning player values. I’m pleased with what I have found using this method and hope this is a conversation starter for many.
Click here to see the #6-10 Third Basemen.
Check back in tomorrow at 4:00 PM to see the #6-10 Shortstops in the MLB.