Top 10 Third Basemen for 2016
While there is plenty of talent around the league— especially young talent— third base might have the most. Last year, 8 of the top 30 position players (based on fWAR) were 3rd basemen, and in Steamer’s 2016 projections, nine of the top 30 position players are 3rd basemen. There were about 20 names I came up while making my top 10 list and you could probably make a case for all of them —at least for an honorable mention nod.
My top ten list is based off how I expect these players to perform in 2016. Obviously, past performances are a big factor in that, but I’m also projecting future performance. There are a few young players who I expect to improve this season and a couple players who I expect to bounce back from injuries. With that being said, here are five honorable mentions that just missed the cut along with their notable 2015 stats.
15. Maikel Franco– Philadelphia Phillies- 80 GP, 14 HR, 128 WRC+, 1.4 fWAR
14. Justin Turner– Los Angeles Dodgers- 126 GP (100 at 3B), .861 OPS, 141 WRC+, 4.0 fWAR
13. Mike Moustakas– Kansas City Royals- 147 GP, 22 HR, .818 OPS, 124 WRC+, 3.8 fWAR
12. Jung Ho Kang– Pittsburgh Pirates- 126 GP (77 at 3B), .816 OPS, 130 WRC+, 3.9 fWAR
11. Matt Duffy– San Francisco Giants- 149 GP, 12 DRS, 116 WRC+, 4.9 fWAR
10. Anthony Rendon– Washington Nationals
2015: 80 GP, .707 OPS, 97 WRC+, 0.9 fWAR
You may look at that stat line and say to yourself, “Wow, Mark! How can Anthony Rendon be a top ten 3rd basemen when he was hardly even an average player last year?”
Well, last year the 25-year-old was hampered with knee and oblique injuries and was limited to just half a season worth of playing time. However, in 2014, he had a break-out season when he posted a 6.5 fWAR, which was good enough for 5th best among MLB position players. So the big question is whether we will see the 2014 Rendon or the 2015 Rendon, and I’m leaning towards the 2014 version.
It’s clear that when Rendon was on the field during 2015, he wasn’t the same player, which is understandable. You rarely see someone put out 100% production levels during a season when they miss a good chunk of time due to injury. With Rendon most likely up to full strength after the off-season, look for him to have a bounce-back season.
9. Kyle Seager– Seattle Mariners
2015: 161 GP, 26 HR, .779 OPS, 116 WRC+, 3.9 fWAR
Although Kyle’s little brother Corey may be getting most of the spotlight during 2016, he shouldn’t be forgotten. Seager has quietly become one of the league’s most dependable and consistent 3rd basemen over the past four seasons, posting fWARs of 3.6, 4.0, 5.5, and 3.9, respectively, while playing at least 155 games in each season. Given his track record, there’s no reason to believe why he won’t do the same in 2016. Seager is a reliable fielder and is a power threat in Seattle’s lineup that also includes Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz, making for a formidable trio in the heart of the order.
8. Evan Longoria– Tampa Bay Rays
2015: 160 GP, 21 HR, .763 OPS, 110 WRC+, 4.2 fWAR
Five years ago, Evan Longoria would be right towards the top of this list, but there is a new crop of elite 3rd basemen that have pushed him down to eighth. Also, he’s just not the same player he once was. If you take out 2012 when Longoria only played 74 games due to injury, from 2008-2013, he posted an fWAR of above 5.6 each season, including two seasons above 7.0. In those years, he was in the top-10 in MVP voting three times.
The past two years, he’s only posted fWARs of 3.4 and 4.2, which is still very respectable, but nowhere close to the elite level he was once at. If he can play at the level he did last year, he still should be around the top ten 3rd basemen, but if he can turn the clock back a couple years, he could be closer to the top five.
7. Todd Frazier– Chicago White Sox
2015: 157 GP, 25 HR, .807 OPS, 114 WRC+, 4.4 fWAR
Todd Frazier has evolved into one of the game’s premier power hitters, with his 64 home runs over the past two seasons tied for 10th in the league. Frazier does not, however, get on base a ton, which had me questioning this pick. If his power numbers drop in his first season in the south side of Chicago, he’ll need to make some adjustments because the .309 OBP he had last year won’t cut it if he’s not around 3o home runs.
What some people may not know is that Frazier is an above average fielder, which gives this power hitter some added value.
6. Matt Carpenter– St. Louis Cardinals
2015: 154 GP, 28 HR, .870 OPS, 139 WRC+, 5.2 fWAR
Matt Carpenter was a great hitter when he entered the league, but was more of a slap-hitting doubles machine. This past season, he increased his home run personal best from 11 to 28, however, he was actually a better hitter when he hit 11. In 2013, when he was a 2nd baseman, he hit 11 home runs and 55 doubles while batting .318. Last year, he hit just .272 and struck out about 50% more with that home run swing. While his 2013 WRC+ of 146 beats out his 139 mark last season, both are elite.
So whether Carpenter decides to make a bit more contact or swings for the fences again in 2016, he should be a dangerous bat either way.
5. Adrian Beltre– Texas Rangers
2015: 143 GP, 18 HR, .787 OPS, 108 WRC+, 4.6 fWAR
The only real question regarding Adrian Beltre is whether or not his body will hold up this season because when he plays, he is a great hitter and exceptional fielder. Even at 36-years-old this past season, he saved 18 runs in the field, four more than Manny Machado.
He’s fallen just short of 20 home runs in each of the past two seasons, but if he can keep his batting average around .300, he’ll still be a well-above average hitter.
Beltre will turn 37 on April 7th and has played over 2500 games in his career. At some point, his body won’t be able to handle the workload anymore. Right?
4. Nolan Arenado– Colorado Rockies
2015: 157 GP, 42 HR, .898 OPS, 119 WRC+, 4.5 fWAR
Like Carpenter, we saw Nolan Arenado more than double his home run best in 2015. Arenado went from hitting 18 home runs in 2014 (16 in Coors Field) to 42 in 2015 (20 in Coors Field). So for those of you attributing his power surge to the Rocky Mountain air, he actually hit more home runs on the road last year.
Arenado is also coming off his 3rd straight Gold Glove. The soon to be 25-year-old has won the award in each season he has played so far and tied Beltre for first among 3rd basemen with 18 runs saved last year. This kid is certainly an exciting player to watch and can hopefully get some support from his teammates or else he could just be another forgotten Colorado Rockie.
3. Manny Machado– Baltimore Orioles
2015: 162 GP, 35 HR, .861 OPS, 134 WRC+, 6.8 fWAR
Another 3rd baseman whose power numbers went off the charts last year, Manny Machado is truly a fun player to watch. Machado increased his home run best from 14 to a whopping 35, making him more than just an elite fielder.
Machado, who is still just 23, could be an MVP candidate if the Orioles put together a winning record. In both of his full seasons (2013 and 2015), Machado has been in the top ten in MVP voting and has won a Gold Glove. I don’t see Machado hitting 35 homers again, but I do see a >6 fWAR season if he stays healthy.
2. Kris Bryant– Chicago Cubs
2015: 151 GP, 26 HR, .857 OPS, 136 WRC+, 6.5 fWAR
Kris Bryant is about to put up a monster season, which is why I had trouble keeping him off the top of the list. Just as the fictional Henry Rowengartner did, Bryant was able to handle the enormous expectations and win Rookie of the Year. I expect more hardware for Bryant in the near future, too.
Don’t be surprised to see Bryant top 35 home runs this year and be an MVP finalist. If Bryant can lower his strikeout rate below the 30% level he was at last year, he could be even more dangerous.
By the way, Bryant had the most base running runs out of all 3rd basemen last year at 7.1 and played above average defense to boot. So he has that going for him, which is nice.
1. Josh Donaldson– Toronto Blue Jays
2015: 158 GP, 41 HR, .939 OPS, 154 WRC+, 8.7 fWAR
Where do I start? This late bloomer burst onto the scene in 2013 when he put up an fWAR of 7.6 and in just his 3rd full season at age 29, won a well-earned MVP trophy. The Bringer of Rain isn’t just about hitting home runs or robbing doubles down the third base line. He’s about high energy baseball. Donaldson plays the game with intensity and personality, which helped make Toronto a baseball city once again.
Donaldson’s averaged just short of 8 fWAR during the past three seasons and should be around that same mark again this year. While I expect big things from Bryant, I still feel that the reigning AL MVP will put up a better statistical season.