Throughout January and February, MLB Network will rank the top 10 players right now ahead of the 2019 season. Here at M-SABR, we are specifically interested in MLB Network’s most statistically-influenced list, compiled by “the Shredder.” In this series, we will react to the Shredder’s list and offer our own, based on our own statistical analysis. Check back every Monday and Wednesday for our recaps of the lists, which release at 9:00 PM Eastern every Saturday on MLB Network. Today, we are looking at the Shredder’s top 10 third basemen.
MLB Network’s Top 10 Third Basemen Right Now
- Jose Ramirez [2018: 7]
- Justin Turner [2018: 4]
- Nolan Arenado [2018: 2]
- Anthony Rendon [2018: 5]
- Alex Bregman [2018: 9]
- Matt Carpenter [2018: NR]
- Matt Chapman [2018: NR]
- Kris Bryant [2018: 1]
- Josh Donaldson [2018: 3]
- Eugenio Suarez [2018: NR]
Reaction to the Shredder
Note: Manny Machado was included on MLB Network’s shortstop list. It is what it is.
Justin Turner is number two? Anthony Rendon is ahead of Alex Bregman?
Well, before I break into a rant without actually looking at some numbers, let’s look at Jose Ramirez. Ramirez posted an 8.0 fWAR in 157 games this past season. His 146 wRC+ was actually only third-best among third basemen in 2018, but he actually has the highest DRC+ of any third basemen in 2018 at 155. Factor in his plus defense and his 12-runs-above-average baserunning, and it’s hard to argue against Ramirez as being the best third basemen in the league.
Now, what about the rest of the top five? Here are the stats of four more of the best third basemen in 2018. Who is who?
Player A: 146 DRC+, 5.92 fWAR/162
Player B: 145 DRC+, 6.76 fWAR/162
Player C: 143 DRC+, 7.84 fWAR/162
Player D: 135 DRC+, 7.50 fWAR/162
First, we must keep in mind that fWAR is based on wOBA, not DRC+. Player A has the lowest fWAR per 162 games of any of these players, but actually posted the highest DRC+ and won a Platinum Glove in 2018. That’s right: Nolan Arenado was the second-best hitting third basemen in 2018.
So, what about the other three? Player B has the second highest DRC+, but looks to be an inferior defender and/or baserunner compared to the other guys, to the point that he’s worth about a win less than Players C and D. This is Justin Turner.
Finally, player C is Alex Bregman and player D is Anthony Rendon. With both stats considered, Alex Bregman has an argument for being baseball’s second-best third baseman. His DRC+ is nearly identical to Arenado and Turner, and while his defense was slightly below league average (-0.6 dWAR), he walked more than he struck out. That said, you can argue for both Arenado and Rendon above him: they were much better fielders in 2018, and both posted slightly higher DRC+ marks.
One thing is clear: Justin Turner sitting at second place is hard to fathom. He definitely belongs in the top five, but he played 54 fewer games than Bregman and Arenado and even played 33 fewer games than Rendon.
Looking at the latter half of the Shredder’s list for a moment, Chapman only posted a 113 DRC+ but regardless posted the third-highest fWAR of any third baseman in 2018. His fWAR (6.5) was actually 1.5 wins better than Matt Carpenter’s (5.0). Meanwhile, Bryant and Donaldson fell into the bottom portion of the list after being in the top three entering last year. Bryant posted an fWAR above 6 in each of his first three seasons but posted a disappointing 2.3 mark in an injury-shortened 102 games this season (which is only 3.65 fWAR/162). Donaldson’s season was worse, as the 33-year-old posted a 1.3 fWAR mark in just 53 games. Eugenio Suarez rounds out the top ten with a 141 DRC+ in 2018, ninth-best in all of baseball, and his 4.2 BWARP was eighth-best among third basemen.
M-SABR’s Top 10 Third Basemen Right Now
- Jose Ramirez
- Nolan Arenado
- Alex Bregman
- Anthony Rendon
- Matt Chapman
- Justin Turner
- Kris Bryant
- Matt Carpenter
- Travis Shaw
- Eugenio Suarez
Let’s go in reverse order this time around. At #10 and #9, we have NL Central breakout stars Eugenio Suarez and Travis Shaw. Shaw missed the MLB Network list despite posting a 132 DRC+, the seventh-best mark of any third baseman in 2018, all while supplying above-average defense. Suarez is not as good of a fielder, so while wRC+ backs Suarez (135) over Shaw (119), we’ll stick with DRC+ and give Shaw the edge.
At number eight is Matt Carpenter, who had a sensational bounce-back season for the Cardinals. One thing to remember about Carpenter: he was hitting .155 with a .266 wOBA at the end of April. That should say something about how good was from May to September. That said, he finished the season worse than he started it, posting a .250 wOBA in the final month of the season. Regardless, his 5.0 fWAR mark was the sixth-best fWAR of any third baseman in 2018, and his 137 DRC+ was the fifth-best of any third baseman. Carpenter deserves a spot on this list, but those two horrible months separate him from the big boys.
As mentioned, Kris Bryant had a disappointing 2018 campaign, but would it shock anybody if he topped this list in 365 days? Absolutely not. That said, number seven feels like the highest he should be placed, considering the fantastic performances of the six players ahead of him. The first player ahead of him is Justin Turner. The only thing keeping him at number five, similarly, is the production he didn’t accumulate in 2018 while injured.
In the top five, we start with Matt Chapman. Chapman’s fWAR (6.5) is the third-highest for any third baseman in 2018, and his BWARP (5.3) is not only the fourth-best for any third baseman in 2018, but it’s also tied with Trea Turner for the tenth best of any player in 2018. If you’re interested in Chapman’s skill set and how he has ascended to superstardom, I wrote on him late last June. To keep it short, though, Chapman is an above-average hitter and a generational talent in the field. He deserves a spot in the top five, even if he only has one full season under his belt.
While Anthony Rendon at number four may be a bit high for some people, it’s hard to argue against his 7.5 fWAR per 162 games. Rendon is a sensational hitter (a career 122 DRC+), fielder (he has been worth 44.6 runs in the field over the past five years), and baserunner (he was worth 5.1 runs on the basepaths this past year alone). Rendon belongs in the top five.
Finally, the top three come down to personal preference. Ramirez has the most compelling argument for number one based on his numbers in 2018, but Arenado has put up four straight seasons of superstar production and Alex Bregman nearly matched Ramirez’s 2018 production. At the end of the day, it’s hard to go wrong picking between three of baseball’s top 10 best players.
Check out MLB.com analyst and Statcast guru Mike Petriello’s list here.