The Best Players of the Last 50 Years - Part VI - Third Basemen

April 25, 2020
This is part VI of my series on the greatest players of the last 50 years, which I have dubbed the "Dan Marks Era", as it aligns with the 50 years that I have been following baseball.
 
Here are the prior entries in the series:
 
 
 
 
 

The Greatest Third Basemen of the Last 50 Years
 
 
Did anyone just miss getting included due to the timeline cutoff? 
 
Two players stand out as far as just missing the cutoff - Brooks Robinson and Ron Santo
 
I got to witness some of both players' careers - Santo played until 1974, and Robinson until 1977. Santo, whose career midpoint was 1967, was 30 years old when I started following baseball, and he was an All-Star 3 times during this period, but his best years were clearly before I started observing. I left him out.
 
For Robinson, I gave serious consideration to waiving my midpoint rule. My general rule of thumb has been to eliminate anyone whose career midpoint was earlier than 1970, Robinson's midpoint was 1966, which was even earlier than Santo's. However, he was a harder decision for me. Robinson played through 1977, so I got to experience 8 seasons of his career. In addition, in 1970, my first time following the game, was the year that Robinson had the defining moment of his career (notwithstanding his 1964 AL MVP award) when he was a one-man wrecking crew in the World Series. And, the team he wrecked was my Cincinnati Reds, so he quickly became public enemy #1 in my eye. 
 
The Reds were having a dream season - they had moved into a brand new home (Riverfront Stadium) during the season, they won 70% of their first 100 games, they swept the Pirates in the NLCS, and they were poised to win their first World Series in 30 years. 
 
Brooks Robinson and the Orioles rudely interrupted those plans. Baltimore took the series 4 games to 1 and Robinson hit .429 with 2 HR's, 6 RBI, and countless human highlight reel defensive gems. It's certainly one of the more memorable individual postseason performances in history. It definitely left its impression on this young fan.
 
The point is, Robinson was a huge star when I started following the game (10-time All Star and 10 Gold Gloves before 1970) and he continued to be one for a few more years. Even if you start with 1970, he appeared in 5 All Star games and won 6 more Gold Gloves. Even in that abbreviated time frame, the only players who I've personally experienced winning more Gold Gloves at 3B are Mike Schmidt, Scott Rolen, and Nolan Arenado. 
 
Robinson was still a huge star when I started following the game. But ultimately, I decided not to include him. The vast majority of his greatness was prior to my era.   If I had included him? He'd probably be #6.
 
Any active players outside of the top 25 worth noting?
 
I have 4 active players in my top 25 and 7 more between26 and 50. We are living in a bit of a golden age for third basemen.
 
Outside the top 25.....
 
The 2 greatest third basemen in the history of the Washington Nationals (if you include only actual Nationals seasons, and not the Montreal Expos portion of the team's history), Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman, just missed at #26 and #27. Rendon will probably crash the party shortly, but Zimmerman is unlikely to move up any more.
 
Matt Carpenter, who has started at multiple positions but has been more 3B than anything else, is at #31, but he's 34 now and coming off his worst season, so we'll have to see if he can bounce back.
 
Kyle Seager is at #35. There might be some movement left, but probably not enough. His last 3 seasons haven't done much for him.
 
Alex Bregman is at #37, Kris Bryant is at #39, and Jose Ramirez is #40.   They're all still pretty young (26, 28, and 27, respectively), and I would expect them all to move up quite a bit in the years to come, although Ramirez was way down last year from his prior 2 seasons.
 
Any surprise omissions? 
 
Before collecting the data, I thought that maybe Aramis Ramirez or Carney Lansford might make the top 25. They ended up #36 and #34, respectively.
 
Other Administrative Notes
 
I'm going to cover Paul Molitor when I do Designated Hitters. I know he's often bundled with third basemen, but he had fewer than 800 games at 3B compared to nearly 1,200 as a DH, so I decided to cover him there. Same thing with Edgar Martinez - he had fewer than 600 games at 3B. He'll be in the DH article as well. Pete Rose is a tough case - he could be 1B, 3B, 2B, LF, or RF. I'm leaning towards LF for him.
 
Note that there are 172 players in my data set of third basemen.
 
 
#25-Eric Chavez
Best category: WAR (23rd)
Worst category: All Star Games (84th)
 
I find it hard to believe that Chavez didn't manage to make an All Star team, but sure enough, he never did.
 
I though Chavez had the potential to be one of the all-time greats at third base. He got off to a terrific start.
 
Home Run Leaders Through Age 24, Third Basemen
 
Rankk
Player
HR
1
Eddie Mathews
190
2
Manny Machado
138
3
Miguel Cabrera
138
4
Bob Horner
138
5
Troy Glaus
118
6
Eric Chavez
105
7
Ron Santo
104
8
Adrian Beltre
99
9
David Wright
97
10
Ryan Zimmerman
91
 
Chavez continued to play well through age 27 or 28, but then started to decline pretty rapidly, and ended up spending the last half of his career in a lesser role. He sits in a 3-way tie with Buddy Bell and Robin Ventura as a 6-time Gold Glove winner at 3B.
 
#24-Bill Madlock
Best category: Win Shares (21st)
Worst category: dWAR (163rd)
 
I think it's fair to say that high batting averages were more highly regarded several decades ago.  It's not that they're no longer important, but I think many morefans understand its limitations.
 
When I was in my first decade of following the game (the 1970's), Rod Carew was the undisputed batting average king, but Madlock was probably next in line in case Carew were to ever abdicate his throne. Madlock was considered a true "hitting artist", combing both a sparkling average with the ability to avoid strikeouts.
 
1970-1979, Players with .300 or Higher Batting Average, Minimum 3,000 PA's:
 
Rank
Player
PA
BA
1
Rod Carew
5,916
.343
2
Bill Madlock
3,464
.320
3
Dave Parker
3,607
.317
4
Pete Rose
7,411
.314
5
George Brett
3,815
.310
6
Ken Griffey
3,273
.310
7
Jim Rice
3,456
.310
8
Fred Lynn
3,035
.309
9
Ralph Garr
5,373
.307
10
Steve Garvey
5,199
.304
11
Al Oliver
6,020
.303
12
Joe Torre
4,025
.303
13
Bob Watson
5,625
.301
 
 
If you were to drop the threshold all the way down to 1,000 plate appearances, you would pull in some additional names like Roberto Clemente (who got in 3 seasons in the decade before his death), Lyman Bostock, Garry Templeton, Matty Alou, and one of the true batting average artists, pinch-hitter extraordinaire Manny Mota.
 
Madlock was one of the toughest to strike out during that decade as well.
 
1970-1979, Players with Fewest K's per 600 PA, Minimum 3,000 PA's:
 
Player
PA
K
K/600 PA
Felix Millan
4,765
165
20.8
Bill Buckner
4,635
205
26.5
Dave Cash
5,546
279
30.2
Tommy Helms
3,147
161
30.7
Manny Sanguillen
4,746
270
34.1
George Brett
3,815
223
35.1
Ted Sizemore
4,975
310
37.4
Pete Rose
7,411
464
37.6
Cesar Tovar
3,633
228
37.7
Bill Madlock
3,464
222
38.5
 
Brett, Rose, and Madlock made both lists. As you can see, a lot of low-power, bat control hitters are prominent on the second list, especially second basemen - Sizemore, Helms, Cash, and Millan.   Millan in particular was known for his extreme batting grip. He literally choked about 40-50% of the way up the bat. If you don't remember him, search for his batting grip images on the web - they're a sight to behold.
 
I'm not sure, but I believe Madlock is the only 4-time batting average champ who is not enshrined in Cooperstown. Not saying he should be in, because I don't consider him a strong enough overall candidate.   Definitely all of the 5-time champs are in.
 
Madlock wasn't much defensively, but all in all, it was a pretty a good career - .305 lifetime average, decent pop, had a career 123 OPS+, and he was a big part of the 1979 Pirates championship team.
 
#23-Troy Glaus
Best category: All Star Games (15th)
Worst category: dWAR (57th)
 
In the Will Clark profile under the first basemen review, I reviewed several players who peaked early when it came to home run hitting. Glaus is a prominent example of that type. In his second full time season, Glaus hit a league-leading 47 home runs at age 23. He also hit a solid .284 with a .404 OBP. The future was bright. While he did have several other good seasons, he never quite was able to reach that age 23 level again.
 
By the way, in that 2000 season, Glaus, despite leading the AL in home runs, did not receive a single MVP vote, not even a down-ballot mention. I'm sure it happens every now and then (I know Mark Trumbo led the league a few years back and didn't receive any votes, but I wonder how often it happens?
 
#22-Doug DeCinces
Best category: WAR (18th)
Worst category: All Star Games (53rd)
 
I know it's been asked before, but how good would that 1982 Baltimore infield have looked with DeCinces instead of Glenn Gulliver and Floyd Rayford playing alongside of Cal Ripken on the left side of the Orioles infield? (Actually, Ripken and Rich Dauer did tally more time at 3B that year than those 2, but they're already listed as the regulars at SS and 2B, respectively). In any case, an infield of Eddie Murray, Rich Dauer, Ripken, and DeCinces (who finished third in the MVP voting that year behind Robin Yount and Murray) would have been impressive, and might have helped make up the Orioles' 1 game deficit behind the Brewers.
 
Decinces' record for the Angels, in total, is very similar to what he posted for the Orioles. Each stint basically comprises half of his career totals in virtually every stat. A good defensive player, but wasn't able to win any Gold Glove awards. It's probably a coin flip between DeCinces and the previous player on this list (Troy Glaus) as to who would be the all-time Angels third baseman (super-utility guy Chone Figgins could be a contender too).
 
#21-Gary Gaetti
Best category: Games (5th)
Worst category:  Win Shares/162 (75th)
 
Gaetti also finished quite high in dWAR (7th).
 
A 20-year veteran of the Major Leagues, Gaetti had one of the longest careers of any third baseman. As I've mentioned in the other articles, when I use "Games" as a category in the point system, it's using a player's total games, not just the games played at the position at which the player is listed. Gaetti is fifth in my data set in games played among the third basemen, but 2 of the 4 ahead of him (Darrell Evans and George Brett) had a lot of games at other positions. The only players with more career defensive games at third base than Gaetti are Brooks Robinson, Adrian Beltre, and Graig Nettles.
 
Gaetti, of course, does well in the "cumulative" categories (games, total WAR, total Win Shares), and not as well in the rate categories (WAR/162 and Win Shares/162). He's top 10 in career home runs by players who were primarily third basemen (9th) and he won 4 straight AL Gold Gloves from 1986-1987. One of the real key players of the Twins' 1987 championship run, he was the ALCS MVP that year.
 
#20-Tim Wallach
Best category: All Star Games & Games (10th in each)
Worst category: WAR/162 (56th)
 
This run of third basemen on the list (DeCinces, Gaetti, Wallach) are pretty similar to each other - batting averages of .255-.260, relatively low OBP's (roughly .310-.330 career marks), pretty slow afoot. But, they provided value through pretty good power (about 20 HR's a year on average) and good glove work (Gaetti and Wallach were Gold Glove winners, and DeCinces certainly could have won one or two). Dare we call them a "family"? Not sure who the head of this particular family would be. Brooks Robinson, perhaps? I'm not equating these 3 with Robinson. Robinson had a significantly better career, of course. He did better in MVP voting than any third baseman other than Mike Schmidt and was the gold standard defensively, but the point of a family is whether players are of a certain "type", and Brooks embodies the general characteristics outlined above (his batting average was definitely higher earlier in his career before settling at .267).
 
Wallach went through the minor leagues pretty quickly, splitting his time among 1B, 3B, and OF while there. He also split time among those 3 positions in his first full year in the Majors (1981) before settling in as the regular third baseman for the Expos for more than a decade. I'd put Wallach as the #2 NL third baseman of the 1980's (behind Mike Schmidt).
 
#19-Toby Harrah
Best category: Win Shares (10th)
Worst category: dWAR (114th)
 
Courtesy of baseball-reference.com, here are the players with the most regular seasons games played with no postseason appearances (1903 and later). I'm listing the ones with 2,000 or more games.
 
*=Hall of Famer
Player
Years Played
Games Played
Seasons
Ernie Banks*
1953-1971
2,528
19
Luke Appling*
1930-1950
2,422
20
Mickey Vernon
1939-1960
2,409
20
Buddy Bell
1972-1989
2,405
18
Ron Santo*
1960-1974
2,243
15
Joe Torre*
1960-1977
2,209
18
Toby Harrah
1969-1986
2,155
17
Harry Heilmann*
1914-1932
2,147
17
Eddie Yost
1944-1962
2,109
18
Roy McMillan
1951-1966
2,093
16
Don Kessinger
1964-1979
2,078
16
George Sisler*
1915-1930
2,055
15
Cy Williams
1912-1930
2,002
19
Adam Dunn
2001-2014
2,001
14
 
As you might expect, most of these players played the bulk of their careers before the era of expanded playoffs, and only Dunn has been active since baseball went to three rounds of playoffs in 1995.
 
By the way, as an added bonus, here are the players whose entire careers have occurred within the 3+ round playoff era who have the most games played without experiencing the postseason:
 
Player
Start
Finish
Games Played
Seasons
Adam Dunn
2001
2014
2,001
14
Vernon Wells
1999
2013
1,731
15
Randy Winn
1998
2010
1,717
13
Jose Vidro
1997
2008
1,418
12
Brian Roberts
2001
2014
1,418
14
Jack Wilson
2001
2012
1,370
12
Bobby Higginson
1995
2005
1,362
11
Ty Wigginton
2002
2013
1,362
12
Matt Lawton
1995
2006
1,334
12
Tony Batista
1996
2007
1,309
11
 
Anyway, I'm off track. Back to Harrah....
 
One of the things that always comes to mind when I think of Harrah was that he was traded straight up for another player who played the same position - Harrah was traded in 1978 at age 29 from the Texas Rangers to the Cleveland Indians, straight up, for 26-year old Buddy Bell. Harrah was probably the better known player at the time, a 3-time All Star (vs. 1 for Bell), but Bell was younger. 
 
The interesting thing is that, if you put together an all-time Rangers team, Harrah would probably be the shortstop, and Bell might be the third baseman, although, now that I think about it, you might have to go with Adrian Beltre. Or you might DH Beltre and play Bell at third for his defense (Beltre was outstanding defensively in his career too, but I think Bell was the better defensive player if you compare them only during their Texas years).   Or, you could go with Elvis Andrus at SS instead of Harrah.  Or Michael Young. Or maybe A-Rod for his 3 outstanding seasons there. Or maybe you have to discount A-Rod's time. You know what....forget I even brought it up......
 
I really haven't said much about Harrah in this whole entry. Here's one observation - he was a very underrated player, but one very unusual thing I noticed about him when looking at his baseball-reference.com page was that he had a very low Hall of Fame Monitor score of 20. 20! He's got a very respectable rWAR of 51.4, and I'm not sure I've seen anyone at that level with such a low Hall of Fame monitor score. Harrah was a valuable player, good power, drew a good number of walks, could steal some bases, could play shortstop....but he really didn't check any boxes that would traditionally attract Hall of Fame voters' attention. He didn't play in the spotlight, his teams generally weren't very good, he didn't win awards, he didn't really stand out. He was valuable and underrated....but when he came up on the Hall of Fame ballot in 1992, he drew one vote....one less than Steve Yeager. 
 
#18-Manny Machado
Best category: WAR/162 (8th)
Worst category: Games (93rd)
 
The first of 4 active third basemen in my list, Machado could finish well up this list before he's done. He's already put in 8 seasons at the Major League level, and he's still only 27 years old. He's already got 200 home runs, 4 All Star games, 2 Gold Gloves, 5 consecutive 30+ home run seasons (a streak that's still active), and two top-5 MVP finishes.
 
Another indication of his fast start is this:
 
Highest Career rWAR Through Age 26 Season by Third Basemen:
Rank
Player
 WAR
1
Eddie Mathews
           45.1
2
Manny Machado
           36.7
3
George Brett
           36.2
4
Ron Santo
           35.9
5
John McGraw
           35.0
6
Dick Allen
           31.5
7
Evan Longoria
           29.7
8
David Wright
           29.4
9
Mike Schmidt
           27.3
10
Harlond Clift
           27.3
 
 
#17-Darrell Evans
Best category: Games (4th)
Worst category: dWAR (100th)
 
The dWAR figure is a little misleading because Evans it represents his entire career, and he had a lot of negative figures after his third base days were over. Evans accumulated over 850 games at first base and more than 250 games at DH. But, I think it's fair in that he didn't play nearly as long at third base as most of the other top third basemen (he's 46th all time in defensive games at third base).
 
You every now and then hear about Evans being a dark horse Hall of Fame candidate, in part because his rWAR is near that "magical" 60 figure (58.8), and he combined very good power with a ton of walks, but I find it hard to believe that he'll ever get in. His 1973 season was terrific with 41 HR's and a .400+ OBP, but even in that season, I think more people remember the other two Braves who hit 40+ HR's that year (Hank Aaron and Dave Johnson) than remember Evans. And on the best team he ever played for, the 1984 Tigers, chances are that there a ton of other players you think of first. Trammell & Whitaker, for sure. Kirk Gibson. Willie Hernandez. Jack Morris & Dan Petry. Chet Lemon and Lance Parrish. Maybe even Milt Wilcox and Aurelio Lopez. For most of his career, I think Evans' image was more that of a good supporting character rather than as a leading man.
 
#16-Nolan Arenado
Best category: WAR/162 (5th)
Worst category: Games (96th)
 
Like Machado, Arenado is an active player who is off to a great start to his career. He's a couple of years older than Machado. Arenado's biggest edge over Machado in the methodology at this point in is in MVP Points, where Arenado is ranked 6th compared to Machado's 12th. Arenado's MVP finishes in the past 5 seasons have been 8th,5th,4th,3rd, and 6th.
 
Arenado, as you may be aware, is also off to a perfect 7-for-7 in Gold Gloves to start his career. The only Major Leaguers I'm aware of who had a longer streak to start their careers are Johnny Bench and Ichiro Suzuki (both with 10). 
 
Like Machado, I would expect Arenado to continue climbing these rankings in the years to come. He's been extremely consistent over the past 5 seasons. Trade rumors were swirling around Arenado this offseason - it will be interesting to see if a change in home address would have any impact on his stat line.
 
#15-Matt Williams
Best category:  All Star Games (10th)
Worst category: Win Shares/162 (31th)
 
Now that I think about it, Williams is sort of a member of the family I alluded to earlier when talking about Wallach, DeCinces, and Gaetti - .260ish average, doesn't draw a lot of walks, good power, good glove, slow afoot - except Williams probably had too much HR power to be a tight fit with the others. Williams averaged around 33 HR's per 162 games, about 50% higher than the other trio. But the other characteristics are pretty tight.
 
Williams was kind of all or nothing on MVP Points - he had a 2nd place, a 3rd place, and two 6th place finishes - and that was it. No years where he got down-ballot support. Williams was pretty good with the glove as well - 4 Gold Gloves, and was a good enough fielder that he was deployed for over 100 games at shortstop. You know when you see third basemen who are able to do that (Clete Boyer comes to mind, Manny Machado too), chances are the guy is pretty good defensively.
 
Williams has a legitimate case as the best third baseman for two different NL West franchises - the Giants and the Diamondbacks. His stiffest competition on the Giants, even if you include the New York phase of the team's history, would be Art Devlin, Jim Ray Hart, Darrell Evans or Freddie Lindstrom. I'd personally go with Williams. And on the Diamondbacks....I don't know....Mark Reynolds? Chad Tracy? Jake Lamb? Again, I think I'd go with Williams.
 
#14-Ron Cey
Best category: All Star Games (7th)
Worst category: MVP Points(36th)
 
Mike Schmidt was unquestionably the dominant NL third baseman from the mid-70's to the late '80's, but Cey would have to be the #2. From 1973-1982, Cey was probably never any worse than the #4 NL third baseman in any given year, and about half that time he would probably be considered a solid #2 guy.
 
In contrast to the family mentioned earlier (Wallach/DeCinces/Gaetti), Cey belongs to a different one. They share several of the same characteristics - .250 to .260ish average, 20 HR's a year, slow afoot, good defense - but with one key difference, the ability to take a walk, and therefore their OBP's tend to be higher, more in the .350 to .360 area. Cey is that type, and I would put him in a family with Sal Bando and Robin Ventura, players like that.
 
Cey is probably never going into the Hall of Fame, but he was a very good, valuable, championship quality player. I have always been intrigued by the 1984 NL East champion Cubs, a team that ended a nearly 40-year postseason drought for that franchise.   Cey was one of several veterans that had been assembled on that team who had prior World Series experience - Cey, Gary Matthews, Dave Lopes, Larry Bowa, Keith Moreland, Jay Johnstone, Richie Hebner, Bob Dernier, Dick Ruthven. It was an intriguing blend of veterans who had been to (and even won) the World Series with other teams, along with younger up-and-coming stars like Ryne Sandberg, Leon Durham, and Jody Davis. It was fleeting, as they spent the next 4 seasons in 4th place or lower, and by the time they returned to the postseason in 1989 the team had pretty much been overhauled aside from Sandberg, Rick Sutcliffe, and Scott Sanderson, but it was a memorable season for the Cubbies.
 
#13-Josh Donaldson
Best category: WAR/162 and MVP Points (3rd)
Worst category: Games (95th)
 
Donaldson is shaping up as one of those players whose legacy is unsettled, in part because it's hard to associate him with a franchise. So far, he's had 4 years with the A's (only 2 of which were full time), 4 with the Blue Jays (only 2 full time), 1 year with Atlanta, and now he's on the move again after signing with the Twins. With the Jays he won one MVP and finished 4th another year, with the A's he had a 4th place and an 8th place, and in his lone year with the Braves, he finished 11th. Good power, good glove, good at drawing walks, doesn't steal much but when he does attempt to steal he's successful (83% success rate), and definitely well respected. 
 
Donaldson is still playing well, but it feels like he hasn't been in the spotlight very long, as it took him a little while to get going. His first full season wasn't until he was 27, and he's missed significant time in a couple of the years since then, so it might be a challenge for him to post truly impressive career totals, but I guess we'll see how long he can stay productive. When healthy, he's one of the best.
 
#12-Evan Longoria
Best category: WAR7 (9th)
Worst category: Games (32nd)
 
Evan Longoria, whose nickname is "Longo", played college ball at Long Beach State. What are the odds of all that? I'd say they're.....long?
 
The last of the active third basemen in the top 25 (Machado, Arenado, Donaldson, Longoria), Longoria is still young enough (34) to continue moving up, and he might be destined for the top 10.
 
Longoria, similar to Manny Machado, is one of the great young third basemen we've seen. He was Rookie of the Year at age 22, won 2 Gold Gloves by age 24, was an All Star his first 3 seasons, drew MVP votes in each of his first 4 years, and in 3 of his first 4 seasons he generated rWAR's of 7.0 or higher.
 
Since then, he's continued to play well, although at a little bit lower level than he started out at.   He really hasn't had any truly bad seasons. He's had one or two that clearly weren't up to his usual standards, but he's been pretty reliable. After his second Gold Glove, he had a dry spell of 6 seasons before winning his third. I don't know if that's a record, but it seems like it would be rare. Seems like once a player who has won a Gold Glove goes that long without one, it's tough to get that respect back.
 
#11-Robin Ventura
Best category: dWAR(6th)
Worst category: MVP Points (36th)
 
Can Ventura's career seen as a disappointment? I would hate to characterize it that way because, after all, I have him as the 11th best third baseman of the last half century, and over the entire history of the Major Leagues, he's probably top 20. He had good power, a good batting eye, and was a 6-time Gold Glove winner. And yet, I somehow can't help feel a little let down. I know that's not fair to him, but then expectations were extremely high for Ventura coming into the league.
 
I'll explain, but first, a quick quiz. What do these players have in common?
 
Robin Ventura
Bob Horner
Dave Winfield
Will Clark
and.....Brooks Kieschnick?
 
Answer: They were the first 5 players inducted to the College Baseball Hall of Fame. The inaugural class was inducted in 2006 (that class also included legendary coaches Bobby Winkles (Arizona State), Skip Bertman (LSU), Ron Fraser (Miami, FL), Cliff Gustafson (Texas), and
Rod Dedeaux (USC)). Among the players, Kieschnick is the one that stands out because the others all had successful MLB careers, but he was a deserving inductee, a 3-time All-American, starring both at bat and on the mound. 
 
Who is the greatest college baseball player of all time? Not the best Major Leaguer to play college ball, but who was the greatest in college? It's not an easy thing to find consensus on. 
 
If you search for the greatest college basketball player ever, chances are the consensus #1 pick would be Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), but you'll likely see several others mentioned frequently as strong contenders, including Bill Walton, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson, David Thompson, Bill Bradley, Christian Laettner, Elvin Hayes, Jerry West, and Bill Russell. By the way, people will try to convince you that Michael Jordan should be in that conversation as well, but don't believe them. Yes, he's probably the greatest basketball player ever. And he was an outstanding college basketball player. But the greatest college player ever? Not in my book.
 
College Football? Probably the consensus pick would be Herschel Walker, but you're also bound to see a lot of support for Jim Brown, Archie Griffin, Tim Tebow, Barry Sanders, Bo Jackson, or Earl Campbell. Old timers would also throw their support towards the likes of Doak Walker, Red Grange, or even Jim Thorpe.
 
College Baseball? It's harder to search and get a good answer on that. Based on what I can gather, I think Ventura has a case as the greatest. He hit .428 in his college career (including .469 as a freshman) while playing for Oklahoma State, including a a 58-game hitting streak in his sophomore year. Baseball America's held a "Player of the Century" poll for college baseball for players who played pre-2000, and Ventura finished third behind Bob Horner and a fellow Oklahoma State alum, Pete Incaviglia, who hit 100 home runs in college, including 48 in one season, both of which are still records. Ventura was also a member of the 1988 U.S. Olympic gold medal winning team.
 
There are several Major League Hall of Famers who are also enshrined in the College Baseball Hall of Fame - Dave Winfield, Lou Gehrig, Christy Mathewson, Jackie Robinson, Andre Dawson, Lou Brock, George Sisler, Barry Larkin, and Joe Sewell. And there are many College Hall of Famers who excelled at the college game and then went on to notable Major League careers, including Will Clark, Lance Berkman, Fred Lynn, John Olerud, Burt Hooten, Greg Swindell, Rafael Palmeiro, Joe Carter, B.J. Surhoff, Dick Groat, Tim Wallach, Nomar Garciaparra, Sal Bando, Tino Martinez, Alex Fernandez, Pete Incaviglia, Frank Viola, Rick Monday, Billy Wagner, Mark Kotsay, and J.D. Drew.
 
So who's the greatest collegiate baseball player of all time? Maybe it's Horner (who, as difficult as it is to imagine for those who only saw him later on as a corner infielder in the Major Leagues, played a lot at second base and even some shortstop at Arizona State). Could be Incaviglia. Maybe it's Winfield, who was an outstanding pitcher for the University of Minnesota in addition to being a dangerous bat. However, based on what I know, I think I'd go with Ventura.
 
#10-David Wright
Best category: Win Shares 7, All Star Games, and Win Shares/162 (5th in each)
Worst category: dWAR (97th)
 
Among the 172 third basemen in my 50-year dataset, who's the best "all-around" player? It depends how you define it. How about if you define it as:
 
·         Hits for good average
·         Has a high OBP
·         Hits for good power
·         Drives in runs
·         Scores a lot of runs
·         Runs well/steals bases
·         Gold Glove winner
 
How many players check all of those boxes? 
 
Mike Schmidt? Well, basically everything except for hitting for average
Wade Boggs? Not much in the home run/power department
Chipper Jones? No Gold Gloves
Adrian Beltre? Career OBP was under .340
Buddy Bell? Horrible base stealer
 
You go up and down the list, and everyone has a weak link, except for two. George Brett (who did win one Gold Glove at age 32), and David Wright. 
 
Wright had a .300 career batting average through age 30 before his last few seasons dragged it down to .296. He had a healthy .376 OBP. He exceed 30 HR's twice, 100 runs twice, 100 RBI five times, stole as many as 34 bases in a season, and was a 2-time Gold Glove winner.   His only real weakness was his inability to stay healthy as he reached his 30's. But, for an all-around game at third base, it's hard to top Captain America.
 
#9-Sal Bando
Best category: WAR7 (6th)
Worst category: dWAR (20th)
 
The great A's teams of the 1970's are represented in the Hall of Fame by 3 players - Reggie Jackson, Rollie Fingers, and Catfish Hunter, but they have others who could have also joined them, including Vida Blue, Bert Campaneris, and Captain Sal Bando. 
 
One of the real interesting MVP votes I've seen is the 1971 AL ballot. Vida Blue was named the MVP for his 24-8, 1.82 performance for the A's, and he probably did deserve it. But, that same year, for the same team, Sal Bando hit 24 HR's, drove in 94, and hit .271. He finished in 2nd place, and actually received 4 first place votes. 
 
I think that's a real sign of the respect that Bando generated. To be sure, it wasn't a great era or environment for offense, but that's a pretty impressive finish for someone with those stats. And it wasn't the only time - in 1973, Bando placed 4th in the voting, and in 1974, despite a .243 average, he finished 3rd. Bando did place in the top 5 in the AL in RBI each of those seasons, and that undoubtedly helped, but I think it was, as much as anything, recognition of just how important of a role he played as one of the veteran leaders of that great club.
 
I keep waiting for Bando to be offered the lead role in the Ernest Borgnine biopic. Check out the photo on his Wikipedia page and you'll see what I mean.....
 
#8-Buddy Bell
Best category: dWAR (2nd)
Worst category: MVP Points (36th)
 
Much like Ken Griffey Jr., Bell was born in Pennsylvania (Bell in Pittsburgh, Griffey Jr. in Donora), but both grew up in Cincinnati since their fathers (Gus Bell and Ken Griffey Sr.) were starting outfielders for the Reds during their childhood. Both Bell and Griffey Jr. went on to star at Moeller High School, the same school that calls Hall of Famer Barry Larkin an alumnus as well, not to mention others with Major League experience such as Len Matuszek, David Bell (Buddy's son), Mike Bell (another son of Buddy's), Adam Hyzdu, Brent Suter, and Bill Long.   That's one hell of a start on an all-time high school team.  
 
One interesting note is that, if you rank high schools by the total Major League WAR represented by players who attended there, 12 of the top 13 would be California schools, with Cincinnati Moeller being the lone exception. Here's a quick rundown of the top WAR-producing high schools:
 
#
School
Location
Players
WAR
Top Players
1
Fullerton
Fullerton, CA
7
287.8
Walter Johnson, Arky Vaughan, Del Crandall
2
McClymonds
Oakland, CA
12
283.6
Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson, Ernie Lombardi, Curt Flood
3
Fresno
Fresno, CA
12
265.9
Tom Seaver, Frank Chance, Jim Maloney, Dutch Leonard
4
Fremont
Los Angeles, CA
25
250.3
Chet Lemon, Bobby Doerr, Eric Davis, George Hendrick
5
Moeller
Cincinnati, OH
13
242.5
Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Larkin, Buddy Bell
6
Junipero Serra
San Mateo, CA
11
241.6
Barry Bonds, Jim Fregosi, Gregg Jefferies
7
Polytechnic
Long Beach, CA
18
225.7
Tony Gwynn, Chase Utley, Vern Stephens
8
Centennial
Compton, CA
10
210.0
Reggie Smith, Roy White, Lonnie Smith, Don Wilson
9
Sacred Heart Cathedral
San Francisco, CA
6
198.1
Harry Heilmann, Joe Cronin, Dolph Camilli
10
Galileo
San Francisco, CA
9
190.8
Joe DiMaggio, Tony Lazzeri, Dom DiMaggio, Vince DiMaggio
11
Woodrow Wilson
Long Beach, CA
13
189.0
Bobby Grich, Bob Lemon, Bob Bailey
12
Herbert Hoover
San Diego, CA
12
186.6
Ted Williams, Ray Boone, Jack Harshman
13
Encinal
Alameda, CA
6
183.5
Willie Stargell, Jimmy Rollins, Chris Speier, Tommy Harper
 
The 14th school, with 182.4 WAR, is St. Mary's of Baltimore, but their entire roster consists of Babe Ruth, so he would have to pitch and play outfield. It would sort of be like when Eddie Feigner would hit the road with his touring "The King and His Court" softball show, although at least Eddie had 3 other men on his team. 
 
Bell certainly is one of the greatest defensive third basemen ever, both statistically and by reputation.
 
First the statistical:
 
Career Defensive WAR (dWAR) - Third Basemen
 
Name
dWAR
Brooks Robinson
39.1
Adrian Beltre
27.2
Buddy Bell
23.8
Clete Boyer
21.6
Graig Nettles
21.4
Scott Rolen
21.2
Lee Tannehill
18.6
Mike Schmidt
18.4
Robin Ventura
17.9
Jimmy Collins
16.8
 
 
Name
Gold Gloves
Brooks Robinson 
16
Mike Schmidt 
10
Scott Rolen 
8
Nolan Arenado 
7
Buddy Bell 
6
Eric Chavez 
6
Robin Ventura 
6
Adrian Beltre 
5
Ken Boyer 
5
Doug Rader 
5
Ron Santo 
5
 
In addition to Bell, you'll find Robinson, Rolen, Beltre, Schmidt, and Ventura on both lists, as are the Boyer brothers, at least in combination (Clete is on the first list and Ken is on the second one). Arenado will probably make the dWAR top 10 before he's done, and he's well on his way to passing Rolen and Schmidt on the Gold Glove list in the coming years if he keeps it up.
 
The dWAR list is mostly players from the last half century or so, but it does capture 2 old-timers who were active at around the same time as each other more than a century ago - Hall of Famer Jimmy Collins, and then Lee Tannehill, who had claim to fame as Jesse Tannehill's brother as well as being a starter on the famous 1906 Chicago White Sox team, a.k.a. the "Hitless Wonders". Tannehill did his part in defining that team's reputation as he hit .183 that season. He did legitimately have an outstanding reputation as a defensive standout at third, as did Collins. 
 
Are there any other outstanding third basemen who don't make one list or the other? Gary Gaetti just misses both leader boards (11th in dWAR, won 4 Gold Gloves). Aurelio Rodriguez was an outstanding defensive third baseman, but only won 1 Gold Glove. He's 13th on the dWAR list.
 
One player who stirs up a lot of discussion on the topic of top defensive third basemen is Pie Traynor. By reputation, he was considered the greatest third baseman of all time until roughly the1950's-1970's and beyond when you started to see the likes Eddie Mathews, Brooks Robinson, Mike Schmidt, and George Brett come onto the scene, and a big part of that status was his reputation as an outstanding defender.   However, his dWAR is pretty mediocre (around 2.0 for his career). That's not proof, of course, but he's definitely one third baseman whose record doesn't jive with his reputation. Billy Cox of the 1950's era "Boys of Summer" Dodger teams is another one who had a stellar defensive reputation but whose dWAR doesn't support quite support that status.
 
#7-Graig Nettles
Best category: dWAR and Games (3rd in each)
Worst category: Win Shares/162 (43rd)
 
The greatest .248 player in Major League history.
 
Actually, let's formalize that a little bit. Which players had the greatest careers despite a mediocre batting average (excluding pitchers)? Let's set the threshold at a batting average of .250 or below, and sorted by career rWAR. Here are the top 20:
 
Rank
Player
Primary Pos
WAR
From
To
BA
G
HR
RBI
OBP
1
Graig Nettles
3B
68.0
1967
1988
.248
2,700
390
1,314
.329
2
Darrell Evans
3B
58.8
1969
1989
.248
2,687
414
1,354
.361
3
Jim Wynn
CF
55.8
1963
1977
.250
1,920
291
964
.366
4
Curtis Granderson
CF
47.0
2004
2019
.249
2,057
344
937
.337
5
Gene Tenace
C
46.8
1969
1983
.241
1,555
201
674
.388
6
Mike Cameron
CF
46.7
1995
2011
.249
1,955
278
968
.338
7
Darrell Porter
C
40.9
1971
1987
.247
1,782
188
826
.354
8
Mark Belanger
SS
40.9
1965
1982
.228
2,016
20
389
.300
9
Jim Sundberg
C
40.5
1974
1989
.248
1,962
95
624
.327
10
Donie Bush
SS
39.3
1908
1923
.250
1,945
9
445
.356
11
Russell Martin
C
38.7
2006
2019
.248
1,693
191
771
.349
12
Paul Blair
CF
37.7
1964
1980
.250
1,947
134
620
.302
13
Dick McAuliffe
2B
37.6
1960
1975
.247
1,763
197
696
.343
14
Jose Bautista
RF
36.7
2004
2018
.247
1,798
344
975
.361
15
Ken McMullen
3B
34.0
1962
1977
.248
1,583
156
606
.316
16
Dwayne Murphy
CF
33.2
1978
1989
.246
1,360
166
609
.356
17
Jose Valentin
SS
31.6
1992
2007
.243
1,678
249
816
.321
18
Eddie Joost
SS
31.4
1936
1955
.239
1,574
134
601
.361
19
Greg Vaughn
LF
30.8
1989
2003
.242
1,731
355
1,072
.337
20
Chris Speier
SS
30.6
1971
1989
.246
2,260
112
720
.327
 
5 shortstops, 5 center fielders, 4 catchers, 3 third basemen, 1 second baseman, 1 left fielder, and 1 right fielder. As you might have guessed, there are several stellar defensive players (Nettles, Belanger, Sundberg, Blair) and several players who provided a good power/good walk combination (Evans, Wynn, Tenace, Porter, McAuliffe, Bautista, Murphy, Joost).
 
You may be aware that Nettles, despite his outstanding defensive prowess and stellar reputation, only won 2 Gold Gloves in his career, in part because Brooks Robinson was apparently ordained with the inalienable right to be the Gold Glove king for all eternity. 
 
Want to do a fun "what if"? What if Gold Gloves were awarded to the highest Fielding War in the league? I'm not advocating this, of course, because I do think it's something that should be voted on....but what if they did? What would the Brooks Robinson 16-year domination of the American League Gold Glove at third base look like in an alternate universe?
 
Courtesy of The Baseball Gauge, here are the yearly 3B Fielding WAR leaders during that time frame (1960-1975), contrasted against Brooks Robinson himself.   (Technical note - The Baseball Gauge uses something called "Fielding WAR", which is basically dWAR but without the positional adjustment. But it's essentially the same concept).
 
Year
Gold Glove Winner
Team
Fielding WAR
Fielding WAR  Leader
Team
Fielding WAR
1960
Brooks Robinson
BAL
1.6
Brooks Robinson
BAL
1.6
1961
Brooks Robinson
BAL
1.4
Clete Boyer
NYY
2.9
1962
Brooks Robinson
BAL
1.6
Clete Boyer
NYY
2.8
1963
Brooks Robinson
BAL
1.1
Clete Boyer
NYY
1.6
1964
Brooks Robinson
BAL
1.6
Pete Ward
CHW
1.8
1965
Brooks Robinson
BAL
0.8
Ken McMullen
WAS
1.2
1966
Brooks Robinson
BAL
0.1
Ed Charles
KCA
0.9
1967
Brooks Robinson
BAL
3.7
Brooks Robinson
BAL
3.7
1968
Brooks Robinson
BAL
3.9
Brooks Robinson
BAL
3.9
1969
Brooks Robinson
BAL
2.5
Brooks Robinson
BAL
2.5
1970
Brooks Robinson
BAL
0.4
Aurelio Rodriguez
CAL/WAS
3.2
1971
Brooks Robinson
BAL
2.3
Graig Nettles
CLE
3.5
1972
Brooks Robinson
BAL
2.2
Brooks Robinson
BAL
2.2
1973
Brooks Robinson
BAL
2.0
Graig Nettles
NYY
2.2
1974
Brooks Robinson
BAL
1.6
Brooks Robinson
BAL
1.6
1975
Brooks Robinson
BAL
2.0
Brooks Robinson
BAL
2.0
 
Here's what that hypothetical 16-season redistribution would look like:
Name
Total
Brooks Robinson
7
Clete Boyer
3
Graig Nettles
2
Ken McMullen
1
Pete Ward
1
Aurelio Rodriguez
1
Ed Charles
1
Total
16
 
Robinson would have still won almost half (and actually would have been awarded another one in 1959 under these assumptions, rather than Frank Malzone).  7 or 8 would be impressive in its own right, and in the meantime, a few others could have gotten their moment in the sun. 
 
Getting slightly off topic....I always thought the tendency to keep awarding a Gold Glove over and over to the same person, year after year, never made much sense. It just seems like lazy thinking to me, and feeds in to the mindset that defense is a "constant", which I think is nuts. You can have great defensive seasons and mediocre defensive seasons out of the same player.
 
Was Greg Maddux really the best fielding pitcher 13 years in a row? Bob Gibson 9 times in a row? Mike Schmidt won 9 in a row. Johnny Bench won 10 in a row. Keith Hernandez won 11 in a row. Ozzie won 13 in a row. Pudge Rodriguez won 10 in a row.   Jim Kaat won 14 in a row, for crying out loud, even one year when he made 8 errors in 46 chances (yes, I know that errors aren't everything, but that's still pretty bad coming from a pitcher). Fine, these are legendary fielders, and I agree that Robinson is the greatest defensive third baseman ever, but bestowing an honor onto Brooks Robinson 16 years in a row just because he's a legend and everyone simply assumes he's the best every year is no way to run a credible award process. 
 
Clete Boyer never won a Gold Glove until he moved over the NL and was finally awarded one at age 32. Graig Nettles didn't win his 2 Gold Gloves until after Brooks Robinson had ceased to be a starting third baseman. It wouldn't have killed anyone to have recognized their excellence a couple of times each during Robinson's reign. 
 
#6-Scott Rolen
Best category: dWAR (4th)
Worst category: MVP Points (17th)
 
Rolen is basically our third baseman Hall of Fame line of demarcation. Everyone ranked higher than him is either in the Hall of Fame (Schmidt, Brett, Boggs, Chipper) or will be in the Hall of Fame (Beltre). Everyone below him is either a) still active or b) retired and not in the Hall of Fame. Could Nettles or Bando or Bell make it someday? David Wright? Maybe. But I wouldn't count on it.
 
Rolen is the dividing line. He might make it. He might not. He's an interesting candidate, and he's pointing in the right direction. He's been on 3 BBWAA ballots, and he's improved from 10% to 17% to 35% over that time. And with no new and exciting candidates coming on to the ballot this year, he's likely to continue to ascend.
 
I've made this observation before, but when it comes to the Hall of Fame, I think that Rolen is the new version of Lou Whitaker. Well, it's not a perfect comparison because Whitaker was a one-and-done on the BBWAA ballot, but in terms of what is referred to as the "Hall of Fame Statistics" section on baseball-reference.com, They couldn't be more similar:
 
 
Name
HOF Standards
HOF Monitor
 
Black Ink
 
Gray Ink
 
rWAR
JAWS Ranking at Primary Position
Scott Rolen
40
99
0
27
70.0
10th
Lou Whitaker
43
93
0
31
74.9
13th
 
Rolen did do better in awards (7 All Star games and 8 Gold Gloves vs. 5 and 3, respectively, for Whitaker), and he did a little better in MVP voting (a 4th, a 14th, and 2 down-ballot results vs. one 8th place finish for Whitaker), but I think they've very similar Hall of Fame candidates. They were both really good for a really long time, they were both All Star level players, but while they were active, they generally weren't perceived as being among the very top players in their respective eras. At or near the top at their respective positions? Yes.  But not elite in terms of when people think of the top overall players who helped define their eras. At least that's my observation.
 
In any case, I think their times are coming. Whitaker was on the Modern Era ballot last year and got half of the votes he needed to get in. Rolen is at 35% on the BBWAA ballot with 7 more years before he runs out of time there. I think it's just a matter of time for both of them.
 
#5-Chipper Jones
Best category: Win Shares and WAA (3rd in each)
Worst category: dWAR (115th)
 
If we were ranking strictly based on a total, all -around offensive performance, Chipper might have an argument as the greatest third baseman ever. I'd still put Eddie Mathews and Mike Schmidt ahead of him as hitters, and maybe George Brett too (although Chipper's all around offensive game may have been a little better), but Chipper is right up there in the discussion. Even if you include all of baseball history (which would pull in Mathews into the equation) rather than just the last 50 years, Jones is 4th in HR and 2nd in RBI. He hit .303 with a .401 OBP and a 141 OPS+. He had a year where he went 25 for 28 in stolen bases. He had an outstanding all-around offensive skill set.
 
Highest Career Offensive WAR (oWAR) for Third Basemen:
 
Name
oWAR
Eddie Mathews
93.7
Mike Schmidt
91.8
Chipper Jones
88.3
George Brett
84.8
Wade Boggs
81.4
Adrian Beltre
71.6
Ron Santo
66.5
Toby Harrah
62.5
Home Run Baker
59.4
Sal Bando
58.3
Ken Boyer
55.9
Stan Hack
55.2
 
 
#4-Adrian Beltre
Best category: Games, dWAR (1st in each)
Worst category: Win Shares/162 (24th)
 
Beltre had an interesting career arc. Beltre's stats through age 29:
Year
G
PA
R
H
HR
RBI
SB
BB
SO
BA
OBP
SLG
OPS+
1998-2008
1,570
6,400
774
1,581
242
862
98
459
1,010
.271
.327
.459
107
Average
143
582
70
144
22
78
9
42
92
per 162
162
660
80
163
25
89
10
47
104
 
He had one outstanding season as an MVP runner up (but no other seasons with any MVP votes), 2 Gold Gloves, and had appeared in zero (count 'em, zero) All Star games. He was a quality player, but he didn't look to me like his career was on a Hall of Fame path. 
 
His counting stats were pretty good because he had been playing regularly since age 20, so he got an early start and didn't have any major injuries, but I think it's more accurate to say his image in his 20's, aside from the one big season in 2004 (48 HR, 121 RBI, .334), was that of a talented player who wasn't performing to his potential.
 
And then, he turned it on, starting with Boston in 2010 at age 31. From that point, he made the All Star team 4 years out of 5, and received votes in 7 straight MVP ballots, finishing as high as 3rd. After his career best 2004 season, his next 6 highest WAR seasons were all at age 31 or older.
 
Beltre's stats from age 31 on:
 
Year
G
PA
R
H
HR
RBI
SB
BB
SO
BA
OBP
SLG
OPS+
2010-2018
1,252
5,253
696
1,466
227
801
10
370
648
.307
.358
.514
130
Average
139
584
77
163
25
89
1
41
72
per 162
162
680
90
190
29
104
1
48
84
 
Through age 29 Beltre did generate a lot of bulk numbers, and his average and per-162 stats don't look all that much better than they were in his 20's, but most players tend to decline during their 30's rather than getting better, and his rate stats like batting average, OBP, and slugging all got much better.   His batting average was 36 points higher, his OBP was 31 points higher, his slugging was 55 points higher, and his OPS+ was a robust 130 rather than the more ordinary 107 in his earlier years. 
 
I wonder how often it happens that players who don't appear to be on a Hall of Fame trajectory end up doing so well in their 30's that they become Cooperstown-bound? About 56% of Beltre's career rWAR was generated at age 30 or later, which is pretty high, although nowhere near the most.
 
Among pitchers, Randy Johnson comes to mind. Through age 29, he didn't resemble a Hall of Famer in any way, but really turned it on in his 30's. Dazzy Vance is another famous example - he hadn't won a single game prior to his age 31 season, but he's in the Hall of Fame.  Sam Rice only had 2 full time seasons prior to age 30, but 82% of his career value was post-30. Jackie Robinson didn't debut in the Majors until age 28, but of course there were extenuating circumstances there. There are many other examples of players who have a large % of their value post-age 30 who end up in the Hall, but those are some of the ones who come to mind first.
 
#3-Wade Boggs
Best category: WAR7, All Star Games, Win Shares 7, WAA (2nd in each)
Worst category: MVP Points (18th)
 
A remarkable career, but I wasn't aware of his (relative) lack of MVP support until I did this exercise. Among the third basemen in my dataset, Boggs was only tied for 18th in MVP Points.   Remember that MVP Points was a little calculation I did that awarded 10 points for each first place finish, 5 points for each top 5 finish, and 1 point for each top 10 finish.
 
Here are the players who did as good or better than Boggs in this category. 
(*-denotes active player)
 
Name
MVP
1st Place
MVP
Top 5
MVP
Top 10
MVP Total Pts
Mike Schmidt
3
5
9
64
George Brett
1
4
5
35
Josh Donaldson*
1
3
4
29
Chipper Jones
1
2
6
26
Terry Pendleton
1
2
2
22
Nolan Arenado*
0
3
5
20
Sal Bando
0
3
3
18
Kris Bryant*
1
1
2
17
Adrian Beltre
0
2
6
16
Ken Caminiti
1
1
1
16
Matt Williams
0
2
4
14
Manny Machado*
0
2
3
13
Anthony Rendon*
0
2
3
13
Howard Johnson
0
2
3
13
Bobby Bonilla
0
2
2
12
Alex Bregman*
0
2
2
12
Jose Ramirez*
0
2
2
12
Wade Boggs
0
1
4
9
David Wright
0
1
4
9
 
By the way, even if I were to use MVP "Award Shares", Boggs would still only been around 14th).
 
Boggs was a great player and an no-doubt Hall of Famer, but the closet he ever got to an MVP was a 4th place finish in 1985 behind Don Mattingly, George Brett, and Rickey Henderson. Basically, Boggs was top-10 (or close to it) every season he was the batting champ, but that's about as far as voters were willing to go.
 
#2-George Brett
Best category: All Star Games (1st)
Worst category: dWAR (70th)
 
Brett was also 2nd in MVP Points, Games, and Win Shares. He didn't make an All Star team his first 2 years in the league, then he ripped off 13 in a row, then finished his last 5 years without being named an All Star.
 
Hard to believe it's now been 40 years since that magical 1980 season when Brett flirted with .400 before ending at .390, taking home the MVP and leading the Royals to their first World Series in franchise history (where they lost to the Phillies). One of the things I had long since forgotten (if I even realized it in the first place) was that Brett only played 117 games that year. 
 
I figured that 117 games must be the fewest games ever played by a player in his MVP season (not including pitchers, of course), and it turns out that that's true, provided that you exclude strike seasons (1994, 1981). Since the Major Leagues expanded to a 162 game schedule, the lowest figure other than Brett's that I've seen is Mickey Mantle's 1962 season (the third of his 3 MVP's) with 123 games.   Mantle was still really good that year, but he was also helped by a notable lack of strong candidates that year (the highest rWAR in the AL that year was 6.2 by Hank Aguirre). MVP's with fewer than 130 games played are pretty rare.
 
#1-Mike Schmidt
Best category: Schmidt was first in 7 of the 11 categories (WAR, WAR/162, WAR7, MVP Points, Win Shares, Win Shares 7, and WAA.
Worst category: Games (9th)
 
Once again, as was the case in every other position I've reviewed so far, the #1 was an easy choice, as Schmidt's total of 94.7 points in my methodology easily exceeded Brett's 77.2 figure.
 
As is the case with most of the top players on these various position lists, I struggle to try and find anything new to say about them that you don't already know. What can I tell you about Mike Schmidt that you haven't read about or observed on your own previously?
 
So, sometimes I just look for the strange and unusual. For example, when looking at Mike Schmidt's career, rather than just revisiting all of his successes, I'm actually more intrigued by his rough first season as a regular. In 1973, at age 23, Schmidt played 132 games for the Phillies, and did hit 18 home runs. Not so bad. However, he also infamously hit .196. Not so good. Obviously, things got better for him in 1974 as he began a streak of 3 consecutive NL home run titles, eventually winning 8.
 
But that first year of his got me thinking....what were the best offensive years ever by a player who hit under .200? Not talking overall value, which would include defense, but strictly offense.
 
Highest Offensive WAR (oWAR) since 1901, Minimum 300 PA's, Less than .200 Batting Average
 
Rank
Player
Year
Team
oWAR
BA
PA
HR
RBI
H
BB
OBP
SLG
1
Tom Tresh
1968
NYY
2.4
.195
590
11
52
99
76
.304
.308
2
Carlos Pena
2010
TBR
2.1
.196
582
28
84
95
87
.325
.407
3
Lou Criger
1905
BOS
2.0
.198
375
1
36
62
54
.322
.272
4
Denis Menke
1973
CIN
1.4
.191
322
3
26
46
69
.368
.270
5
Mike Schmidt
1973
PHI
1.3
.196
443
18
52
72
62
.324
.373
6
Gary Sanchez
2018
NYY
1.3
.186
374
18
53
60
46
.291
.406
7
Russell Martin
2018
TOR
1.3
.194
352
10
25
56
56
.338
.325
8
Ron Hansen
1968
TOT
1.2
.196
414
9
32
71
46
.290
.312
9
Darren Daulton
1991
PHI
1.2
.196
335
12
42
56
41
.297
.365
10
Dan Uggla
2013
ATL
1.2
.179
537
22
55
80
77
.309
.362
11
Mike Zunino
2014
SEA
1.2
.199
476
22
60
87
17
.254
.404
12
Mark Reynolds
2010
ARI
1.1
.198
596
32
85
99
83
.320
.433
13
Monte Cross
1904
PHA
1.0
.189
576
1
38
95
46
.266
.256
14
Derek Dietrich
2019
CIN
1.0
.187
306
19
43
47
28
.328
.462
15
Rob Deer
1991
DET
0.9
.179
539
25
64
80
89
.314
.386
 
I had assumed that Schmidt's 1973 would be on here, and indeed it was. Aside from the low average, it was a pretty decent rookie campaign - he hit 18 home runs, and he drew quite a few walks (62 in 443 plate appearances), so his OBP was a not-so-bad .324.   He had some value, and definitely showed a lot of potential.
 
But, the really interesting thing to me are some of the other entries on the list. You may have noticed that 2 of the seasons that made this list (Tresh and Hansen) were from the infamous 1968 "Year of the Pitcher", when the Major League batting average was a mere .237 and the OBP was only .299. The seasons seemed to come in pairs (2 entries each from 1973, 1991, 2010, and 2018) and "almost pairs" (1904 & 1905, 2013 and 2014), not to mention one as recently as last year (Derek Dietrich's 2019).
 
Carlos Pena in 2010 had a very healthy combination of 28 HR's and 87 walks. Incidentally, Pena had another very similar season 2 years later - 19 HR and 87 BB to go along with a .197 average. Mark Reynolds made the list with possibly the most "Mark Reynolds" season of his career - 32 HR, 83 BB, .198 average, and a league-leading 211 strikeouts.
 
I think the one that fascinates me most is the other one that occurred in the same year as Schmidt's - the 1973 season posted by Denis Menke. That one happened right under my nose as a young Reds fan. 
 
As you probably know, Menke was one of the 5 players that came to Cincinnati from Houston in what is known as the "Joe Morgan" trade. Morgan, Menke, Jack Billingham, Cesar Geronimo, and Ed Armbrister moved to the Reds, with Lee May, Tommy Helms, and Jimmy Stewart going to the Astros. Menke was probably the second most well-known of the 5 who went to the Reds - Billingham was still up and coming, Geronimo was unproven, Armbrister was a bit-player. But Menke was 30 years old and had been a two-time All Star with the Astros.   He was filling an important role for the Reds as they executed a move across the diamond for Tony Perez (moving him from third base to first base to replace May). Perez had always been considered a bit of a liability defensively at third base, and Menke gave them a legitimate defensive presence there.
 
In any case, the thing that struck me about Menke's 1973 stat line was the OBP. Despite the .191 average, Menke's OBP was a rather healthy .368, as he managed to draw 69 walks in a little over 300 plate appearances, or a rate of 129 walks per 600 plate appearances. 
 
And, I realize that we're way off track from Mike Schmidt now, but that got me to thinking how many players pulled off that type of combination? A sub .200 batting average, but greater than a .360 OBP. Turns out that it's only happened 2 other times (minimum 300 PA's):
 
Player
Year
Team
BA
PA
H
BB
OBP
HR
RBI
Denis Menke
1973
CIN
0.191
322
46
69
.368
3
26
Jimmy Sheckard
1913
STL/CIN
0.194
330
49
68
.368
0
24
Lance Blankenship
1993
OAK
0.190
328
48
67
.363
2
23
 
Eerily similar seasons.
 
 
Top 25 Third Basemen of the Past 50 Years - Ranking/Points
.
Rank
Name
From
To
Points
1
Mike Schmidt
1972
1989
94.7
2
George Brett
1973
1993
77.2
3
Wade Boggs
1982
1999
76.7
4
Adrian Beltre
1998
2018
72.6
5
Chipper Jones
1993
2012
68.9
6
Scott Rolen
1996
2012
64.3
7
Graig Nettles
1967
1988
60.2
8
Buddy Bell
1972
1989
58.2
9
Sal Bando
1966
1981
55.7
10
David Wright
2004
2018
52.9
11
Robin Ventura
1989
2004
52.6
12
Evan Longoria
2008
2019
52.3
13
Josh Donaldson
2010
2019
50.4
14
Ron Cey
1971
1987
50.0
15
Matt Williams
1987
2003
48.9
16
Nolan Arenado
2013
2019
48.3
17
Darrell Evans
1969
1989
48.2
18
Manny Machado
2012
2019
45.4
19
Toby Harrah
1969
1986
45.2
20
Tim Wallach
1980
1996
43.1
21
Gary Gaetti
1981
2000
41.0
22
Doug DeCinces
1973
1987
40.8
23
Troy Glaus
1998
2010
38.8
24
Bill Madlock
1973
1987
38.7
25
Eric Chavez
1998
2014
38.6
 
Distribution of the top 25 by decade (using career mid-point):
 
Decade
Total
1970s
5
1980s
6
1990s
4
2000s
5
2010s
5
 
Pretty even distribution.....
 
In the first article (which also had the catcher rankings), a reader requested #26-50 as well (without commentary), so I've been including those as well, with the caveat that these are unadjusted rankings at this point, strictly based on how everyone outside of the top 25 did based on the raw methodology. So, no subjective adjustments on my part. Also note that any active players are very volatile and fluid in how they fare in the various categories, and the ones who are not at the ends of their careers will likely change considerably in the years ahead.
 
Rank
Name
From
To
Points
26
Anthony Rendon
2013
2019
38.6
27
Ryan Zimmerman
2005
2019
38.4
28
Bobby Bonilla
1986
2001
38.0
29
Terry Pendleton
1984
1998
38.0
30
Ken Caminiti
1987
2001
37.9
31
Travis Fryman
1990
2002
37.7
32
Matt Carpenter
2011
2019
37.6
33
Don Money
1968
1983
37.3
34
Carney Lansford
1978
1992
37.0
35
Kyle Seager
2011
2019
36.9
36
Aramis Ramirez
1998
2015
36.8
37
Alex Bregman
2016
2019
36.7
38
Jeff Cirillo
1994
2007
36.5
39
Kris Bryant
2015
2019
36.4
40
Jose Ramirez
2013
2019
35.0
41
Edgardo Alfonzo
1995
2006
34.6
42
Mike Lowell
1998
2010
33.5
43
Justin Turner
2009
2019
32.7
44
Martin Prado
2006
2019
32.4
45
Howard Johnson
1982
1995
32.1
46
Richie Hebner
1968
1985
31.7
47
Kevin Seitzer
1986
1997
31.5
48
Melvin Mora
1999
2011
30.8
49
Chase Headley
2007
2018
30.3
50
Corey Koskie
1998
2006
29.8
 
Next up, a few days down the road (hopefully) : center fielders
 
Thanks for reading.
 
Dan
 
    
 
 

COMMENTS (19 Comments, most recent shown first)

ventboys
This is terrific stuff, Dan and it has to be a TON of work .. I'm struggling to even read them as they come out; I can't imagine how many hours it takes to write one of them.

The 'family' you mentioned eary in the ranking section (Wallach, Gaetti, DeCinces, etc.) is an interesting one ... if you limited it a bit by saying "lacks speed" and "doesn't draw a ton of walks" I'd say the patriarch is Graig Nettles, I think. If it's just low average, good defense and power ... then it's Mikey Ballgame. But I don't think that's what you are aiming for, at least based on how you worded it.
10:14 AM May 1st
 
laferrierelouis
Dan, thank you do much for your articles - great reading!
5:44 PM Apr 28th
 
DMBBHF
Oops - didn't mean to mention Devlin twice.
12:09 AM Apr 28th
 
DMBBHF
Maris,

Fair enough - it would have been more accurate to state that Traynor's defensive metrics (as opposed to his "record"), and specifically dWAR, doesn't jive with his defensive reputation. That's all I was trying to say.

Manush,

I didn't "take a shot" at Traynor's glovework, and I'm certainly not genuflecting to WAR. I'm merely stating that there's conflicting evidence. A player's reputation is one thing, and metrics are another. They both contain biases, and neither is an absolute truth. I think a player's case tends to be stronger when they both agree, as they tend to do for most of the great defensive third basemen.

And as to the point of "assessing these guys back then", I find it interesting that other third basemen of Traynor's era who had great defensive reputations, such as Heinie Groh, Willie Kamm, and Ossie Bluege, and those from even earlier eras such as Jimmy Collins, Art Devlin, Larry Gardner, Bill Bradley, Art Devlin, and Lee Tannehill, all managed to have strong dWARs, much better than Traynor. For that matter, so did even earlier ones like Ned Williamson, Alrie Latham, and Lave Cross. So, like it or not, Traynor's kind of the odd man out of the pre-1940's third base defensive crop. That doesn't prove that he wasn't outstanding defensively. It's just one piece of evidence that doesn't work in his favor.

And 10 Gold Gloves? Now who's genuflecting?

Thanks,
Dan
12:08 AM Apr 28th
 
MarisFan61
Manushfan: I agree with what you seem to think of Traynor, but I wouldn't put it that hard.
I think it's a mistake to say, as Dan did, that his "record doesn't jive with his reputation," but I hope it's just a quibble about vocabulary, i.e. that he shouldn't have said "record" but "what the metrics seem to say."

My basic principle on this, which isn't necessarily shared in sabermetrics but which I think Bill has shown signs of at least inching back toward, is that the reputation of the time should never be ignored and very possibly tells more of the true story than the metrics do.
2:43 PM Apr 27th
 
jfenimore
The Gold Glove is the biggest joke award given.
Has been for a long, long time.
Perhaps ever.​
11:26 AM Apr 27th
 
Manushfan
Another article that has to take a shot at Traynor's glovework. Gimme a break. What was it Bill said, if they had Gold Gloves then Pie gets ten or so? You have to do better than genuflecting to almighty WAR when assessing these guys back then. Pass.
6:17 AM Apr 27th
 
FrankD
Great article. Brett and 1980 missing games. I seem to remember that Brett suffered from hemmorhoids then, in fact he even said that he went from DH to Preparation H... even if it was a different year, great quote...
and the Gold Gloves: seems to be a popularity contest. Kinda like the Oscars. Think of all the crappy movies that won: to me the classic of crap but won is "Chariots of Fire". Nobody watches it now, never even on TV. But the anointed ones made the call ......
7:12 PM Apr 26th
 
3for3
It may be just me...but I seem to 'like' more players at 3d than any other position. Other than Chipper, I'd say I really like all of the top 10 guys. No way I could say that about any other position. As a group they seem to be tough but likable, guys you'd want to have on your team, and can admire even if they played for your arch rival.

Might just be sample size, too.
1:40 PM Apr 26th
 
evanecurb
The top five really tower over the other 20 on the list.

Manny Machado is a defensive wizard at third - much better there than he is at short. He’s a wonderfully talented player but should have been suspended for what he did to Pedroia. And that’s not his only dirty play of his career. And he’s shown no remorse. Sad, really. He could have been an all-time great. He’s a generational talent but he needs to behave himself.
8:36 AM Apr 26th
 
brewer09
Brett's 1980 season.

Hit .390/.454/.664, of course. But also had more RBIs (118) than games (117) and more home runs (24) than strikeouts (22).

Batting titles in three decades: 1976, 1980, 1990.

Second-best player in the league in 1976, 1979 and 1985.



4:54 AM Apr 26th
 
tigerlily
Well done Dan. I'm really enjoying this series. Regarding your question in the Troy Glaus section about league HR leaders who didn't receive any support in MVP voting, I don't know how often that has happened but I immediately thought of Chris Carter, a big, slow strikeout machine who led the NL in HR in 2016 with 41 (while hitting .222 and leading the league with 206 K) at age 29. He got no MVP votes and was out of the majors halfway through the following season at age 30.
9:34 PM Apr 25th
 
mpiafsky
I am really enjoying this series surprised to see Cey so suppressed since Sal Bando sails six spots superior.
Jokes aside, I could never differentiate between those two but assumed Cey was better. Loving this series, keep it up.
2:44 PM Apr 25th
 
MarisFan61
Dan: Please don't feel you should do them faster. :-)
2:43 PM Apr 25th
 
DMBBHF
Thanks for all the comments, guys.

I'm really enjoying doing these as well. I only wish I could turn them out faster, but I'm doing them one at a time, and in between everything else, it seems to take about a week to do one position. But it's a fun process trying to think of what to say about each one.

Thanks,
Dan
2:14 PM Apr 25th
 
MarisFan61
There have been an awful lot of good players in this era.
(BTW, funny that in this usage, awful is the same as great.) :-)

I've had the same reaction looking down the "countdown" in all of these articles, and in this one, most of all. As I got to almost every number, I was like, "What, this guy is only number [whatever]?"
But, looking further, I couldn't disagree.

Especially:

What, Glaus only #23 in this era? I'd figure he's in the running for something like #23 all-time.
(Let's see, where does baseball-ref.com put him all-time: #40.)

What, Wallach only 20? I'd figure him to be in the running for that all-time.
(On baseball-ref: #43)

Arenado only #16...... (special case, like Machado)

GREAT SERIES!
12:43 PM Apr 25th
 
bearbyz
Thanks, I'm really enjoying the series.
11:28 AM Apr 25th
 
OwenH
Another terrific article, Dan. I've really been enjoying these.

I agree with you about Eric Chavez -- he really did have a chance to be an all-time great. The players who are really good at a young age, and who are multi-faceted stars rather than just having one strong dimension, are the ones who have the greatest growth potential. Injuries happen, of course, and it was just bad luck that Chavez began to suffer back injuries right as he was entering his prime years. It was especially bad luck for the A's, because after the 2003 season (and their fourth consecutive playoff appearance) they basically had to choose between signing either Miguel Tejada or Eric Chavez (after 2004) to a long term deal, since they couldn't afford to keep both of their young infield stars. They went with Chavez, who was 3 1/2 years younger and who probably had a higher potential ceiling, including much better plate discipline -- and while Tejada continued to star at shortstop for the next several years in Baltimore and Houston, Chavez began to decline due to his injuries. That stroke of bad luck was one of the biggest factors in the decline of those early 2000s A's, though they did make it to the ALCS in 2006.

In addition to having been a tremendously talented young star with a great lefty swing and a truly outstanding glove, Chavez is well known to be one of the nicest people around -- a real humble and genuine down-to-earth guy who was always well liked by the fans. Injuries to a talented young player are always a shame, and in Chavez's case they really kept him from blossoming into a superstar. He's still a worthy member of the A's impressive club of great third basemen, of course.
10:23 AM Apr 25th
 
steve161
It's entirely possible that the Angels' all-time third baseman has yet to play a game for them.

How fleeting is fame: when he first came up, the thing everybody noticed about Evan Longoria was that he was one 'n' from being a TV star. Where is Eva now?

Good stuff, Dan, as usual.​
10:03 AM Apr 25th
 
 
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