Thursday, June 17, 2010

Canon Review List-A-Mania: Top Ten Third Baseman in MLB History

Earlier today, I had planned to continue my one-man celebration of the 100th post on The Canon Review by watching the 100th ranked movie on's bottom 100 list, but after seeing what it was, I quickly lost enthusiasm for that project. Maybe I'll do that another time. In the meantime, this post comes from a discussion on today's episode of Sportscenter about Chipper Jones, who may or may not retire at the end of this year. While discussing the matter, ESPN's Tim Kurkjian said that he considered Jones to be the 5th best third baseman of all-time in his opinion. Well, that got me to thinking about who I would rank the top third basemen, so here we are. Below is a list of the top 10 3rd baseman in Major League Baseball history. I have decided to exclude Alex Rodriguez from this list mainly because I don't know whether to put him at third or short stop. I also limited it to major league third basemen, so Negro League stars Judy Johnson and Ray Daindridge do not make the list, mainly because I'm not 100% sure how to rank them. Maybe both men are among the top 10 third basemen of all-time, but like I said, I'm just not sure where to put them. So, without further adieu, here is the Canon Review's list of the top 10 third basemen in Major League Baseball history.

10. Stan Hack (career: 1932-1947)

Originally, I had Pirates great Pie Traynor at this spot, but after comparing Hack to Traynor, I found that Hack had the better credentials. Traynor was regarded by many during his time as the best third baseman in the game, and he was quite a ballplayer, finishing his career with a .320 batting average. Hack finished his career with a .301 average. If you look at the two players' career, you might conclude that Traynor was the better player. For example, take a look at each player's 162 game averages:

Traynor: .320/.362/.435, 99 runs, 202 hits, 31 2B, 14 3B, 5 HR, 106 RBI, 13 SB, 99 Runs Created
Hack: .301/.394/.397, 104 runs, 183 hits, 30 2B, 7 3B, 5 HR, 54 RBI, 14 SB, 95 Runs Created

It's close, but Traynor's huge edge in RBIs makes him look like the better player. But here's the catch, Traynor played in an era where anybody worth his salt could hit .300, while Hack played during a time where runs were harder to come by. Now, let's look at the difference if you neutralize both players' stats to an average offensive environment (162 game-season, 4.42 runs per game) Stats courtesy of

Traynor: .306/.348/.416, 90 runs, 190 hits, 29 2B, 13 3B, 5 HR, 96 RBI, 12 SB, 90 RC
Hack: .304/.398/.400, 106 runs, 186 hits, 31 2B, 7 3B, 5 HR, 54 RBI, 14 SB, 97 RC

Yes, Traynor keeps his advantage in RBI, but the reason is not because of performance alone, it's because Traynor usually hit in the heart of the order for his teams, while Hack was utilized as a leadoff man for much of his career and therefore, had less opportunities for RBIs. Both were solid defensively (although Traynor seems to be more regarded for his defense than Hack). If I were to pick between them to play for my team, I would go with Hack, primarily because he got on base at a much better rate and had about the same amount of power that Traynor possessed. Traynor is in the Hall of Fame, and deservedly so, yet Hack is still on the outside looking in, even though, as you can plainly see, he is at the very least similar to Traynor in quality.

9. Scott Rolen (1996-) 

The NL Rookie of the Year for 1997, Rolen has put together a career that could one day lead him into the Hall of Fame. Rolen is a five time All-Star and has won a Gold Glove seven times due to his work on defense. At the plate, Rolen has been a consistent run producer, average 27 home runs and 105 RBIs per 162 game, and he has a career slugging percentage of .501. Rolen struggled with injuries for a few years, but he's gotten off to a great start in 2010 for the Reds, rediscovering his power stroke to rank among the league leaders in RBIs, Home runs, and OPS. If he keeps that up for the next couple of years, the 35-year old could move up a couple spots on this list, but for now, he'll have to settle for being number nine.

8. Ron Santo (1960-1974)

The second long time Chicago Cub on this list, Santo, much like Hack, is a player who's Hall of Fame induction is considered long overdue. Santo was named to the All-Star game nine times, and won five Gold Gloves for the Cubs. A player with prodigious power, Santo had four 30 home run seasons, and four 100 RBI seasons, despite playing in the toughest era for hitters since The Deadball Era. Santo led the National League in on base percentage twice and in walks four times during his career, and finished in the top ten in home runs seven times, in RBIs eight times, and in walks nine times during his 15 year career. Santo provided excellent defense and a powerful bat for over a decade, and for that, he is number eight on this list.

7. Brooks Robinson (1955-1977)

Brooks Robinson was a great player, no doubt about it. He was named to 18 All-Star games, won 16 consecutive Gold Gloves, won the 1964 American League MVP Award and the 1970 World Series MVP Award. He is considered to be the greatest defensive third baseman of all-time. He is a baseball legend and a first-ballot Hall of Famer. However, Robinson ranks seventh because as a hitter, he was actually quite average, finishing his career with an OPS+ of 104. In other words, Robinson was a mere four percent better than the average hitter, while Scott Rolen and Ron Santo (125 OPS+) were much more productive hitters compared to the average hitter. I ranked Robinson above both of those men because of his defensive prowess and his clutch play in the postseason (.303 BA in 39 games). But I can not rank him higher than seventh on this list.

6. Frank "Home Run" Baker (1908-1922)

The man named after baseball's most famous hit, Home Run Baker was among the better hitters of the 1910s. He led the American League in home runs for four straight years (1911-1914) and led the league in RBIs twice. Baker was a money player in the World Series, sporting a .363/.392/.560 line in six Fall Classics. In fact, Baker earner the nickname "Home Run" by slugging home runs in back to back games during the 1911 World Series, which was a much more difficult feat back then than it is now. For his career, Baker hit .307, and finished with a career OPS+ of 135. Baker is the best pre-WWII third baseman of all-time, and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1955.

5. Chipper Jones (1993-)

Hey, what do you know, Chipper is the fifth best third baseman of All-time, at least according to this observer. Chipper's defense would be considered average at best, but he has made up for it by pounding the stuffing out of the ball. Jones won the NL MVP Award in 1999, and was the batting champion in 2008. For his career, Jones has had 10 seasons with a batting average .300 or better, 10 seasons with an on-base percentage of .400 or higher, nine 100-RBI seasons, and six seasons with 30 or more homeruns. Among third baseman with 1,000 games or more at the position, Jones's 142 Adjusted OPS+ ranks third All-time. Bottom line, Jones has had one heck of a career, and whenever he decides to retire, a Hall of Fame induction will soon follow.

4. Wade Boggs (1982-1999)

Wade Boggs is a living legend, and not just because he allegedly drank 72 beers on a single cross-country flight or inducted Mr. Perfect into the WWE Hall of Fame. Boggs also was very handy with a bat in his hand, winning five AL batting titles, and leading the league in on-base percentage five times six times. During a seven-year stretch (1983-89), the 12 time All-Star had over 200 hits in each season, and his lowest single season batting average during that stretch was .325. Boggs finished his career with 3,010 hits (25th all time) and 15 seasons with an average of .300 or better, and his .328 career average ranks sixth amongst player who played primarily after World War II. Although not fleet of foot, Boggs was a solid defensive player as well, winning two Gold Gloves during his career. A typical Boggs season would feature a bunch of hits, a bunch of walks, a bunch of chicken consumed (Boggs ate chicken before every game), and probably a lot of beer as well.

3. Eddie Mathews (1952-1968)

Mathews is one of two third basemen to finish his career with over 500 home runs. Mathews was one of the premier power hitters of his era. For his career, Mathews had 10 seasons of 30 or more home runs, four seasons of 40+ homers, and led the league in home runs in 1953 and 1959. The longtime Brave also was patient at the plate, leading the league in walks four times and constantly finishing amongst the league leaders in on-base percentage (10 times in the top-ten, leading the league in 1963). The nine time All-Star teamed up  with Hank Aaron to form the most powerful duo of teammates in the history of baseball, as the two combined for 863 home runs while playing together, the most of any two teammates ever. With 512 career home runs over 17 seasons, there's no denying that Mathews deserves to be high on this list.

2. George Brett (1973-1993)

George Brett may not have hit for average quite like Wade Boggs, nor did he have the power of Eddie Mathews, but he had enough of both skills, as well as some speed and combined all of those skills with a tenacity very few people could match to become one of the greatest players of all-time. A 12-time All Star who spent his entire career with the Kansas City Royals, Brett is the only player to ever win batting titles in three different decades (1976, 1980, and 1990), and is one of only four players to finish his career with over 3,000 hits, 300 home runs, and a .300 batting average (the others are Stan Musial, Willie Mays, and Hank Aaron). In 1979, Brett joined Stan Musial as the only two players to finish a season with over 40 doubles, 20 triples, and 20 home runs (42, 20, 23). Brett led the AL in OPS and OPS+ three times, and in 1980 hit an incredible .390 en route to winning the MVP award. Currently, Brett ranks 15th all-time in hits (3,154), 13th in extra base hits (1,119), and 6th in doubles (665). All of this in spite of the fact that Brett spent part of nearly every year on the disabled list. If Brett had been healthier, he might have very well been number one on this list, but instead that honor goes to:

1. Mike Schmidt (1972-1989)

I've mentioned this before, and I'll say it again.  In 16 seasons, Schmidt managed to lead the National League in home runs in eight of those seasons, a remarkable feat. His 548 home runs and 147 Adjusted OPS+ are the most amongst third basemen, and he (along with Brooks Robinson) were the only two third baseman named to MLB's All Century Team in 1999. A 12 time All-Star, Schmidt won 10 Gold Gloves, 6 Silver Slugger Awards (despite the fact that that award wasn't invented until 1980, in the middle of Schmidt's career), and was named the National League MVP three times (1980, 1981, and 1986). Schmidt had 13 seasons of 30 or more home runs, 9 with 100 or more RBIs, and eight with 100 or more walks. Not only did Schmidt lead the NL in homers eight times, he also led the league in on-base percentage three times, in RBIs and walks four times, and in adjusted OPS+ 6 times during his career. I could go on and on detailing Schmidt's greatness, but I'll just stop here by saying that he is clearly the best third baseman in the history of Major League Baseball.

Well, thanks for reading. If you have any opinions about this list, than feel free to share them, and if you have any ideas for future posts, you can send those over to me either by e-mail at or by leaving a comment.

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