Going back into the land of home runs and RBI as we explore the third base position. In earlier baseball the ideal third baseman was a player with quick reflexes and a strong arm. Manning the “hot corner” still requires those skills to an extent, but several managers along the way decided that a third baseman with a strong bat was more important than a third baseman with a good glove. So, what we see now is a case in which we don’t have players who specialize in playing third base throughout their careers. In fact several of the players who are recognized as the best to play that position, actually spent a good amount of their careers manning another position such as 1st base, outfield or shortstop either before or after locking down the 3rd base line.
10) Brooks Robinson
Brooks Robinson is mostly known for his glove, winning 16 Gold Gloves and a .971 career fielding percentage ranking 4th all time among 3rd basemen. At the plate, Brooks didn’t have a whole lot of to offer. His MVP season of 1964 was his one big offensive season. He led the league in RBI with 118 while also hitting 28 homers and batting .317. He only drove in 100 RBI and batted over .300 in one other season during his career.
9) Nolan Arenado
Arenado has only been in the league a few years but is quickly establishing himself as one of the best. In the last 3 seasons, Arenado drove in 130-133 RBI, hit 37-42 home runs and 83-89 extra base hits. He also scored 100+ runs in two of those seasons and last year he broke the .300 mark for the first time. He is also currently ranked 5th on the all time fielding percentage list for third basemen.
8) Paul Molitor
Molitor was primarily a DH, though he did play more games at 3rd than any other position. He didn’t hit for power but did do a little bit of everything else. He had seasons with batting averages as high as .353, stolen bases over 40, doubles over 40, triples over 10, RBI over 110 and runs scored over 130.
7) Eddie Mathews
Mathews was a pure power hitting third baseman of the 1950s. He crossed the 40 homer mark four times during his career, leading the league in homers twice with 47 and 46 respectively. He only batted over .300 three times in his career and didn’t drive in as many RBI as you would expect from a slugger, only driving in over 100 RBI on 5 occasions. He also didn’t steal bases, swiping over 10 just once and never hit more than 28 doubles. Though he did draw a good amount of walks, leading the league 4 times, his OBP still rarely broke the .400 plateau.
6) Chipper Jones
Chipper Jones was another batter who could do it all during his career. He showed an ability to steal bases in the beginning of his career with 14-25 steals 5 of his first 6 seasons. He could hit for average, batting over .300 10 times and even leading the league in 2008 with a .364. He could hit home runs, typically hitting between 25-40 a season with a high mark of 45 during his MVP season of 1999. Same goes for doubles as he had several seasons with 30-40 doubles during his career. And his RBI production was very consistent, having an 8 year streak in which he drove in between 100 and 111 RBI each year.
5) Miguel Cabrera
Cabrera bounced around from 1st base, 3rd base and the Outfield during his career, but seems to have his best seasons while manning the hot corner. In 2012 Cabrera became the only player to win the Triple Crown since 1967 when he had 44 homers, 139 RBI and a .348 average. Cabrera displays a rare ability to hit for power and average that has become rare in the modern era of baseball. Outside of that season, Cabrera has batted over .300 and hit over 30 homers in 10 other seasons.
4) George Brett
Brett is another player who didn’t hit many home runs but did a little bit of everything else at the plate. He did have 8 seasons of 20+ home runs, topping out at 30. He did lead the league in triples 3 times and doubles once. In 1980, Brett recorded the 2nd highest average since Ted Williams batted .405 in 1941 when he ended the season with a .390. He also ranks 6th all time in career doubles and amassed 3154 hits in his career.
3) Wade Boggs
Boggs was another 3rd Baseman who batted for average rather than power. He only had one season with more than 11 homers which was 1987 when he hit 24. Before Ichiro came to MLB, Boggs was the record holder with 7 consecutive seasons with 200 hits. During those 7 seasons from 1983 to 1989 Boggs averaged 43 doubles a season and batted .352. In that 7 years led the league in walks, runs and doubles twice apiece while also leading the league in batting average 5 times and OBP 6 times.
2) Mike Schmidt
Schmidt is often listed as the best hitting 3rd basemen of all time. The 3x MVP was a pure power hitter, leading the league in home runs 8 times and led in RBI 4 times. He also showed some speed on the basepaths, stealing 23 and 29 bases in 1974 and 75. His high walk ratio also led to him scoring over 100 runs 7 times in his career. Schmidt also holds the record for most home runs hit by a 3rd baseman in their career. While his 10 Gold Gloves would suggest that Schmidt was a master with the glove, his career fielding percentage of .955 only ranks higher than Chipper, Molitor and Brett on this list. Though he does rank Top 10 all time in Range Factor.
1) Alex Rodriguez
The 3x MVP, Arod, would also likely place within the top 2 on the Shortstops list and though he played more games at short, he had more seasons at 3rd base. Though he caught a lot of grief for his fielding when he moved to 3rd, only Nolan Arenado and Brooks Robinson from this list had a better career fielding percentage at 3rd base than Arod. As for offense, Arod is among the best of all time. He has set marks for consistency in runs scored, RBI and home runs. For 13 consecutive years he scored 100+ runs, drove in 100+ RBI and hit 30+ home runs. He also had 6 consecutive season with 40 home runs, 1 shy of Babe Ruth’s mark. For career marks, Arod is in rare company as only he and Hank Aaron have amassed 2000 RBI, 2000 runs scored and 3000 hits in their career. He also has the rare combination of speed to go along with his power as he became just the 3rd player to join the 40/40 club in 1998 and sits alone with Willie Mays in the career 300HR/300SB/3000Hit club.
Check back tomorrow for our take on Shortstops.