The first six players on our best position player list were full of diversity. Infielders, outfielders, sluggers, contact hitters, it had them all. The battle to be named baseball’s best position player began with a who’s who of familiarity and success. Now, we get to the cream of the crop, the essence of what the game has to offer heading into 2023. What’s interesting about these four is how closely knit they truly are. All but one play in the infield. They are all well-known for having outstanding power numbers. If anyone is to blame for the home run metrics skyrocketing over the past few seasons, it would be these players. Two play for the same team. They are all almost guaranteed locks for MVP races in their respective leagues every single season.
However, the question here is not of which quartet reigns supreme. It’s one of which is the best position player. Three-tenths of a point separates three of the four. Fangraphs has them rated that close. The winner is a runaway, as he holds the title by an astounding four full fWAR points. Some reading this article might be able to guess who that is simply by reading that particular information. Let’s dive in and give all these players the credit they greatly deserve. Here are the final four on our countdown to baseball’s best position player.
Best Position Player: Paul Goldschmidt
(.317/.404/.578, 7.1 WAR)
In the race for the National League’s best at first base, Fangraphs has declared Paul Goldschmidt the winner. Not only that, but his recent NL MVP Award states that he was the best player in the entire league. Indeed, with a wRC+ of 177 and a wOBA of .419, he easily trounced the rest of his first base colleagues. His power numbers were still there, as he pounded out 35 homers and laced 41 doubles. Both were good for the top three among National League first basemen. His slugging percentage of .578 was the best in his position. You would have been hard-pressed to find a better first baseman. In terms of the best position player, he was one of the league’s elite. However, one of his St. Louis Cardinals teammates managed to outdo him.
(.293/.358/.533, 7.3 WAR)
By the slimmest of margins, Nolan Arenado ranks as St. Louis’s very best on this list. The thing that separates him from Goldschmidt is their glaring defensive differences. Speaking directly, Goldschmidt had a horrendous dWAR of -15.8. Arenado’s was 13.5. That is what makes him the all-around better player. Offensively, he put up much of the same numbers. He was second among NL third basemen with a 151 wRC+. He led the position in slugging (.533), posting his seventh career season with 30+ homers and .500+ slugging. Everything about his game was outstanding. Flashy plays, massive hits, and a winning attitude defined Arenado’s 2022 campaign. At age 31, he’s in his prime, and his future remains extremely bright.
(.298/.366/.531, 7.4 WAR)
Manny Machado is the highest-ranking National League player on our quest to find the best baseball position player. He certainly made a case to be MVP. His wOBA of .382 was third in the league and ranked fourth in slugging. The San Diego Padres third baseman was also third in wRC+ (152). He ranked in the top ten in on-base percentage and BABIP (.337). What separated him from Goldschmidt was that he played better defense. Otherwise, their offensive numbers were either identical or close to it. In any case, Machado continues to show why he is one of the best overall players in the game. Going by fWAR, he was the best in the National League this season. He didn’t win the MVP, but he’s coming in at a solid runner-up spot on our best-position player list.
Now, for a few entries who didn’t quite make the best position player top 10 yet deserve an honorable mention:
Honorable Mentions: José Ramírez
(.280/.355/.514, 6.2 WAR)
The offensive cornerstone of the Cleveland Guardians, José Ramírez, had an excellent season. He finished in the top five among third basemen in homers and runs scored as he was productive, scoring second place in the AL with a very impressive 126 RBI. Defensive struggles led him to miss out on the top 10 list. However, that does nothing to diminish what was a terrific overall performance.
(.298/.343/.466, 6.3 WAR)
Trea Turner had yet another consistently impressive campaign. He finished best among NL shortstops in wRC+ (128) and wOBA (.350). His slugging average and on-base percentage were tops as well. His speed bolstered a 20-plus homer, 100-plus RBI season on the basepaths. He finished second among his colleagues, stealing 27 bases. Add a solid dWAR of 7.1, and you have a recipe for almost guaranteed success.
(.277/.329/.447, 6.4 WAR)
This season, Dansby Swanson broke out, posting his greatest year ever and emerging as a leader for the Atlanta Braves. His offensive improvement was extremely noticeable as he increased his overall batting average by 29 points. He also posted his highest career OPS+ (115) and had his second consecutive year of 260 or more total bases. That was accompanied by a defensive year that saw him garner his first Gold Glove and a staggering 21.4 dWAR. His first All-Star Game was the icing on the cake.
(.311/.425/.686, 11.4 WAR)
Anyone reading this list probably had this name right at the top. Yes, Aaron Judge was the best-position player in baseball this season. Both his basic and advanced numbers were miles beyond his colleagues. He had baseball’s first 60-homer season since 2001 and set New York Yankees and American League home run records. His 131 RBI finished tied for the league lead. An offensive WAR of 86.1 was around 25 points higher than the next-best mark. Putting that into perspective, Judge’s bat could have carried an offense to a year’s worth of wins over a replacement player. That’s how good Judge was at the plate this season.
This is to say nothing of his wRC+ (207), wOBA (.458), and isolated power metrics (.375). These all dominated the competition. Putting it simply, Judge was monstrous. His dWAR of 0.5 almost goes unnoticed in the shadow of these monstrous offensive numbers. He represents a player that is difficult to find in today’s game. Namely, one that can hit for both power and a high average. The future Cooperstown inductee added another notch to his legendary resume this season. His first career AL MVP Award is deserved, as he was the clear favorite.