With the 2023 Hall of Fame class induction last weekend now is as good a time as any to talk about third base. After six years on the ballot, third baseman Scott Rolen finally received this distinction for a fantastic career. One of the best defenders of all time at his position, along with 300+ home runs and 1,200+ RBI, Rolen is just the 18th third baseman to achieve this honor. Joining in the festivities last weekend was Fred McGriff, who was selected into the Hall by the Contemporary Era Committee.
Rolen’s induction, in particular, might set a precedent in how writers and analysts view the third base position relative to the Hall of Fame. A criminally underrepresented place in the Hall, several active third basemen might be on track for baseball’s most prestigious honor. Let’s look at some of baseball’s top active third basemen, examine their careers to this point, and what might be standing in their way to baseball immortality.
Third Basemen Hall of Fame Tracker
Probably the first name people think of when it comes to the best active third baseman, Nolan Arenado is well on his way to the Hall. After spending the first eight seasons of his career in Colorado, Arenado has spent his time in St. Louis, proving that he’s much more than a Coors Field product. His 133 OPS+ in his three seasons since joining the Cardinals is nine percent higher than his 124 OPS+ with the Rockies.
In 11 big league seasons, Arenado has posted a .288/.345/.533 batting line, good for a .878 OPS and 124 career OPS+. He has already surpassed the 300 home runs (321) and 1000 RBI milestones (1045) and is well on his way to reaching 2,000 hits (currently at 1,630). Arenado is one of the greatest defensive third basemen of all time, winning 10 Gold Gloves in his first ten seasons, with six Platinum Glove awards. With eight all-star appearances, five Silver Slugger awards, and six top-8 MVP finishes, Arenado has already established himself as the best third baseman of his generation. 2023 might be his eighth season, also reaching the 30 HR-100 RBI mark. Arguably his best season came in 2022 as he finished third in MVP voting, leading the NL with a career-high 7.9 WAR, 30 HR, 103 RBI, and a .293/.355/.533 line (.891 OPS and 153 OPS+).
Nolan Arenado has had an awe-inspiring career and looks very much on track to enter Cooperstown. He might not finish his career as the best third baseman ever, but his case lies with his defensive prowess and status as his generation’s best third baseman.
Machado has been a big leaguer for 12 seasons and is still only 31. This is notable because Machado’s chances at induction rely on his ability to increase numbers over a long career. Similar to Arenado, Machado has been known as one of baseball’s best defenders at the corner since he came into the league. In 2013, his first entire season, he posted a 5.9 bWAR despite hitting a lackluster .746 OPS and 102 OPS+. Machado’s offensive highs may not precisely mirror Arenado’s, but his career has been a hallmark of consistency.
Between 2015 and 2022, Machado hit at least 28 home runs in every season (and 16 in 2020) while playing at least 150 games each year (and all 60 in 2020). During that span, he averaged a .282/.348/—508 line, suitable for a .856 OPS and 132 OPS+. With 20 home runs already in 2023, Machado will likely reach the 30-home run mark for the seventh time in his career. He has earned six all-star appearances, two Gold Gloves, one Silver Slugger, and a Platinum Glove, and he has placed top-ten in MVP voting five times. This includes his 2022 season, one of his best as he hit .298/.366/.531 with a 158 OPS+, 32 HR, and 7.4 fWAR, leading to a runner-up MVP finish.
With more than 1600 hits, 300 home runs, 900 RBI, 54.4 career WAR, a 125 OPS+, and yet only 31 years old, Machado has much time to cement his case further. His Hall of Fame case concerns longevity and remaining an effective player into his mid-to-late 30s.
Of all the players discussed in this article, Longoria might have the lowest shot at Hall of Fame induction because he is late in his career. At 37 years old and in his 16th big league season, the end is near. He has never led the league in any significant metrics, has only made three all-star teams, and never finished higher than sixth in MVP voting. The start to Longoria’s career was excellent, showing he was one of the best third basemen in the sport. From 2008 through 2013, he hit .275/.337/.512, good for a .870 OPS and 136 OPS+. He accrued 35.5 bWAR during that stretch, an average of about 6.0 per year.
Since being traded to the San Francisco Giants before 2018, Longoria has only put up 7.8 bWAR in six seasons. Between age and injury, this type of downfall has dramatically hurt Longoria’s Hall of Fame chances. However, there is some optimism that he can play a few more seasons, even if it is just to pad some stats. Since the start of 2021, Longoria has hit a .800 OPS and 119 OPS+.
The case for Longoria relies on many contexts for an underrepresented position in the Hall. When it comes to career stats, Longoria’s .265/.333/.473 line, .806 OPS, and 120 OPS+ make for an outstanding career, but not quite a Hall of Fame one. However, he is currently at 59 bWAR, 1,921 hits, 342 HR, and 1,155 RBI. If he plays one or two more years, he is likely to reach 60+ bWAR, 2,000+ hits, 350+ HR, and 1200+, and suddenly his case looks a bit more convincing.
Let’s get this out of the way: Ramirez has been the third-best baseball player since 2017. This is evidenced by the fact that his 38.1 fWAR is right behind Aaron Judge (39.5) and Mookie Betts (40.1) in all of baseball. While Ramirez has been underrated throughout his career, anyone who follows baseball knows how incredible he is. While he may not be as good a defender at the hot corner as others in this article, his peak so far has proven to be just as good or better. Since 2016, Ramirez has earned MVP votes in all but one season, finishing top-6 five times. With a .292/.362/.509 line so far in 2023, he looks likely to garner even more MVP votes.
Ramirez has never led the league in many significant metrics, only leading the company once in runs and twice in doubles. However, he is remarkably consistent year-over-year and provides excellent value beyond just his bat. Since 2017, his per-162 game numbers include 34 HR, 26 SB, 44 2B, 106 R, and 76 BB to 86 SO. This has led to a .281/.363/.537 batting line, and a .899 OPS and 141 OPS+ in that same span.
In what is a golden time for third basemen in this sport’s history, Ramirez has stood out as one of the best players in the league. Currently at 1,274 hits, 315 doubles, 210 HR, 729 RBI, and 188 SB, Ramirez is still far from a lock and a notch below where Arenado and Machado are. However, the Hall of Fame case for Ramirez is defined by a high peak to go along with well-rounded totals in counting stats such as 2000+ hits, 500+ doubles, 400+ home runs, 1200+ RBI, and 300+ stolen bases.
Third base is an intense and talented position in baseball. Between the four players mentioned in this article, a few others look to end up in the discussion as well. These players include Rafael Devers and Austin Riley, or even Alex Bregman if he can come close to replicating the success he had in 2018-2019. Still only 29 years old, Bregman undoubtedly has time to return to his Hall of Fame track. Scott Rolen’s induction might set a precedent for some of this generation’s most talented players to earn baseball’s highest distinction.
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