MLB Position Power Rankings: B/R's Final Top 25 Third Basemen of 2017

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterOctober 16, 2017

MLB Position Power Rankings: B/R's Final Top 25 Third Basemen of 2017

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    After checking in on the top shortstops, Bleacher Report's final positional power rankings for the 2017 Major League Baseball season now heads to the final stop on the infield: third base.

    This one's a doozy. Third base is perhaps the most star-studded position in MLB these days. It wasn't easy to pick just 25 players from the hot corner, much less rank them.

    Here are the ground rules: 

    • Players must have logged the majority of their games at third base.
    • Players were ranked on the quantity and the quality of their work.
    • Offense, defense and baserunning fell under the "quality" umbrella.
    • Third base is a top offensive position, but also an important defensive position and home to plenty of good baserunners. The best third basemen are the ones who can handle all three.

    The rankings were a simple judgment call. Baseball Reference's version of wins above replacement (WAR) is useful in this respect, but it will be treated more as a guideline than the word of the baseball gods.

    Lastly, this is neither a far-reaching retrospective nor a gaze into the future. Only what happened in 2017 counts.

A Few Statistics to Know

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    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    In the year 2017, it's ill-advised and arguably irresponsible to talk about players in detail without using statistics to contextualize their talents and shortcomings.

    So, be warned: There are indeed statistics in these rankings.

    Many stats will simply be alluded to via links that go to relevant data at Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, Baseball SavantBrooks Baseball and Baseball Prospectus. But a few to know are...


    Wins Above Replacement (WAR): As a stat that puts a number on a player's hitting, baserunning and fielding contributions, WAR is a good go-to in any circumstance.

    On-Base Plus Slugging Plus (OPS+): This takes a player's OPS, adjusts it for league and ballpark factors and puts it on a scale where 100 represents average. It shows how well a hitter performed relative to his peers.

    Defensive Runs Saved (DRS): It sounds like a measurement of a player's defensive quality, and that's what it is. It's the main defense component for Baseball Reference's version of WAR. Some play multiple positions, but the DRS listed for them here is that of their primary position.

    Launch Angle: This Statcast specialty measures the angle of the ball off a hitter's bat. It provides a snapshot of the shape of a hitter's swing—i.e., whether it's flat and tailored for ground balls and line drives or lofty and tailored for fly balls. The MLB average in 2017 was 11.1 degrees.

    Exit Velocity: Another Statcast specialty that measures the speed of the ball off a hitter's bat. As you'd expect, there's a strong correlation between high speeds and hitting success. The MLB average in 2017 was 86.6 miles per hour.

    Plate Discipline: Although they'll rarely be mentioned explicitly, Swing% (percentage of swings at all pitches), Z-Swing% (in-zone swing percentage) and O-Swing% (out-of-zone swing percentage) paint a picture of a hitter's approach. These figures are found at FanGraphs.

    Pull Percentage (Pull%): Also from FanGraphs, this shows the rate at which hitters pull the ball—to left field for righties and to right field for lefties. Pulling the ball is a double-edged sword: It can make a hitter vulnerable to shifts but is also by far the best avenue to power.

25. Nicholas Castellanos, Detroit Tigers

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    Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

    Age: 25

    Key Stats: 157 G, 665 PA, .272/.320/.490, 110 OPS+, 26 HR, 4 SB, -14 DRS

    WAR: 0.7


    2017 Player Report

    It was for the best that Nicholas Castellanos ended the year playing right field.

    Neither the defensive metrics nor the eye test ever rated his third base defense well. Even after adding quickness—he went from sprinting 26.6 feet per second in 2016 to 27.8 feet per second in 2017—he still struggled mightily with routine plays. That's life with clunky hands and a fringe arm.

    Castellanos wasn't a natural in right field either, accounting for a minus-seven DRS. He must also get used to his new speed. He was aggressive on the bases, but he killed his value by running into 11 outs. 

    Lest anyone think his 2017 was a total loss, he at least remained a dangerous hitter. He loves to swing, but dialing down his launch angle while keeping his exit velocity resulted in an elite rate of hard contact. He put that into collecting 72 extra-base hits, including an American League-high 10 triples.


    Honorable Mentions: Rafael Devers (BOS), Eduardo Escobar (MIN), Johan Camargo (ATL), Wilmer Flores (NYM)

24. Derek Dietrich, Miami Marlins

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    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    Age: 28

    Key Stats: 135 G, 464 PA, .249/.334/.424, 103 OPS+, 13 HR, 0 SB, -4 DRS

    WAR: 1.4


    2017 Player Report

    After having a nice season as a fill-in for Dee Gordon in 2016, Derek Dietrich had a less nice season as a fill-in for Martin Prado in 2017.

    He isn't an ideal fit for third base. His smooth actions made him reliable on routine plays, but his limited mobility and arm resulted in little range—at least when compared to the best of the best, anyway.

    Dietrich joined the launch angle revolution and improved his discipline. This should have resulted in a significant power spike in theory, but his actual power spike was relatively modest. He just didn't put a charge into the ball, averaging a subpar 90.1 mph on fly balls and line drives.

    But while all this might make Dietrich sound bad, he really wasn't. He may not have excelled at anything, but he was passable at everything over a fairly large sample size.

23. Eduardo Nunez, Boston Red Sox

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    Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

    Age: 30

    Key Stats: 114 G, 491 PA, .313/.341/.460, 110 OPS+, 12 HR, 24 SB, 0 DRS

    WAR: 1.2

    2017 Player Report

    Eduardo Nunez grabbed headlines with the way his bat took off upon joining the Boston Red Sox in July, but he'd been hot well before then.

    He continued a pattern of swinging at everything, potentially leaving plenty of walks on the table. But with a flat swing that's direct to the ball, he kept himself afloat with regular contact that he could spray in any direction.

    Nunez's legs were his other value source, but they also came with positives and negatives. He was definitely active, but he ran into five outs just with the Red Sox, at least one of which was truly egregious.

    Nunez's defense came with ups and downs, too. He can and did play everywhere, but there were never any guarantees when the ball was hit to him. See Exhibit A: his ultra-low 92.6 success rate on routine plays at third base.

22. Jake Lamb, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Age: 27

    Key Stats: 149 G, 635 PA, .248/.357/.487, 110 OPS+, 30 HR, 6 SB, -13 DRS

    WAR: 1.4

    2017 Player Report

    The easiest and fairest knock against Jake Lamb is that he isn't a good defender.

    He did rate as a good one back in 2015, but larger sample sizes over the last two seasons have exposed his defense for what it is. He doesn't have any standout tools and is deliberate with his actions to boot. The result is a third baseman who just doesn't bring much to the hot corner.

    So, it's a good thing he can hit.

    Lamb has notable weaknesses in his platoon split and inability to beat shifts. Yet he has good power and keeps finding more ways to let it out. In 2017, that meant tightening his approach—which also boosted his BB% to 13.7—and upping his launch angle. Ultimately, 48 percent of his hits went for extra bases.

21. Chase Headley, New York Yankees

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    Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

    Age: 33

    Key Stats: 147 G, 586 PA, .273/.352/.406, 100 OPS+, 12 HR, 9 SB, -7 DRS

    WAR: 1.8

    2017 Player Report

    Chase Headley is normally a reliable presence at the hot corner, so it's shocking to see him with such a poor DRS.

    But that's no accident. The veteran had a tougher time on routine plays this year. And despite playing a step shallower than in 2016, he didn't make much of an impact coming in on the ball. With his sprint speed falling from 26.3 feet per second to 25.7 feet per second, that's the residue of age.

    On the plus side, Headley remained steady at the plate.

    He can always be counted on for disciplined at-bats, thus the solid 10.2 BB% he worked this year. And while seemingly every other hitter aimed for a higher launch angle, he kept his relatively flat and continued to be a source of line drives. Only 31 percent of them went for extra bases, but all this kept the hits coming.

20. David Freese, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Benny Sieu/Associated Press

    Age: 34

    Key Stats: 130 G, 503 PA, .263/.368/.371, 96 OPS+, 10 HR, 0 SB, 7 DRS

    WAR: 2.0

    2017 Player Report

    Your typical modern hitter is one who works the count until he gets something he can pull in the air. Then he unleashes a mighty swing meant to do just that.

    David Freese wasn't that guy in 2017.

    He worked pitchers just fine, hence his rock-solid 11.5 BB%. But he went more old-school with his swing, keeping it flat and aiming for contact up the middle of the field. It worked, as his K% plummeted to 23.1 and he hit more balls up the middle than anyone. This led to little power but pretty good consistency.

    On defense, Freese was no sure thing on routine plays. But between playing farther back and the fact that he's still spry for a guy his age, he more than saved par by flashing quick actions and covering decent range.

19. Mike Moustakas, Kansas City Royals

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Age: 29

    Key Stats: 148 G, 598 PA, .272/.314/.521, 116 OPS+, 38 HR, 0 SB, -8 DRS

    WAR: 1.8

    2017 Player Report

    Mike Moustakas' mantra for 2017 seemed to be "The hell with it."

    Thanks to his trouble with shifts, he had been trending toward greater selectivity and better all-fields hitting. Not in 2017. He sought to swing at everything and get back to pulling the ball. He also added loft to his swing that generated a higher launch angle and more fly balls.

    The career-high (and Kansas City Royals record) 38 homers Moustakas hit proves all this had the desired effect. The catch is that power became his one and only value source on offense. In the context of 2017, that made him nothing special.

    Elsewhere, his defense took a step back. It didn't help that he literally took a step forward and played shallower. That took the emphasis off a strong arm that he does have and put it on quickness that he doesn't.

18. Miguel Sano, Minnesota Twins

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    Brace Hemmelgarn/Getty Images

    Age: 24

    Key Stats: 114 G, 483 PA, .264/.352/.507, 127 OPS+, 28 HR, 0 SB, -5 DRS

    WAR: 2.5

    2017 Player Report

    Yes, Miguel Sano was a good hitter despite his historic 35.8 K%.

    Strikeouts will always be a part of Sano's game, as there are two things he can't fix: the big strike zone and limited plate coverage that come with his massive 6'4" frame. The best he can do is pick his spots and take full advantage of his massive power.

    These are things he can handle. He had enough discipline to work an 11.2 BB% and averaged 92.4 mph on his batted balls. Only three hitters did better, and rockets off Sano's bat went in all directions.

    And while he wasn't good, he was a better third baseman than you'd expect from a guy his size. He had the right idea in playing deeper and thereby giving himself more chances to show off his excellent arm. To illustrate: this.

17. Kyle Seager, Seattle Mariners

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Age: 29

    Key Stats: 154 G, 650 PA, .249/.323/.450, 107 OPS+, 27 HR, 2 SB, -2 DRS

    WAR: 2.5

    2017 Player Report

    After spending four years as one of MLB's most underrated players, Kyle Seager hit a wall in 2017.

    Notably, his problem with shifts became a full-on crisis. He's tried pulling the ball less often as a means to avoid shifts, but this year he hit into more shifts than anyone and was stricken with a .265 average when he did.

    Seager's actual approach, however, continued to mostly work. Although he achieved an extreme launch angle that generated plenty of fly balls and good power, he continued to strike a good balance between patience (8.9 BB%) and contact (16.9 K%).

    His defense was better than his DRS indicates. His modest arm strength necessitated playing relatively shallow, but he made it work because his reactions and release remained quick. There weren't many plays he couldn't make.

16. Eugenio Suarez, Cincinnati Reds

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Age: 26

    Key Stats: 156 G, 632 PA, .260/.367/.461, 115 OPS+, 26 HR, 4 SB, 5 DRS

    WAR: 3.7

    2017 Player Report

    Eugenio Suarez's breakout season can't be addressed without pointing out the elephant in the room.

    He finished the year with a .978 OPS and 21 homers at home and just a .694 OPS and five homers elsewhere. With only 86.2 mph exit velocity, he truly needed Great American Ball Park's dimensions to boost his power.

    But to give credit where it's due, Suarez did get more selective and pull more balls while keeping his launch angle high. That's a power-oriented approach. So, he did have some influence in his breakout.

    Suarez's drastic improvement just in making routine plays underscores how much more comfortable he was in his second season at third base. The former shortstop already had the athleticism and actions for the hot corner. What he gained was a feel for the different angles and timing inherent in the position.

15. Matt Chapman, Oakland Athletics

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    Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

    Age: 24

    Key Stats: 84 G, 326 PA, .234/.313/.472, 110 OPS+, 14 HR, 0 SB, 19 DRS

    WAR: 3.6

    2017 Player Report

    If not for his sample size, Matt Chapman would have a case as the best third baseman of 2017.

    His defense alone was worth the price of admission. He has more than enough arm to justify playing as deep as he did, but he wasn't using his deep positioning to hide a lack of range. The quickness that made him one of the fastest third basemen allowed for a steady string of athletic plays—such as this one.

    At the plate, Chapman worked off a disciplined approach and showed off a truly modern swing. He generated a 19.9 degree launch angle and 90.1 mph exit velocity. So, his defense came with good patience (9.8 BB%) and good power.

    Maybe the only gripe is that too much of Chapman's batted balls went to waste, as he preferred an all-fields approach that he didn't have the opposite-field pop to justify. But that's a very nitty nit-pick.

14. Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers

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