B/R MLB 300: Ranking the Top 25 Third Basemen of 2016
The hot corner may be packed with more talent than any other position, but we're going to narrow our list to 25 players. They have many different talents, but the scoring system for them reflects how third base is still an offense-oriented position:
- Hitting: 30 points
- Power: 30 points
- Baserunning: 15 points
- Defense: 25 points
Before we move on, here's a reminder that this year's B/R MLB 300 is different from past versions in a key way. Rather than use the events of 2016 to project for 2017, the focus is strictly on 2016. Think of these rankings as year-end report cards.
For more on how the scoring and ranking work, read ahead.
How They're Ranked
It takes a minimum of 50 games in the majors to qualify for this list, with most of the players listed ahead having also played 50 percent of their games at third base.
The scoring is based mostly on statistics—current through Monday, September 26—from Baseball-Reference.com, FanGraphs, Brooks Baseball, Baseball Savant and MLBfarm.com. The numbers at these sites leave few blind spots when looking at each player's performance, allowing for analytical scouting reports that cover the following:
Hitting: We know the average third baseman is hitting .268 with a .333 on-base percentage. We want to know how each player is living up to that standard and assorted MLB norms with his patience, discipline, ability to make contact and make good contact, as well as, ideally, use the whole field.
Power: The average third baseman is slugging .448, and only first base has produced more home runs. This is a cue to look at not only raw power, but how well each third baseman gets the ball in the air and how else (i.e. a steady pull habit) he maximize his power potential.
Baserunning: This neck of the woods features more gray areas, so we'll keep it simple with a few questions for each player. Can he steal bases? Can he take more than one base at a time when the opportunity arises? Does he avoid running into outs?
Defense: This is where it's most necessary to do video scouting, but there are also helpful analytics to consult. Defensive runs saved and ultimate zone rating are helpful guiding stars. Ditto for Inside Edge Fielding data and the fielding plots available on each player's FanGraphs page.
The individual scores are meant to mimic the 20-80 scouting scale while also taking sample sizes into account. Perfect scores are reserved for players who have excelled throughout the entire season, with extra points possible under extraordinary circumstances. Anything else is a judgment call.
Last but not least: If any two (or more) players end up with the same score, we'll make another judgment call on the player (or players) we'd rather have.
25. Yunel Escobar, Los Angeles Angels
G: 129 PA: 557 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .309/.361/.398 HR: 5 SB: 0
Gotta eat some crow here. I figured there was no way Yunel Escobar would repeat either his .314 average or .375 OBP from 2015. He's always had a decent batting eye and a strong ability to make contact, to be sure. What I didn't figure was that a guy with an extreme ground-ball habit and good-not-great 89.6 mph exit velocity could keep finding hits. Turns out I was underestimating his skill at aiming his batted balls to all parts of the yard. Hats off to him.
Escobar can hit, but not hit for power. Even his .398 slugging percentage is overstating things. He has a flat swing that doesn't allow him to get under the ball, as his average launch angle of 1.7 degrees is the lowest of any qualified hitter. He also averages just 91.7 mph on line drives and fly balls, easily under the MLB standard of 92.2 mph. He does have some gap power, but is mostly a singles hitter.
Escobar's never been much of a runner, and now he's 33. Nobody should be surprised he's 0-for-3 stealing bases. Also concerning is his tendency for running into outs even when he isn't trying to steal, which he's done 10 times. This negates a solid 46 percent success rate taking extra bases on hits.
Quick reflexes, smooth actions and a strong arm once made Escobar a reliable defensive shortstop. And on occasion, these things also show through at third base. But in general, Escobar is not as quick as he used to be. Or as accurate with his throws. Or as focused from moment to moment. This is how you get 19 errors and the lowest success rate among third basemen on routine plays.
Escobar has revitalized his hit tool in the last couple of years by reinventing himself into a pretty good slap hitter. But since that's his only talent, it's not worth that much.
24. Miguel Sano, Minnesota Twins
G: 110 PA: 468 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .240/.325/.472 HR: 24 SB: 1
The elephant in the room is Miguel Sano's ongoing struggle to put the ball in play. His massive 6'4" frame gives him a big strike zone to cover, and he struggles to cover it. Two things rescue his production from oblivion. One is that he at least has an outstanding eye for the strike zone (23.4 O-Swing%) that helps him draw walks. The other is that he hits the ball really damn hard. He averaged 94.8 mph in exit velo last year and is down to "only" 93.1 mph in 2016.
On that last note, Sano has some of the most dangerous raw power around. He averaged nearly 100 mph on fly balls and line drives in 2015. Even regressing to 97.0 mph this year still puts him among the league leaders. He gets under the ball, too, posting an average launch angle of 16.8 degrees. Thus, he can give the ball a ride to any part of the yard. With more contact, he'd be an elite power hitter.
Sano runs about as well as you'd expect from a dude who's 6'4" and 260 pounds. Beyond his one and only steal, he's taken very few extra bases: just 29 percent on hits and six total on non-hits. There are some good athletes at third base. He's not one of them.
It wasn't pretty when Sano played right field, and it hasn't been pretty since he moved to third base. He certainly has the arm for the position with plus-plus arm strength. But with limited mobility, his thing needs to be making the routine plays with ease. Poor hands, instincts and throwing accuracy have barred him from doing that, leading to a cringe-worthy 88.3 success rate on the easy ones.
The most appealing aspects of Sano's game are still his booming power and his outstanding batting eye. Now he just needs others to go with them.
23. Danny Valencia, Oakland A's
G: 126 PA: 501 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .288/.349/.451 HR: 17 SB: 1
Danny Valencia isn't impossible to silence. He's not so mighty when there's a right-hander on the mound, and he has a tough time hitting anything with spin. But don't call him a wild swinger. Better yet, don't throw him a fastball. And in general, he deserves credit for taking an approach based around hitting the ball hard (90.6 mph exit velo) and applying it to the opposite field for a change.
After cranking 18 homers in 105 games last year, Valencia just kept right on slugging into 2016. He's not especially great at getting under the ball. But at 8.6 degrees, his launch angle is higher now than it was a year ago. And at an average of 94.1 mph, he doesn't struggle to put any oomph on what he gets airborne. As such, the only thing really holding him back he is his non-regular playing time.
Running the bases has never been a big part of Valencia's game, but he's made an effort at it in 2016. Not so much in stealing bases, of course, but in taking 15 bases on non-hits and the extra base on hits 33 percent of the time.
Let's credit Valencia for his versatility. He's played right field and first base in addition to third base this season, and can play other positions too. But talent? Not as much. Valencia is not blessed with great hands or a great arm. At no position are weaknesses like those more likely to be exposed than at third base, even if the plays are easy ones. On that note, even those have been tough for Valencia.
Valencia has fallen into the background as Ryon Healy has feasted on September pitching. But Valencia has been the more productive player on the whole, particularly with his powerful bat.
22. Eugenio Suarez, Cincinnati Reds
G: 153 PA: 602 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .248/.317/.410 HR: 20 SB: 10
Eugenio Suarez has a strange mix of attributes as a hitter. He's a disciplined hitter with a 43.7 Swing% and 26.9 O-Swing%. And despite a 24.9 K%, he doesn't swing and miss too much. He also boasts a solid rate of hard contact at 35.1 percent. But that last figure is misleading. He's also averaging just 86.7 mph on his batted balls, showing that even his hard contact isn't very hard. He thus operates like a power hitter, but without the one talent a good power absolutely must have.
Continuing with our theme of weirdness, Suarez has clubbed 20 homers despite the concerns raised above. Great American Ball Park would seem like the easiest explanation, but it's actually not. Suarez's swing is good at getting under the ball for a 15.2-degree launch angle. And when he does get the ball in the air, his 90.7 mph exit velo proves his contact is substantially better. Not great, but better.
As a shortstop-turned-third baseman, Suarez has pretty good athleticism for the position. But neither that nor his 10-for-15 showing stealing bases means he's a speedster. And while he gets credit for running into only two other outs, he's taken the extra base only 30 percent of the time on hits.
Suarez looks the part of a shortstop playing at third base, showcasing smooth actions, good range and pretty good arm strength. However, his error-proneness at shortstop has followed him to the hot corner. He's committed 22 boots. His hands aren't terrible, but they're only as good as OK. That plus occasional lapses in concentration continues to hurt him with routine plays.
Suarez is a difficult player to analyze, but the basic breakdown goes like this: pretty good power, pretty good athleticism.
21. Travis Shaw, Boston Red Sox
G: 142 PA: 526 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .244/.308/.424 HR: 16 SB: 5
Travis Shaw has been what the Red Sox needed him to be: an upgrade over Pablo Sandoval. Unlike the Panda, Shaw has a solid approach that mostly focuses on hitting within the strike zone. He also uses the whole field and makes solid contact with 89.7 mph exit velo. It's been a struggle for him ever since June, though. Pitchers attacked his fringey bat speed by throwing him more fastballs for a while. Meanwhile, defenses have been keeping him down with frequent shifts.
Consistency issues aside, Shaw has provided solid power. His swing may not be quick, but it does have good loft. He's posted a solid launch angle at 16.4 degrees, pushing his GB/FB ratio further under 1.0. He also averages 93.0 mph on fly balls and line drives. What's holding him back is that while he may be an all-fields hitter, he only has home run power to his pull side.
Fun fact: Shaw has stolen home this season. That's in the books as one of five successful attempts in six tries. He's not a fast runner, however, and his stolen base success rate overstates his instincts. He's seldom gone for more than one base at a time, posting a 29 percent success rate on hits. He's also run into seven outs, only one of which he can share the blame with the third base coach.
Shaw was mostly a first baseman in the minors, so it's surprising he's played third base as well as he has. He may not be a great athlete, but he's shown off solid range thanks to quick reactions and smooth actions. His hands and arm are less cut out for the position, however. This has led to a problem with errors (16) and struggles on routine plays.
There was a point when Shaw looked like a really nice find for the Red Sox. He's since been revealed for what he really is: a player who's serviceable on both sides of the ball, but not special on either side.
20. Maikel Franco, Philadelphia Phillies
G: 146 PA: 605 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .251/.304/.417 HR: 25 SB: 1
With a mix of contact and power that's a rare sort of find, Maikel Franco should be a good hitter. But he swings at everything, wasting his strong contact habit on weak contact outside the strike zone. At an average of 90.2 mph, his exit velocity is solid but also disappointing for a guy who has so much strength. And in adjusting to hit the inside pitch in 2016, he's left himself vulnerable to anything that's not middle-in. Clearly, he has more adjustments to make.
Franco has had trouble translating his pop into consistent results, but you could ask for worse power production. He's gotten under more balls with a 10.1-degree launch angle. And while his overall exit velocity is disappointing, it's a show when he gets the ball airborne. He's averaging 94.3 mph on fly balls and line drives. And since most of his batted balls go to his pull side, he really wears out the left field bleachers.
Third base has become home to both athletic sluggers and more plodding sluggers. Franco is somewhere in between. He's not a base stealer, succeeding in one of only two attempts. He's better with aggressiveness, taking 15 extra bases on non-hits with a 37 percent success rate on hits.
Franco may not be a fast runner, but he has the quick reactions to cut it as an everyday third baseman. He certainly has the arm strength, too, as his throws tend to be lasers. And after struggling with it last year, it's not worth anything that he's improved making the routine plays. His iffy athleticism does limit his range, however. Also, his arm is not as accurate as it is strong. His defense has thus only gone from a liability to a mixed bag.
It's clear Franco still has work to do to become a consistent hitter. But with good power and more consistent defense, he's at least earned his keep as a solid everyday option.
19. Nick Castellanos, Detroit Tigers
G: 105 PA: 432 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .286/.331/.500 HR: 18 SB: 1
Before he got injured in early August, Nick Castellanos got comfortable. That's his explanation for his season, anyway. He's still an aggressive swinger who comes up empty more than he should. But from both a launch angle (17.1 degrees) and exit velocity (89.4 mph) perspective, the quality of his contact has been better. One word of warning, though: Castellanos' early peak happened when pitchers were throwing him fastballs. Once they stopped doing that, his numbers went downward.
Better launch angle and exit velocity, you say? That explains why Castellanos' real improvements have come in the power department. His launch-angle increase has pushed his GB/FB ratio even further south of 1.0. And on fly balls and line drives, his exit velo has leapt from 91.2 mph to 94.0 mph. Between this and how his power goes to all fields, let's make the all-too-easy comp: J.D. Martinez.
Although Castellanos only has 210 pounds on his 6'4" frame, speed never was going to be a big part of his game. But he needs to do a better job of keeping it from being a problem. Despite the fact he's not an aggressive runner, he's run into six outs after running into eight in 2015.
Way back in 2014, defensive runs saved claims Castellanos cost the Tigers 30 runs with his defense. Extreme, but not necessarily misleading. He arrived with fringey defensive tools, and that was often obvious. His tools haven't gotten better since then, but he has. Although he's not and isn't going to be a consistently spectacular defender, he at least has the routine plays down now. It's not much, but it's something.
Castellanos' value is still limited to what he can do at the plate. He's showing signs of living up to his former hype there, particularly with a much-improved power stroke.
18. Chase Headley, New York Yankees
G: 135 PA: 511 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .254/.329/.386 HR: 14 SB: 7
Chase Headley is wallowing in the same ol' mediocrity he's been in since 2013. His big redeeming quality is still his disciplined approach, and he's added another this year with more use of the opposite field. The latter has helped him undo some of last year's struggle with the shift. However, opposing pitchers have responded to his discipline by simply throwing him more fastballs. And while his ability to aim the ball is nice, his 87.6 mph exit velo is not so nice.
Headley's 31-homer outburst in 2012 continues to look like an extreme outlier. Even his 14 homers this year are misleading, as he's gotten some help from Yankee Stadium's short porch. He has more of a line-drive stroke than a fly-ball stroke. And when he does get the ball airborne, his 90.2 mph exit velo says it all about his raw power.
This remains the underrated aspect of Headley's game. He's not a fast runner, but his seven successes in nine stolen base attempts reflects his good baserunning instincts. He also boasts a 39 percent success rate taking extra bases on hits, with another 19 added on non-hits.
By his own admission, Headley got off to a rough start on defense last season. But it's been smooth sailing ever since, and "smooth" is a good word to describe his defense in general. He has terrific instincts and hands and is mostly accurate with his throws. Hence, why he's such a sure thing on routine plays. The only catch is that, at 32, Headley doesn't have the range he had in his prime.
Headley's mediocre hitting makes him easy to overlook at a position populated with heavy hitters. But he's one of the better ones at fielding his position and running the bases.
17. Yangervis Solarte, San Diego Padres
G: 103 PA: 418 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .285/.340/.471 HR: 15 SB: 1
Yangervis Solarte has had a year to forget off the field. On the field, he's been the best he's ever been. Despite reaching new heights of aggressiveness with a 50.4 Swing% and 35.7 O-Swing%, he maintained a strong ability to make contact. Just as important, he's patched what had been a weakness in his contact: He now hits slow stuff about as hard as he hits fastballs. The one nitpick is his increasing pull tendency, which is attracting more shifts.
Solarte isn't a great power hitter by the standards of the hot corner. But by his own standards, 2016 has been yet another landmark. Getting more exit velocity on the slow stuff hasn't hurt his launch angle, which has actually increased to 10.7 degrees. And on the balls he gets in the air, he's averaging a solid 91.9 mph in exit velocity. And while he's primarily a pull hitter, he does have some oppo gap power from the left side.
Stealing bases isn't Solarte's thing. He's just 1-for-1 this year after going 1-for-1 last year. He is solid at taking the extra base on hits, though, doing that 41 percent of the time.
Solarte doesn't have a true home on defense, but he's at least shown he can handle the quick reactions necessary to cut it at the hot corner. Those have helped him convert a fair number of tough plays in 2016. His defensive ceiling is limited, however, as neither his hands nor his arm are as good a fit for the hot corner as his reactions are. Routine plays aren't necessarily routine for him.
This former Yankee is a member of the "Better Than You Think" club. He's nothing special when he's not in the box, but he packs a surprisingly potent bat when he is.
16. Eduardo Nunez, San Francisco Giants
G: 141 PA: 595 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .288/.325/.432 HR: 16 SB: 40
Back in June, Eduardo Nunez credited his breakout to simply getting to play every day. But his breakout has tangible roots, too. He's always had a good contact habit, routinely posting below-average strikeout rates. The change this year involves how he's made contact. He's relied less on his pull side and has simply hit the ball harder, going from 89.2 mph to 90.4 mph in exit velo. His one weakness: He remains an aggressive hitter who doesn't take walks.
More playing time and harder contact have also helped Nunez's power, but don't think this is great power by third-base standards. He only hits his fly balls and line drives at an average of 92.1 mph. And while his 8.1-degree launch angle is way up from 3.6 last year, that's still not very high. He's also an all-fields hitter who can only hit the ball with authority to his pull side.
Nunez has put his good speed to frequent use with his 40 stolen bases. He's also taken the extra base 40 percent of the time on hits and added 20 extra bases on non-hits. He has been caught stealing 10 times and also run into 10 other outs, but overall the good easily outweighs the bad.
The knock on Nunez has been that he struggles to turn his defensive talents into consistent glovework. That still applies, as he's posted modest success rates on routine plays at both shortstop and third base this season. The stuff is there for highlight-reel plays to help make up for that, however. Nunez can react and move quickly and get throws off in a hurry, allowing him to occasionally look like a wizard.
With consistent playing time, Nunez has found better contact and been able to show off his speed more often. The next challenge for him to conquer is consistent defense.
15. Martin Prado, Miami Marlins
G: 149 PA: 644 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .305/.360/.415 HR: 7 SB: 2
There's one thing Martin Prado doesn't do so well: hit the ball hard. He's averaging a not-great 88.3 mph in exit velo with, as per usual, a hard-hit rate under 30 percent. Nonetheless, he's a good case study for why hitting the ball hard isn't everything. He chooses his swings carefully and is making contact at a higher rate than any other qualified hitter. And when you can aim the ball with a line-drive stroke as well as he can, hard contact becomes a mere luxury.
Seven homers is actually pretty good for a guy who's mainly a singles hitter, and Prado has hit 37 doubles as well. But he's not hiding any raw pop. His exit velocity on fly balls and line drives is just 88.0 mph. With an average launch angle of 8.5 degrees, he also doesn't get under the ball that often. He's more of a gap-power guy, particularly down both lines and into the left-center gap.
Baserunning used to be a major aspect of Prado's game. But now that he's 32, those days have faded into legend. He is refusing to become a station-to-station runner, however. He's taken the extra base on hits 42 percent of the time and added another 19 bases on non-hits.
For a change, third base is the only position Prado has played in 2016. This is a good thing. Although he's not a physical marvel, he has quick reactions and good footwork at the hot corner, and he always gets good accuracy on his throws. His waning athleticism has cost him some range, however, which makes it harder to forgive him not being a sure thing on routine plays.
Prado doesn't come with much power, but he's one of the game's most advanced hitters and he still holds his own on the bases and on defense.
14. Jake Lamb, Arizona Diamondbacks
G: 145 PA: 571 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .250/.329/.517 HR: 29 SB: 6
Jake Lamb brought a new swing into 2016, and it's made more of a difference than his AVG and OBP reflect. One benefit is a fighting chance against left-handers. The bigger benefit is better contact. After averaging 90.6 mph in 2015, Lamb's exit velocity is up to 92.5 mph. On top of that, he boasts pretty good discipline. Two weaknesses remain: His reliance on his pull side and the shifts it invites, and his difficulty making contact on anything with spin.
Lamb'd launch angle has dropped from 13.5 degrees to 12.9 degrees, but he's destroying whatever he does put in the air. At 96.2 mph, he's showing enough raw power to rank among the game's elites. And while all that power is mainly concentrated to right field, he's had left-center in his sights as well. It's not by accident that 54 percent of his hits have been extra-base hits.
As much attention as Lamb's hitting has gotten in 2016, he's also made strides (sorry, not sorry) with his baserunning. His six steals in seven tries don't make him Billy Hamilton, but they do reflect his mix of athleticism and smarts. So does the fact he's taken the extra base 56 percent of the time on hits with another 23 added on other plays.
It's no secret Lamb's defense has been adventurous this season. He's made 20 errors, too many of which have come on easy plays. He has one of the lowest success rates on routine plays of any third baseman. This is a shame, as his actual defensive tools are pretty good. He moves well and has decent hands along with a decent arm. His struggles this year are more mental than anything.
Defensive issues aside, Lamb has taken a step toward stardom in 2016. His bat always had potential, and it's being realized through frequent loud contact.
13. Todd Frazier, Chicago White Sox
G: 152 PA: 642 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .226/.306/.468 HR: 39 SB: 15
Consistency continues to elude Todd Frazier. This is odd considering how his approach is more disciplined than it was in 2015, with his Swing% dropping to 46.3 and his O-Swing% dropping to 32.3. But this hasn't erased the numerous holes in his swing. And when he has put the ball in play, he's done so with less exit velocity (89.9 mph) and more emphasis on his pull side (49.5 Pull%). The latter has added shifts to the list of things keeping his bat in check.
Explosive power is always a good trade-off for inconsistent production. Frazier's swing is still built to get the ball in the air, posting an extreme launch angle of 18.2 degrees. And when he does get the ball in the air, he crushes fly balls and line drives at an average of 94.0 mph. The fact that he's hit only 20 doubles is a reality check that he has all-or-nothing power, but 39 homers is worth full credit anyway.
A high slugging percentage and a low OBP doesn't create much room for running the bases. But to Frazier's credit, he's stolen his 15 bags in 20 tries and has continued to do a decent (not great, but decent) job of going more than one base at a time with a 38 percent success rate on hits.
Frazier's athleticism also plays on defense. He covers a fair amount of ground and is particularly good on plays when he has to come in on the ball. Add in pretty good hands and a strong arm, and he pretty much has everything you want in a third baseman. His athleticism can also get him in trouble, though. He can get to anything, but there are times when he tries to do too much and makes mistakes.
Frazier just can't find the right approach at the plate. However, good power, baserunning and defense are pretty good ways to save par.
12. Jung Ho Kang, Pittsburgh Pirates
G: 98 PA: 351 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .267/.368/.530 HR: 20 SB: 3
Jung Ho Kang got a late start to 2016 thanks to his recovery from a 2015 knee injury, but has otherwise picked up where he left off. There was a point last year where pitchers figured out he could hit the fastball and started throwing him more breaking balls. That's continued in 2016, and it's been an effective strategy. On the bright side, Kang is still showing an excellent eye for the strike zone, and even his 90.9 mph exit velo undersells how often he makes hard contact. He has a 39.4 Hard%.
All that hard contact has equaled about as much power as you'd expect. Kang came to the States with good raw power, and he's continuing to show it off with 96.4 mph exit velo on fly balls and line drives. And with his launch angle improving from 7.6 degrees to 11.2 degrees, he's showing off his pop more often. And keep in mind, he's slugged his 20 homers in only 98 games.
Kang was only an OK baserunner to begin with, and now he's playing it more safe in his return from knee surgery this year. He's swiped three bags in only four tries after attempting nine steals last year. He's also cut his rate of extra bases taken on hits in half from 53 percent to 23 percent and has done the same with his bases taken on non-hits.
Kang has mostly outplayed the modest defensive expectations he arrived with. He may not be a fast runner, but he has good instincts and is surprisingly quick on his feet with enough arm strength to finish tough plays. His hands are a relative weakness, however, and one that's hurt him on routine plays.
Kang looked like a great find at the plate in 2015. Now he's even better, mainly thanks to a barrel-to-ball ability that deserves more attention.
11. Matt Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals
G: 123 PA: 539 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .270/.375/.496 HR: 19 SB: 0
Matt Carpenter's approach still boils down to "don't ever swing." That and his excellent eye explain his 13.5 BB%. But let's not underrate what he can do when he does swing. A decrease in fastballs hasn't stopped him from being a strong contact hitter, and the quality of his contact (91.0 mph exit velo) is much better now than it was a year ago. Because that comes from a line-drive stroke, it's no wonder he's been able to hit through the shift. He does just about everything you could ask of a hitter.
Injuries will keep Carpenter from matching last year's career-high 28 homers, but his power surge is ongoing. He has no trouble getting under the ball with his uppercut swing, posting an average launch angle of 18.1 degrees. And with 93.8 mph exit velocity, what he puts in the air doesn't go to waste. The fact he pulls so many pitches only adds to the efficiency of his power.
Carpenter is very good at getting on base, and solid at running around the bases. His 0-for-3 showing stealing bases is one thing, but he's taken the extra base on hits 44 percent of the time and has added another 16 on non-hits. That's just enough to make up for the seven outs he's run into.
Carpenter has been needed at second base and first base, but he has spent most of the season at third base. First base is where he looks most at home, largely because it doesn't require as much athleticism as the other two positions. Carpenter isn't a terrible athlete, but he has stiff actions and a less than stellar arm. These things limit his range and make routine plays tougher than they should be. That's been especially true this year, in which he's been one of the worst at making routine plays.
Carpenter is a player without a true home on defense, so it's a good thing he brings versatility to the table. Meanwhile, his excellence at the plate is not in question. He has one of the best approaches of any hitter, and continues to hit for power.
10. Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays
G: 154 PA: 661 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .277/.324/.528 HR: 36 SB: 0
Evan Longoria hasn't been more consistent than he was in 2015, but his offensive profile does feature one big difference. His average exit velocity is up from 90.2 mph to 91.5 mph, and his hard-hit rate is the best it's been since 2013. But figuratively speaking, hard contact only goes so far. Longo isn't a wild swinger, but he is getting more aggressive and more prone to swing and miss over time. He's also still pull-happy with a swing that's geared more than ever for power. Speaking of...
Longo has earned his career-high 36 homers. He's always had a lofty swing that's gotten the ball in the air. He's dialed it to 11, upping his launch angle from 13.9 degrees to 17.1 degrees. He's also upped his exit velo on fly balls and line drives to 94.5 mph, and has certainly made the most of his pull habit. Almost half (46 percent) of his hits have been extra-base hits, so he deserves full credit here.
The guy who once stole 15 bases in a season is long gone. Longo is now on the wrong side of 30, so his 0-for-3 showing stealing bases is no surprise. On the bright side, he's not yet a station-to-station runner. He's taken the extra base on hits 46 percent of the time. He's also run into just two outs.
It's been years since Longoria last won a Gold Glove, and he's very much past his defensive prime by now. He just doesn't have the same burst from his set position that he used to. But it's not by accident that he's so good at making sure the easy plays get made. Two things that haven't gone away are his soft hands and strong arm. And even if he doesn't move as well as he used to, he still reacts quickly.
Longoria is past his prime on both sides of the ball, but his power surge is proof that even players past their primes can learn new tricks.
9. Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians
G: 148 PA: 602 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .313/.364/.465 HR: 11 SB: 22
And now for the portion of the program where we shower praise on Jose Ramirez. He's a switch-hitter who's been good from both sides of the dish. Overall, he's shown a disciplined approach with one of the best contact habits at the position. He also has a line-drive stroke that's produced better exit velocity (88.7 mph) this season and which is also making better use of the opposite field. August Fagerstrom of FanGraphs had the right of it: Ramirez has been a Michael Brantley clone.
Ramirez has not only been more consistent, but more powerful as well. He's added a higher launch angle (13.0 degrees) to go with his increased exit velocity, so it all makes sense. But lest his power be mistaken for power of the booming variety, he's only averaging 90.3 mph on fly balls and line drives. His power plays more in the gaps than over the fences.
Ramirez may lack typical third-base power, but he sure is faster than the typical third baseman. He's needed 29 tries to steal his 22 bases, but has made up for that modest success rate elsewhere. He's taken the extra base on hits 60 percent of the time and added 18 other bases on non-hits. He's also run into just four outs. Now, if he could just get his helmet to stay on...
Ramirez has mostly played at third base, but he's also logged a lot of time in left field. His speed suits him well in the latter, but he's not out of place at the hot corner. His quick feet and smooth actions allow him to make some nifty plays around and away from the bag. The one thing that doesn't stand out as a good fit for the position is his arm, but that hasn't been a deal-breaker. He's been reliable on routine plays and has added some tough plays as well.
Ramirez is one of the more underrated feel-good stories of the 2016 season. A player nobody expected anything out of has gotten it done on both sides of the ball with a good bat, power, speed and defense.
8. Kyle Seager, Seattle Mariners
G: 152 PA: 649 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .280/.362/.503 HR: 29 SB: 3
As Corey Seager gathers headlines in LA, older brother Kyle Seager is having his best season yet. The improvement he made against lefties in 2015 has stuck. He's also continued to show off a disciplined approach with a good contact habit, and his exit velocity has improved from 89.3 mph to 90.9 mph. But perhaps his most important improvement has been his more frequent use of the opposite field. That hasn't stopped shifts from coming, but it's helped him get around more of them.
Seager's adjustments didn't cost him power in 2015, and so it goes in 2016. A swing that's always been lofty isn't any more so, as neither his launch angle nor his GB/FB ratio have budged much. But his overall exit-velo improvement also shows on his fly balls and line drives, which he's hitting at an average of 93.5 mph. With that, what's typically only been pull power has spread further afield.
After being an inefficient base stealer and then an overly aggressive runner, Seager's baserunning has found a happy medium in 2016. He's mostly stopped trying to steal bases, attempting only four all year. He hasn't gone station-to-station, however, posting a 43 percent success rate taking extra bases on hits with 12 bases added on other plays.
There are times when Seager looks like the best defensive third baseman in the game. His quick reactions, quick movements, good hands and strong arm allow him to make just about any play, which in turn makes him a regular on highlight reels. But these same things also get him in trouble. He's committed a cringe-worthy 22 errors, too many of which stem from him trying to do too much and/or trying to look cool. This is part of his lowest-ever success rate on routine plays.
Seager was already underappreciated, and that may be even more true now that his younger brother is hogging all the attention. But if anyone wants an example of a good two-way third baseman, the elder Seager's a good place to look.
7. Anthony Rendon, Washington Nationals
G: 151 PA: 630 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .269/.348/.443 HR: 18 SB: 12
Anthony Rendon is making it look like 2014 all over again. He didn't get away from his approach in his down season in 2015, as he continued to be disciplined and make a ton of contact. What he was missing was good contact. Good health has fixed that in 2016, in which his exit velocity has improved from 90.6 mph to 92.0 mph. One nit to pick is he's turned his line-drive swing into more of a fly- ball swing. That's not good for consistency. But is is good for...
Good health has also allowed Rendon's power to make a comeback. He's been able to get under the ball again, raising his launch angle from 10.6 degrees to 16.9 degrees. And on balls in the air, he's averaged a rock-solid 93.6 mph. He conducts most of his business to his pull side, but this ensures his all-fields approach includes some good gap power as well.
Rendon falls more under the "good athlete" banner than he does the "fast runner" banner. His 12 steals comes with six caught-stealings. He's better with aggressiveness, taking the extra base on hits 45 percent of the time and adding 17 more on other plays.
After ferrying back and forth between third base and second base in 2014 and 2015, Rendon has been allowed to get comfortable at the hot corner this year. This helps explain why he's been more reliable on the easy plays. He has the goods to make tougher plays as well. Good hands, good actions, good arm, quick release. You name it. There really aren't many plays he can't make.
Rendon has gotten lost in the shuffle this year, but he's back to looking like the emerging star he was in 2014. Although he doesn't excel at any one thing, he can hit, hit for power, run the bases and play defense very well.
6. Justin Turner, Los Angeles Dodgers
G: 146 PA: 603 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .276/.342/.499 HR: 27 SB: 4
Justin Turner has good numbers, but even they understate things. He's been money ever since a slow start in April and May. This is a reminder that only his health has stood between him and stardom since he arrived in LA. He's always had a good approach and a strong ability to make contact. What he's added in LA is consistent hard contact. That's especially true this year, in which his exit velocity (91.1 mph) and hard-hit rate (38.3) are both up. To boot, this hard contact is going to all fields.
There's more than just hard contact going into Turner's power numbers. His swing is also good for getting under the ball, as he's right there with Nolan Arenado in average launch angle at 17.5 degrees. He gets good zip on his balls in the air too, hitting them at an average of 93.2 mph. Between his ability to get the ball airborne and his ability to hit it hard, no part of the yard is safe.
Turner's never been much of a base stealer, and he isn't becoming one now at the age of 31. His four steals in five tries only highlight how he can't be slept on. This has been a good year in the aggressiveness department, however. Turner is usually good for a 40 percent extra-base rate on hits. This year, he's at 49 percent.
Turner is less a third baseman and more a utility man who's found a home at third. Neither his hands nor his arm are ideal for the position. But he makes up for that with good reactions and generally good technique. He doesn't make many mistakes, hence why he's so reliable making routine plays. He's not as good with tough plays, but he probably makes more than another guy could with his tools.
It's high time to stop viewing Turner as some random upstart. When he's been healthy in the last three years, he's been one of the game's best players by way of loud contact at the plate and steady defense at the hot corner.
5. Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers
G: 149 PA: 626 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .298/.356/.519 HR: 32 SB: 1
Adrian Beltre is still aging like a fine wine. Some things haven't changed, such as an approach that's aggressive but not too wild and features plenty of contact. It also helps that he has an uncanny ability to get the barrel to the ball. In fact, his exit velocity is up to 90.7 mph from 89.8 mph. He's also still good at spreading his hits around. He's not Joey Votto, but you can set your watch to Beltre's consistency.
After failing to reach 20 homers in 2014 and 2015, Beltre's power has come roaring back. He hasn't had to deal with any power-sapping injuries, such as last year's thumb woes. He's also hit more fly balls (41.7 FB%) despite no real change in his launch angle. That plus a modest increase in his exit velo on balls in the air explains why his increased power is no fluke. He also has 434 career homers, so...
Beltre was once a pretty good stolen-base artist, but the 37-year-old is now good for just one steal annually. He hasn't devolved into a station-to-station runner, however. Beltre's 44 percent success rate taking extra bases on hits is par for the course, and he's added 15 on other plays.
For what it's worth, both DRS and UZR rate Beltre as the best defensive third baseman on record. And at 37, he's still going strong. He no longer has the quick-twitch athleticism of a Nolan Arenado or a Manny Machado. But he still moves well for a guy his age, and his hands and arm allow him to make and finish just about any play.
Beltre is technically in the twilight of his career, but he's still one of the best third basemen in baseball on both sides of the ball. Let's remember this when it comes time to put him in the Hall of Fame.
4. Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies
G: 154 PA: 670 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .293/.361/.571 HR: 40 SB: 2
Cutting right to the chase: Yes, Coors Field has helped boost Nolan Arenado's numbers. When you get down to it, a pull-happy approach that's heavy on fly balls and surprisingly light on exit velocity (90.4 mph) isn't the kind of thing that plays well when the air's not thin. Still, Arenado deserves credit for pushing his OBP to a new height. He's become more selective, dropping his Swing% below 50. That's helped earn him more walks, which was the only missing ingredient in his offensive profile.
Arenado's power outburst lives on. Which is not surprising, as any guy whose pull and fly-ball rates are as high as his is going to hit lots of dingers. And while it's nothing special, his 92.9 mph in exit velo on fly balls and line drives is at least above-average. Like above, the only gripe to make is that he's gotten a lot of help from Coors Field. There, 19 percent of his fly balls are home runs. On the road, only 14.5 percent. I hesitate to give him bonus points even despite his 40 homers.
Like a few others on this list, Arenado is a good athlete rather than a fast runner. Difference is, Arenado doesn't even bother with stolen bases. He's been successful in two of only five tries. He can handle taking more than one base on hits, however, doing so 44 percent of the time he's had the chance.
The advanced metrics confirm Arenado is still one of the best, if not the best, third basemen in the game. We can talk all the live long day about how good his hands and arm are. There's no ball he can't snag and no throw he can't make. But one thing that needs more attention is just how quickly he reacts at the crack of the bat. It often seems instantaneous, and it's a reason why his fielding chart covers almost the entire left side of the infield.
Arenado's offense gets a major boost from his home ballpark, but he'd be a great player anywhere. He's designed to hit for power, and his glove may be the best the hot corner has to offer.
3. Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles
G: 151 PA: 671 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .301/.352/.545 HR: 36 SB: 0
Manny Machado's big 2015 breakout has continued into 2016, but he's not quite the same hitter. Last year's Machado was more disciplined and better at making contact. And making good contact as well. His exit velo is down from 92.4 mph to 90.9 mph. But at the same time, Machado is doing more with the good contact he does make. A slight increase in his launch angle has helped him keep the ball off the ground with a 36.8 GB%. Also, his exit velo is hiding a career-high 35.2 Hard%.
Surprise! Turns out that striving for more power can produce more power. Machado's launch-angle improvement has helped, and he's actually gained some exit velo on fly balls and line drives: from 94.5 mph to 94.9 mph. It's no wonder he hasn't needed much help from Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Time for more bonus points.
Machado stole 20 bases last year. This year, he has zero in three attempts. This points to two valid excuses: Pitchers are keeping a closer eye on him, and the Orioles just don't run much. He's tried to make up for this with aggressiveness, taking the extra base 53 percent of the time on hits. Too bad he's also run into eight outs—twice his previous career high.
Machado's reputation as an otherworldly defender precedes him. And yes, it's still legit. He gets my vote for the best combination of hands and arm strength of any player at the hot corner. There's no play he can't make. Let's also not forget he spent a good portion of the season back at his natural shortstop. He played good defense there, too, all the more reason for a perfect score.
This year's Machado may not be a carbon copy of last year's Machado, but he remains an excellent two-way player with improving power and a dandy of a glove.
2. Josh Donaldson, Toronto Blue Jays
G: 149 PA: 674 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .284/.403/.551 HR: 36 SB: 7
Josh Donaldson has been less dominant in the second half, but his 2016 season on the whole has been another roaring success. He's more disciplined in the face of a smaller rate of pitches inside the zone, ergo his 15.6 BB%. He's also slightly better at making contact and is going the other way more often. That might make it sound like he's just shortening up and trying to be consistent. But nah. His exit velocity is just fine at 93.0 mph. In short, dude's good.
Donaldson may not get to 40 homers again, but his power remains a major threat. While his exit velocity hasn't changed, his launch angle has actually gotten higher and forced more of his batted balls in the air. And on fly balls and line drives, his average of 97.7 mph in exit velo is among the highest in baseball. He hasn't needed Rogers Centre to help him out with home runs. Since not even his immense power production does him proper justice, I'm issuing a nice helping of bonus points.
Donaldson is another guy who's more a "good athlete" than a "fast runner," but his baserunning instincts are not to be overlooked. He finally got caught, but his seven successes make him 21-for-22 stealing bases since 2014. He's also taken the extra base on hits 41 percent of the time and added 23 more on non-hits.
Donaldson certainly has the goods for highlight-reel plays, playing with a high motor and frequently showing off his laser arm strength. What he struggles with is keeping his outstanding tools in control. That's been a bigger issue than usual this year, as he's posted his lowest success rate on routine plays since he first broke through in 2012. He's also covered noticeably less ground than he did in 2015. This won't go into the books as one of his best defensive years.
No thanks to a humbling second half, Donaldson hasn't quite been the same superstar force he was in 2015. But make no mistake: He's still a very dangerous hitter who can work some magic on defense.
1. Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs
G: 151 PA: 684 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .295/.389/.564 HR: 39 SB: 8
Despite winning the Rookie of the Year with his old swing, Kris Bryant came into 2016 with a new swing that was designed to be more direct to the ball. It's working. His strikeout rate is down considerably, and he hasn't had to sacrifice any hard contact to make that happen. He's averaging 90.1 mph in exit velo. That and his ability to get under the ball (more on that in a moment) have helped him survive a huge increase in shifts. And while he's not Joey Votto, he has good awareness of the zone.
The real risk of Bryant's swing change was less power, but so much for that. He still gets under the ball with a 19.8-degree launch angle that's one of the highest in the league. And on the balls he gets in the air, Bryant averages 94.3 mph in exit velocity. He doesn't have much opposite field power, but he's otherwise the ideal power hitter who's been too good for a mere 30 points.
This is the part of Bryant's game nobody talks about. He's not fast, per se, but his 6'5" frame gives him a long stride. That only helps somewhat stealing bases, as he's 8-for-13 on the season. But it makes a big difference when rounding the bases. He has a 54 percent success rate taking the extra base on hits, and has added 16 bases on other plays.
Although Bryant has pitched in solid defense in left and right field, he's spent the majority of his time at his native hot corner. His size brings both good and bad. It allows him to reach some hot smashes other third basemen would miss, but it's also a lot of mass to move quickly and also makes it tough to reach some balls. And while his arm is strong, accuracy still isn't one of his finer points. He's done more good than harm on defense, but we should recognize his versatility is more impressive than his talents.
Bryant has made the leap from very good to outright great. He's cleaned up his fundamental flaw at the plate, making him an advanced hitter with superb power and athleticism that plays on the bases and on defense.