Will Leitch took an in-depth look at the game in 2019 with a series exploring Major League Baseball's Data Decade. From the best World Series, to the best starting pitchers and more, Leitch ranked, dissected and celebrated all the things we loved most about the Great American Pastime during the past 10 years.
Third base is, famously, the most overlooked position by Cooperstown, though there are increasing signs that such a lockdown may be loosening. One of the main reasons for that might be all the third base talent coming from this decade. Third base is tricky, because it’s a tough position to hide a great hitter but lousy fielder; it requires too much defensive skill for that. But if you’re gonna hold down that spot, you’re going to have to hit. Get you a third baseman who can do both.
Let's look at the 10 best third basemen of this decade. For the sake of clarity, we looked at players who played at least 50 percent of their games at third base over the decade, according to Baseball-Reference’s Play Index. Here are the best this decade: And remember, we take the whole decade into account, which means that players who debuted in the last couple of years won’t make the cut.
1. Adrian Beltre (BOS 2010, TEX 2011-18)
Beltre would have made the short list for best third basemen of the last decade -- he was actually fourth among third basemen in WAR (per Baseball-Reference) from 2000-09 -- but it was this decade in which he secured his Hall of Fame status. He led all third basemen in homers, RBIs, runs, hits, you name it, and he also hit .307 for the decade and played the position beautifully. If he hadn’t retired after last season, he’d almost certainly still be one of the best third basemen currently playing. Just don’t touch his head.
2. Josh Donaldson (OAK 2010, 2012-14, TOR 2015-18, CLE '18, ATL 2019)
Donaldson won the American League MVP Award in 2015 and had a good case to win in three other seasons. He didn’t play his first full season until he was 27 years old, but he has done nothing but mash since. Even in 2018 -- his most ineffective, injury-riddled season -- he posted a 119 OPS+. The man brings rain.
3. Nolan Arenado (COL 2013-19)
He didn’t get started until 2013, but he has been the platonic ideal of what a third baseman looks like ever since he entered the league. He has also revolutionized the Colorado franchise -- this is not a player you look at and say, “Oh, that’s a Coors Field creation.” And it looks like he’ll be a Rockie for life after signing a long-term deal in March. He may well end up on the best of the 2020s list, too.
4. Evan Longoria (TB 2010-17, SF 2018-19)
Longoria might not have turned out to be the Hall of Famer it looked like he might have become when he debuted with Tampa Bay, but he’s far and away the best player in Rays history. He has dipped a little in the past couple of years, but he’s never even resembled a bad player. He never ended up having the peak MVP season many thought he would, but no one has ever been upset to have him on their team. Poor guy, though: He appears to have left Tampa Bay right when the Rays got good again and he arrived in San Francisco right when the Giants took a downturn.
5. Manny Machado (BAL 2012-2018, LAD '18, SD 2019)
It took a while for Machado to accept that he was a better third baseman than a shortstop -- and he loses a little on these rankings as a result -- but now that he has settled in with San Diego … wow, what a third baseman he is. The bat has only truly emerged in the last couple of years -- he still has never finished above fourth in MVP voting -- but Machado has had superstar written all over him since the Orioles called him up when he was 20 years old. He may finally be there now.
6. Justin Turner (BAL 2010, NYM '10-13, LAD 2014-19)
Turner has had two entirely different careers this decade. In the first one, he washed out of Baltimore and was at best an average hitter for the Mets. In the other, he’s a perennial MVP candidate and the heart and soul of a team that has reached multiple World Series. This is the player he probably was all along, he just needed to find himself. Now, all he’s missing is the ring.
7. Kris Bryant (CHC 2015-19)
Is this too early for Bryant? You tell me -- he has already won an MVP (2016), has a higher bWAR for the decade than Anthony Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman, Mike Moustakas and Pablo Sandoval, and recorded the last out of a World Series win for the Chicago Cubs. (The Chicago Cubs!) Maybe it’s a little early. But I can’t leave him off any list of best third basemen, even if he has just played half the decade.
8. Matt Carpenter (STL 2011-19)
Carpenter has played other positions in his career, notably first and second base, but third base is where he has played the most. More than anything else, he has hit and even further, gotten on base, wherever you put him. He started out as a contact-and-walk guy, but he has taken a few more strikeouts as he has added power, leading to a career-high 36 home runs last year. He has a career .376 OBP, which, for what it’s worth, is higher than George Brett’s. He also has a World Series ring, having batted 19 times (with just one hit) for the 2011 Cardinals.
9. Kyle Seager (SEA 2011-18)
He has never played in a postseason game, so he doesn’t have the recognition nationally that perhaps he deserves. But other than a disappointing 2018 season, Corey’s Brother has been a remarkably consistent fielder and hitter since joining the Mariners; if they had a whole lineup of Kyle Seagers, they would have reached October on multiple occasions, that’s for sure. He is still on the injured list to open this year because of a hand injury, but when he comes back, he may find himself and the Mariners in an unusual spot -- first place.
10. Todd Frazier (CIN 2011-15, CHW 2016-17, NYY '17, NYM 2018-19)
Frazier might not necessarily be the most dynamic player, but he makes every team he’s on better. He’s also third in homers among third basemen for the decade, seventh in RBIs and even fourth in steals. It was between him and Martin Prado here. Either choice works for me.
Honorable mentions: Alex Bregman, David Freese, Chase Headley, Moustakas, Prado, Jose Ramirez, Rendon, David Wright, Zimmerman