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Star gazing: Top 10 third basemen entering '18

January 12, 2018

MLB Network's "Top 10 Right Now" series ranks Major League Baseball's top players at each position headed into 2018, with two episodes airing each Saturday night from Jan. 13 through Feb. 10.'s Mike Petriello participated in the show and as each position is aired, we'll share his list along

MLB Network's "Top 10 Right Now" series ranks Major League Baseball's top players at each position headed into 2018, with two episodes airing each Saturday night from Jan. 13 through Feb. 10.'s Mike Petriello participated in the show and as each position is aired, we'll share his list along with the reasoning behind it. Rankings were compiled with a combination of subjective and analytical data, and no, batting average and RBI never matter.
Position overview: Third base is so good and so deep that you could essentially rank the top seven in any order you like. That's how stacked this group is -- full of stars who don't only hit well or field well, they do both well. There's about 5,000 different ways you could order the top seven names here, and literally any one of them would be defensible. Call it a seven-way tie for first.
We can't stress this enough: Being ranked third or fifth or seventh here is not an insult. This is baseball's most stacked position.
Eligibility notes: Players are eligible only at one position, and several players who saw time at third base in 2017 were considered in other spots for these rankings. They include Joey Gallo (1B) and Nicholas Castellanos (RF).
Before we get to my rankings, here is The Shredder's list -- the official ranking of Top 10 Right Now -- for comparison:
1.Kristopher Bryant
2.Nolan Arenado
3.Josh Donaldson
4.Justin Turner
5.Anthony Rendon
6.Adrian Beltre
7.Jose Ramirez
8.Manny Machado
9.Alex Bregman
10.Kyle Seager

Petriello's list
1. Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays
Even in a season shortened by calf injuries, Donaldson still put up his fifth straight star-level season, hitting .270/.385/.559 with 33 homers. That comes out to a .396 wOBA, which is basically the same as the .398 mark he put up when he won the American League MVP Award in 2015. Using park-adjusted stats, only one third baseman outhit him in 2017, and not one did over the last three years. He led third basemen in Statcast™'s best quality of contact metric in 2017, too. Still a good defender, he's baseball's best all-around third baseman -- at least for one more year.

2. Kris Bryant, Cubs
Last year, Bryant was atop our list, coming off a season in which he'd easily won the National League MVP Award. In 2017, he had more or less the same season, in a lot of ways:
2016: .292/.385/.554, .396 wOBA, 148 wRC+
2017: .295/.409/.537, .399 wOBA, 146 wRC+
So why didn't it "feel" that way? Bryant hit 10 fewer homers and the Cubs had a tough time living up to the promise of their 2016 World Series championship. Still, he made up for it by setting a career high in walk rate (14.3 percent) and a career low in strikeout rate (19.2 percent, down massively from his 30.6 percent as a rookie), which helped him up that OBP by 24 points. He's still a good defender, if perhaps not quite to the levels of others here, and having only just turned 26, he has put up three star-level seasons in three years.

3. Jose Ramirez, Indians
It may have seemed like Ramirez had a breakout season by hitting 29 homers and finishing in third place in the MVP race, but that's not entirely true, because in 2016, Ramirez hit .312/.363/.462 (121 wRC+), good for nearly five Wins Above Replacement. In 2017, a year he played almost all of at just 24 years old, Ramirez tied with Giancarlo Stanton for the most extra-base hits in the Majors, with 91. He offered above-average defense at third base and second, filling in when Jason Kipnis was injured. Ramirez has, over the last two years, been one of the 10 most valuable position players in the game.

4. Nolan Arenado, Rockies
Arenado is obviously a star, and many will find his ranking of "only" fourth as a disappointment, or even an insult. It's not: As we said, any of the first seven names here could be first. Arenado's calling card is his elite defense, and if this list was entirely about fielding, he'd be No. 1, though the gap between him and some of the other studs here with the glove is relatively small.
We do, of course, have to account for Coors Field, because we can't just look at Arenado's 37 homers and 130 runs batted in without going a little deeper. Arenado enjoyed a +113 point edge in slugging at home in 2017 (.644 to .531), similar to what he got in 2016 (+154 points) and for his career (+120 points). While there's evidence that calling Coors home can also hurt you on the road, it's not nearly enough to balance it all out.
Look at it this way: The top six third basemen in wOBA in 2017 were essentially in a six-way tie at the top:
.400 -- Turner
.399 -- Bryant
.396 -- Donaldson
.396 -- Ramirez
.395 -- Arenado
.394 -- Rendon
That means that they all produced about exactly the same with the bat. But remember, wOBA is not park-adjusted, which means that the others got there without the boost that Coors provides. Turner, for example, out-hit Arenado while calling a pitcher's park home. It doesn't mean Arenado isn't great, or isn't a star; he absolutely is. It matters, though.

5. Manny Machado, Orioles
Machado is for now both an Oriole and a third baseman, though either fact could change before Opening Day. Despite 33 homers, Machado hit only .259/.310/.471 (a roughly league-average 102 wRC+), his weakest season since 2013. But we're not reviewing what happened in '17, we're looking ahead to what may happen in '18, and there's a lot to like here. In addition to defense so elite it rivals Arenado's, no one in baseball had more hard-hit balls than Machado's 250. After a disappointing first half, Machado turned it around in the second half (.290/.326/.500), and given his youth and superstar-level seasons in '15 and '16, we're inclined to believe there's more greatness to come.

6. Anthony Rendon, Nationals
The argument for Rendon to be higher than this is easy: He led all third basemen in Wins Above Replacement, at 6.9. After an injury-plagued 2015 and a strong-but-not-elite '16, Rendon had a career year in '17, hitting .301/.403/.533 (142 wRC+) with very good defense. If it seems like we're repeating "there's too many good players at this position" a lot, we are, because there are. Rendon might be the sixth-best third baseman and one of the Top 20 players overall. 

7. Justin Turner, Dodgers
It's basically a crime that Turner is ranked "only" seventh, because he actually out-hit all other third basemen with a 151 wRC+, thanks to a fantastic .322/.415/.530 line, and in a lot of ways he's still improving. A year after striking out more than twice as often as he walked (107/48 K/BB), Turner managed to walk more than he whiffed in 2017 (56/59 K/BB), and the famously grounder-averse Dodger cut his ground-ball rate to a career-low 31 percent.
So why only seventh? This is mostly due to the extreme depth of the position, but it's also because he's 33, doesn't quite have the elite glove of those above him and has played in more than 130 games just once. Again, even Turner has a case here for first overall.

8. Alex Bregman, Astros
If there's a player on the bottom half of this list who is the most likely to make a huge jump next year, it's Bregman, who broke out in a big way in the second half of 2017. In the first half, Bregman was solid (.256/.338/.419, 105 wRC+), but not necessarily standout. After the break, he smashed, hitting .315/.367/.536 (141 wRC+), then adding four more homers in the postseason -- off none other than Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, and Chris Sale (twice) -- along with some iconic fielding moments. Bregman isn't even 24 until March, and it feels like the former No. 2 overall pick just showed us his breakout is about to happen.
9. Adrian Beltre, Rangers
The future Hall of Famer got into just 94 games due to calf and hamstring injuries, and it's possible that entering his age-39 season, the end is nearing. Yet when Beltre played, he still crushed, hitting .312/.383/.532 (138 wRC+) with a career-high walk rate. The year before, he hit .300/.358/.521 (130 wRC+). He's still a strong defender, and one day age will catch up to him. We just haven't seen it happen in his skills yet.

10. Eugenio Suarez, Reds
Suarez, still only 26, has very quietly turned himself from a backup into a solid starter at third base, hitting .260/.367/.461 (117 wRC+) with 26 homers and above-average defense. That's a four-WAR season, which at other spots makes you a star. At third base, it barely gets you on the list.

Just missed (in no order):Miguel Sano; Twins; Seager, Mariners; Mike Moustakas, free agent; Zack Cozart, Angels; Travis Shaw, Brewers; Jake Lamb, D-Backs; Rafael Devers, Red Sox; Matt Chapman, A's
The number of talented players who couldn't crack the Top 10 should tell you a lot about how deep this position is. Chapman might be Arenado's equal on defense. Devers had a smashing age-20 debut. Moustakas just broke the Kansas City home run record with 38. Seager, before a down 2017, had been a reliably solid bat for years, and Sano is one of the few who can hit the ball as hard as Stanton or Aaron Judge. There's so many stars here.

Mike Petriello is an analyst for and the host of the Statcast podcast. He has previously written for ESPN Insider and FanGraphs.