Which position ranks as the best in MLB?
Welcome to the year of the third baseman, and we're not just saying that because Alex Bregman has turned his Dugout Stare into the coolest new thing in celebrations and, at times, something approaching an art form. What do you have for us, Matt Chapman?
While that's plenty good enough, here's something even better: three of the top six players in the Majors in 2018 are third basemen, according to Fangraph's Wins Above Replacement.
Those three are Jose Ramirez of the Indians (ranked third overall at 7.9, behind only Mookie Betts and Michael Trout), Bregman one spot down at 7.4 and Chapman sixth at 6.5.
Further down the list are a pair of established stars: Nolan Arenado of the Rockies (4.6) and Anthony Rendon of the Nationals (4.4), along with All-Star Eugenio Suarez of the Reds (4.3).
And probably the only reason Kristopher Bryant of the Cubs and Justin Turner of the Dodgers aren't high on this list is that they've spent a chunk of the season on the disabled list.
We acknowledge that WAR isn't a perfect measurement tool. First basemen have more home runs and a higher OPS. Left fielders also have more home runs.
But in terms of depth and star power -- young and old -- third baseman is baseball's deepest position in 2018.
While we're on the topic, let's rank the positions (pitchers excluded) based on depth:
1. THIRD BASE
1. Ramirez, Indians
2. Bregman, Astros
3. Chapman, Athletics
Seven third basemen have a WAR of 4.0 or better, starting with Ramirez, who has a healthy lead. Chapman and Bregman have emerged as franchise-type players. No player has had a more dramatic emergence into elite status than Chapman, who has been in the middle of Oakland's renaissance and leads all MLB players in WAR (3.6) since the All-Star break by a wide margin. He may be baseball's single best defensive player regardless of position.
2. FIRST BASE
1. Matt Carpenter, Cardinals
2. Paul Goldschmidt, D-backs
3. Freddie Freeman, Braves
Carpenter is the first tough call since he has started more games at third (70) than first (49). But he has played first almost exclusively since shortly before the All-Star break, and that's about the time the Cardinals got hot. Carpenter, Goldschmidt and Freeman will figure prominently in National League Most Valuable Player Award balloting.
3. RIGHT FIELD
1. Betts, Red Sox
2. Christian Yelich, Brewers
3. Aaron Judge, Yankees
This position could deliver both the NL and AL MVP. (In fairness, Yelich has split his time almost evenly between right field and left.) Betts is the clear frontrunner in the AL while Yelich is in the middle of a close NL race. As for Judge, who hasn't played since July 26th, let's just say that when he did play, he was really good. He's tied for 12th in the AL with 26 home runs (in 99 games) and is sixth in OBP (.398) and OPS (.947).
4. LEFT FIELD
1. Ronald Acuna Jr., Braves
2. Juan Soto, Nationals
3. Andrew Benintendi, Red Sox
Acuna and Soto debuted within a month of each other (April 25 and May 15, respectively) and almost immediately established themselves as special talents. Both seem certain of finishing in the top three of NL Rookie of the Year Award voting. Acuna has 17 home runs and a 1.094 OPS in 48 games since being moved into the leadoff spot after the All-Star break.
1. Francisco Lindor, Indians
2. Manny Machado, Dodgers
3. Trevor Story, Rockies
What about Andrelton Simmons of the Angels? That he did not crack the top three says plenty about the depth and quality at shortstop. Lindor isn't getting as much MVP buzz as he should, probably because his teammate, Ramirez, is such a strong candidate. Story has begun September with video game numbers: .393 batting average and five home runs in seven games.
6. CENTER FIELD
1. Trout, Angels
2. Bryce Harper, Nationals
3. Lorenzo Cain, Brewers
First, a reminder that Trout may be the best baseball player you will ever see and among the best to ever play. Is he better than Mays or Aaron or Williams? No, not yet. But if he has five more seasons as good as his last five, he's going to be in the conversation. Honorable mention to Cardinals rookie Harrison Bader, who is symbolic of the youth and energy his team is bringing to this playoff push.
7. SECOND BASE
1. Jose Altuve, Astros
2. Javier Baez, Cubs
3. Jed Lowrie, Athletics
Another ridiculously deep position. Baez is an electrifying talent and a frontrunner for NL MVP. Altuve seemed to be headed for his fourth batting title until a knee injury sidelined him for a month. Lowrie is having his best season. And there's Scooter Gennett, Ozzie Albies, Rougned Odor, Whit Merrifield and Joey Wendle.
- J.T. Realmuto, Marlins
- Buster Posey, Giants
- Yadier Molina, Cardinals
Toughest position to evaluate because the defensive metrics are imperfect, and the often intangible ability to guide a pitcher through a game is so vital. Still, Realmuto's offensive numbers are off the charts, putting him in front of two veterans who could both be headed for the Hall of Fame.