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2017, Sidebars

End of the Year HoME Roundup, 3B

Manny Machado, 2017, 2We continue evaluating the candidacies of active major leaguers and look at their chances of reaching the Hall of Miller and Eric. Today, we’ll report on the third basemen. We hope you’ll check out our analysis of all the positions.

FIRST BASE | SECOND BASE | THIRD BASE | SHORTSTOP | LEFT FIELD | CENTER FIELD | RIGHT FIELD | CATCHER | RELIEF PITCHERS | LEFT-HANDED PITCHERS | RIGHT-HANDED PITCHERS

Adrian Beltre

2017 BBREF WAR:
3.7

Rank at the position after 2017:
Miller: 8
Ahead of Paul Molitor, Buddy Bell, and Edgar Martinez
Trailing Chipper Jones, Home Run Baker, and Ron Santo

Eric: 9
Ahead of Ken Boyer, Scott Rolen, and Brooks Robinson
Trailing Ron Santo, Deacon White, and Chipper Jones

Current career trajectory:
Beltre seems ageless. Were in not for injuries, he was on pace for the second best season of his career. At age 38! However, he was injured, a grade 2 left hamstring injury most recently. He has to begin to regress. Just don’t tell him. Seriously though, his regression will at least be health-related in 2018. And if we’re being fair, health is a skill, so Beltre did regress.

HoME Outlook:
He’s already in. And he’s in the Hall too, not just because of the 3000 hits, but because everyone’s saying it. When enough people start talking about you as a Hall of Famer, you reach a tipping point, and there’s no going back for Beltre. He still has a chance to finish his career as the fifth best 3B of all-time. And he could retire in the top-ten in hits in MLB history. Wow!
—Miller

David Wright

2017 BBREF WAR:
0.0

Rank at the position after 2017:
Miller: 26
Ahead of Toby Harrah, Bob Elliot, and Larry Gardner.
Trailing Ron Cey, Evan Longoria, and John McGraw.

Eric: 21
Ahead of Sal Bando, Heinie Groh, and Ron Cey
Trailing John McGraw, Ned Williamson, and Evan Longoria

Current career trajectory:
As I wrote about 15 months ago, I fear Wright’s career is over. Still, he’ll only be 34, and he’s owed $47 million over the next three years. Maybe. Please!

HoME Outlook:
Unless I’m wrong, he’s not very likely to go to the HoME. Eric ranks him ahead of HoMEr Sal Bando, but I have some space between him and the nearest HoMEr at the position as you can see above. For me, he’s going to need to get back on the field. I’m hoping.
—Miller

Evan Longoria

2017 BBREF WAR:
3.6

Rank at the position after 2017:
Miller: 24
Ahead of Ron Cey, David Wright, and Toby Harrah.
Trailing John McGraw, Heinie Groh, and Sal Bando.

Eric: 20
Ahead of David Wright, Sal Bando, and Heinie Groh
Trailing Tommy Leach, John McGraw, and Ned Williamson

Current career trajectory:
I’ve long enjoyed watching Longo move his face up the totem pole at third base. However, he seems to be in a long, slow fade. He came out of the gate hot as a young player, but his skills are eroding in front of our eyes. He was below average at the bat for the first time in his career. His home run power slid out from under him this year, leading to the lowest total for a full season in his career. He walked just 46 times, continuing a puzzling and disturbing trend of less selectivity. His overall value has ebbed away, taking him from a six-to-seven-win player to a three-to-five win player. He’s no longer a franchise cornerstone, though his super team-friendly contract makes him a Ray until 2023 unless the team gets bowled over by an offer for him. His comps are filled with guys like Hank Blalock, Scott Rolen, Bob Horner, and Eric Chavez who lost a lot of zip in their 30s and whose careers took a nose dive fast.

HoME Outlook:
Despite that glowing endorsement of the current state of Longoria’s career, he’s practically a made man for me. I’ve got him right on the line of electability (99.9 CHEWS+, where 100 indicates the borderline), so anything he adds in his thirties bolsters his case considerably. Miller has him lower than I do, but close enough that he’s about to ease on by the borderliners in his hot corner rankings.
—Eric

Josh Donaldson

2017 BBREF WAR:
4.8

Rank at the position after 2017:
Miller: 44
Ahead of Bobby Bonilla, Heinie Zimmerman, and Billy Nash.
Trailing Al Rosen, Art Devlin, and Doug DeCinces.

Eric: 40
Ahead of Art Devlin, Ken Caminiti, and Heinie Zimmerman
Trailing Pie Trainer, Al Rosen, and Bill Joyce

Current career trajectory:
Donaldson is still a star, which his 4.8 WAR in only 113 games indicates. And though he wasn’t a regular until age-27, he’s averaged 7.2 WAR per season since then. At 32 next year, he needs a couple of very productive seasons in 2018–2019 to really take him seriously as a candidate.

HoME Outlook:
Imagine six more seasons of 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1 WAR. That gets him past Sal Bando, and it likely makes him a HoMEr. Donaldson has a real shot of doing something like that. So much will depend on health, as it always does. We should know quite a bit more a year from now. Of course, that’s mere speculation. A better way to estimate what he’ll do might be to look at comparable third basemen through age-31. And when we do so, I’m less optimistic. Tony Perez is on the list, but he’s not so deserving of his Hall spot. Tommy Leach is there too, so there’s a positive note. But we also see Troy Glaus and Travis Fryman and Eric Chavez. Like I said, next season could be quite telling.
—Miller

Ryan Zimmerman

2017 BBREF WAR:
2.7

Rank at the position after 2017:
Miller: 55
Ahead of Don Money, Kyle Seager, and Jimmy Dykes.
Trailing Bill Madlock, Willie Kamm, and Denny Lyons.

Eric: 53
Ahead of Bob “Death to Flying Things” Ferguson, Bill Madlock, and Don Money
Trailing Ken Keltner, Kyle Seager, and Travis Fryman

Current career trajectory:
You can say 2017 was something of a revival for Zimmerman, but it really wasn’t. From May 8 through the end of the season, he posted a fairly pedestrian .269/.328/.486 line. Sure, that’s better than his 2014–2016 line, but it’s not one that makes us think he’s suddenly fighting for a spot among the game’s elite. He’ll be only 33 next season so stranger things have happened. Still, take away five weeks before it warmed up, and you aren’t remotely excited.

HoME Outlook:
Gary Sheffield and Jimmy Collins became HoMErs from about where Zimmerman is now. A bunch of others got to the Hall, but they generally fall into the categories of undeserving and just over the borderline. I don’t think Zimmerman is dead, just mostly dead.
—Miller

Kyle Seager

2017 BBREF WAR:
2.5

Rank at the position after 2017:
Miller: 58
Ahead of Jimmy Dykes, Jeff Cirillo, and Richie Hebner.
Trailing Don Money, Ryan Zimmerman, and Bill Madlock.

Eric: 51
Ahead of Travis Fryman, Ryan Zimmerman, and Bob Ferguson
Trailing Troy Glaus, Billy Nash, and Ken “Keltner” List

Current career trajectory:
At 29, we know what Seager is. He’s a very strong defensive player with a one-to-two-win bat that relies on good power and slightly above average walk rates. He’s also incredibly durable. BBREF chalks him up for 27 WAR. That’s not impressive for a HoME third base candidate. Then again, Darrell Evans, Graig Nettles, Edgar Martinez earned fewer, and Paul Molitor just a couple more by the same age. The thing is that BBREF sees Seager as merely slightly above average defensively. But DRA sees him as a defensive star with 70 more defensive runs than BBREF shows. In other words, seven more wins’ worth of value. That gets him around 32–35 WAR, which puts him much closer to the range of strong candidates.

HoME Outlook: What’s most worrisome is Seager’s offense in 2017. His batting average tumbled to .249 (thanks, BABIP!), which drove his batting down to league-average levels despite the homers. If the downward trend continues, he’s done as a HoME candidate. If he stabilizes with even slightly above average offense and continues being an outstanding defender, he’s got a good shot at coming along the outside to break the tape. Something tells me it’s a long shot.
—Eric

Edwin Encarnacion

2017 BBREF WAR:
2.8

Rank at the position after 2017:
Miller: 70
Ahead of Billy Werber, Eddie Foster, and Red Smith.
Trailing Terry Pendleton, Aramis Ramirez, and Harry Steinfeldt.

Eric: 72
Ahead of Gary Gaetti, Ken McMullen, and Edgardo Alfonzo
Trailing Terry Pendleton, Manny Machado, and Tom Burns

Current career trajectory:
It’s not hard to remember that Encarnacion was sort of nothing until he turned 29. What that means is that he’ll be 35 next year and isn’t a threat to put up huge numbers going forward. He has a real shot at 400 home runs though, which he can tell his grandkids.

HoME Outlook:
If he’s getting to the Hall of Fame, it’s likely he’s following the Ross Youngs, Chick Hafey, Freddie Lindstrom, Rick Ferrell path, which means he won’t deserve it. He’s a lot of fun to watch play, and I think I’d love being his teammate. Still, he’ll be largely forgotten a couple of years after he’s gone.
—Miller

Manny Machado

2017 BBREF WAR:
3.5

Rank at the position after 2017:
Miller: 78
Ahead of Ken McMullen, Ossie Bluege, and Fred Lindstrom.
Trailing Jim Ray Hart, Eddie Yost, and Bob Bailey.

Eric: 70
Ahead of Tom Burns, Edwin Encarnacion, and Gary Gaetti
Trailing Richie Hebner, Eddie Foster, and Terry Pendleton

Current career trajectory: Despite a down year both offensively and defensively, Machado is one of the game’s prized young players. His closest BBREF comp is Adrian Beltre, which makes a lot of sense. Ron Santo is among his top ten age-based comps. Intuitively, this makes sense because Beltre and Santo started very early and were successful quickly at the hot corner. He’s no Mike Trout, but if the O’s manage to keep Machado around, he could be the new Brooks Robinson.

HoME Outlook: The average HoME third baseman since the war has 11 BBREF WAR by age 24. Manny Machado has 28. Only one HoME third baseman has done better, Eddie Mathews. In fact, he’s the only third baseman in baseball history to outperform Machado through age 24. Good news for Manny: The 3.4 WAR separating him from Mathews is less than the 22.7 WAR separating him from Dick Allen and George Davis. Here’s the top ten, well, eleven, but you’ll see:

  1. Eddie Mathews: 31.4
  2. Manny Machado: 28.0
  3. Dick Allen: 22.7
  4. George Davis: 22.7
  5. George Brett: 22.1
  6. Freddie Lindstrom: 21.3
  7. John McGraw: 20
  8. Evan Longoria: 19.9
  9. Buddy Lewis: 19.9
  10. David Wright: 19.3
  11. Ron Santo: 19.3

Scratch out Lewis who lost his prime to the war, and you’ve got five HoMErs, three active players, two of whom are right on my borderline, one guy (McGraw) that would have been entirely defensible to elect based on his playing career, and one of the Hall of Fame’s worst selections, Freddie Lindstrom. Though clearly he was pretty good through age 24. That’s the kind of list that helps you recognize how great a young player is. Keep it up, Manny!
—Eric

If I may interject, Machado could be better than Brooks. If we give him 5.5 WAR for the next four seasons through age-28, a total he’s topped three times in his four healthy years, and then slowly regress him half a win per year until he’s down to 1 WAR at when he’s 37, I would rank him tenth ever at the position, a few slots ahead of Brooks. It’s a lot of speculation on my part, I know, but there’s a path in that direction.
—Miller

Martin Prado

2017 BBREF WAR:
0.1

Rank at the position after 2017:
Miller: 92
Ahead of Howard Johnson, Mike Lowell, and Corey Koskie.
Trailing Jimmy Austin, Doug Rader, and Billy Shindle.

Eric: 88
Ahead of Wid Conroy, Doug Rader, and Jimmy Austin
Trailing Lee Tannehill, Billy Shindle, and Mike Lowell

Current career trajectory:
Prado might be today’s version of Tony Phillips, sort of, which speaks to just how much times have changed. Phillips was a far, far superior player. Prado will be “just” 34 in 2018, so he might have some time left to move up the ranks. Of course, his best days, which were of All-Star quality, are likely behind him.

HoME Outlook:
A number of underserving Hall of Famers turned their careers into one that got them into Cooperstown from basically where Prado is now. But so did Sam Rice and Jim O’Rourke. It’s possible Prado can find his way to an O’Rourke type of career, I suppose. Odds are quite long though.
—Miller

Nolan Arenado

2017 BBREF WAR:
7.2

Rank at the position after 2017:
Miller: 82
Ahead of Edgardo Alfonzo, Jerry Denny, and Chase Headley
Trailing Fred Lindstrom, Ossie Bluege, and Ken McMullen.

Eric: 79
Ahead of Clete Boyer, Jim Ray Hart, and Jerry Denny
Trailing Eddie Yost, Bob Bailey, and Freddie Lindstrom

Current career trajectory:
If this guy played in New York or Chicago or Boston, everyone would know his name and lots and lots of people would buy his jersey. Instead, he’s on one of those boring teams out west that no one seems to bother much with, so he’s that guy who’s pretty good whose name you can’t quite remember. In 1962, Brooks Robinson finished 9th in the MVP voting with a 6.1 WAR breakout season at age 25. He contributed 20 runs above average at the plate and another 18 in the field. That’s pretty much Arenado’s season every year. Only better. Actually, he’s improving. His walk rate has been increasing, and he’s hitting for higher and higher averages. All with the power you’d expect from a guy who in the last three years has led the NL in homers twice and doubles the third year. His WAR has increased every single year of his career. At 26, his career stats are comparable to a young Scott Rolen. Even if Arenado never improved on his 7.2 BBREF WAR season of 2017, he’s got a great start to what promises to be a fun career to watch.

HoME Outlook:
With 27 WAR through age 26, Arenado’s already in the range of our highest-quality HoME third base candidates at that same age. Where Manny Machado is exploring the thermosphere, maybe Arenado is just tooling around the stratosphere. Arenado, however, has an important advantage that few others have in the HoME voting. He’s born on my birthday.
—Eric

Kris Bryant

2017 BBREF WAR:
6.1

Rank at the position after 2017:
Miller: 98
Ahead of Sammy Strang, Don Hoak, and Todd Zeile.
Trailing Casey Blake, Bill Mueller, and Corey Koskie.

Eric: 97
Ahead of Bill Mueller, Don Hoak, and Ed Charles
Trailing Corey Koski, Sammy Strang, and Casey Blake

Current career trajectory:
What’s not to love? Concern trolling about Bryant’s defense proved overblown, and he’s proven to be a good if not great defender, one hell of a hitter, and a gamer who rarely sits. And watch out for him next year. Although he took a very slight step down in OPS+ this year, he lowered his strikeout rate and increased his walk rate. The guess here is that he got a lot fewer pitches to hit this season and adapted well, taking his walks instead of selling out and going fishing. When a player’s background skills all point in a positive direction, it can’t be long before he goes hardcore on the league.

HoME Outlook:
Only time and injury can stop Kris Bryant. He’s been athletic enough to play around the diamond as part of Joe Maddon’s roving gang of gloves. So he’s not a guy who’s too slow to play the outfield but doesn’t hit enough to play first base. He could stay around a while. Already, he’s surpassed the HoME-average postwar third baseman through age 25 as he establishes a foundation for a run at internet immortality.
—Eric

Jose Ramirez

2017 BBREF WAR:
6.9

Who the heck is this Jose Ramirez who showed some sparkle at the plate last year and busted out all over in 2017? He was signed out of the Domincan as a teenager and reached the US minors at age 18. In five minor league seasons he hit a respectable 304/355/411. Nothing great, and nothing that presaged the game power he’s shown. He never slugged over .465 in any full minor league season. He hit all of 13 homers in 1539 career minor-league and winter league plate appearances. He first appeared with the Indians at age 20 and increasingly picked up playing time despite having the bat knocked out of his hands at 22. Yet the next year, he hit for an .825 OPS and continued to improve at all facets of hitting until this year happened.

Here’s one guess at what’s happened. At each of his minor league stops, he’s been, about three or four years younger than his league. In the Dominican winter leagues, he’s been about six years younger than the league’s average player. Some guys are polished and dominate from the get go. Others, though, learn through reps and develop skills as their body fills out and their body of experience grows. When a player is challenged repeatedly in leagues way over his age and experience level, he either sinks or swims. The Indians have perhaps seen enough progress in his approach that they’ve decided to keep challenging him. Now, 1539 minor and winter league plate appearances later, he’s consolidated his skills into a fringe-MVP level player who is just 24 years old.

If the skills persist, Ramirez will make up ground fast. Obviously he’s miles behind the likes of Machado. But think about this, Kris Bryant did his learning at UC San Diego then put in half the minor league and winter league plate appearances that Ramirez did. Ramirez might well not have much of a HoME outlook. What makes a player great is the ability to repeat excellence year after year. But when a player establishes a set of skills like Ramirez has in 2016–2017, we should sit up and take notice.
—Eric

Tune in again as we review shortstops on Friday.

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