As everyone knows, Bryce Harper is a free agent after the 2018 season. So is a guy named Manny Machado. They both entered the majors when they were 19, and they both turn 25 this season. At times, they’ve both had ups and downs, fits and starts, but for their careers, they’re within four games played of each other. As close as they are in games, Machado has produced 28.0 WAR compared to 26.1 for Harper. Though a relatively small one, it’s a lead nonetheless.
On Machado’s side, he has had a great glove. He also have a better health record than Harper. But I worry about Machado on a couple of levels. First, the glove appears to be in decline already. Second, as a young player to have such negative value on the bases makes me think he’s going to become a bat-only guy when he hits about 30. Third, he has awful GIDP numbers, losing seven runs in those situations. In combination with his questionable baserunning, his DP rate makes me worry a tiny bit about what’s in his future.
Machado may already have a bit of an old-player body. Only seven other guys were at least -5 on the bases and grounding into two in their first six years through age 24. One is Miguel Cabrera, which bodes well. And another is Joe Torre, but I suspect teams are hoping for more than a Torr-like career for Machado. The other five are Brian McCann, Jim Presley, Lance Parrish, Billy Butler, and Ken Reitz. That’s a much less positive group. Of course, when I narrow to such poor speed numbers through a young age, I’m doing a couple of things. First, I’m eliminating many of those who didn’t start as early as Machado. Second, I’m including somewhat older players who were really slow. But the list is the list, and it doesn’t make Machado look so great.
So for the first time, I’m a little worried for the 3B I rank 70th and Eric ranks 74th.
To better follow this series, check out how we rank players and the early posts in this series below.
Third Base – 21-40
Where do we project the active player(s) to finish in our rankings?
Obviously, I’ve already got him over my personal line by all indications. I’d prefer he tacked on some more bulk to his resume, however. In 2018, Longoria escapes the anonymity of Tampa Bay, moving over to the Bay Area to see if the Buster Posey/Madison Bumgarner Giants have one last gasp in them. Four years ago, at age 28, Longoria appears to have made a conscious decision to swing a lot more often, especially on the first pitch. He suddenly went from about a 22% first-pitch swing rate to 30%. Consequently, he sees fewer and fewer deep counts, walks about half as often as he did five years ago, but still strikes out just as often. Scary thing is that his power seems to be dribbling away. Maybe that’s why he made that switch? Or maybe it results from it. Or maybe that’s what it’s like when you’re the only threatening hitter in your batting order? I guess we’ll find out this year. The Giants have more good hitters in their lineup than the Rays have recently. Perhaps a change of organizational philosophy and lineups will rejuvenate him. He’ll make it HoME, though.—Eric
Longoria is not yet a HoMEr for me, and Eric is right that he’s no longer the player he once was. But he’s a sort of metronome. He plays every day, and he’s put up 3.3-3.9 bWAR each of the last four seasons. My translations suggest a bit more of a decline though. Plus, he’s 32 now, and further decline may be coming quickly. Still, seasons of 3, 2, and 1 WAR get him past Sal Bando on my list. That means he’s very likely getting in. My call is that he’s a bit better than that. Let’s say he gets past Bando and McGraw but falls short of Tommy Leach at #20. Of course, I’ve been overrating Longoria most of this decade. Maybe I’m underrating him now?—Miller
I don’t know. I submit. Sadly, I think Wright does too. He was such a no-brainer Hall of Famer until injuries pretty much ended him in 2015. I still have a dream that he’ll come back, which I suspect he shares. It’s nice to dream. As far as the HoME, he’s going to fall short.—Miller
David Wright’s got to be done, right? By signing Todd Frazier this off-season, the Mets all but publicly acknowledged it. Wright leaves behind a career this close to the in/out line. Actually, he’d do a lot to improve the Hall of Fame’s standards at third base. For our little reliquary of greatness, he probably falls a tad short, but he’s in the gray zone.—Eric
This fella is perhaps the most interesting player on the list above. For me he’s #41, and even a decent campaign this year will shoot him up my list. Three WAR buys him 8 spots and ahead of Larry Gardner. Four WAR adds another four slots, tying him with Stan Hack. A five-WAR, All-Star level season would slide him between Toby Harrah and Bob Elliott for 28th place. Six WAR nudges him past Elliott. Donaldson’s put together 85% of a strong peak, and he needs to keep producing at a high rate and stay on the field more often if he’s going to make a serious run at the HoME. He’s really not that far off, but his age, his late start, and his injuries last year make his path very uncertain.—Eric
I like Donaldson more than Eric does at this point, which surprises us. But I’ve modified my position over the years to favor peak more than I once did (see our Machado rankings above). Donaldson, of course, is a perfect peak candidate, great on a per-game basis every year from 2013-2017. Last year, though, he was hurt. Guys who play their first full season when they’re 27 can’t afford to get hurt. Ever. I’m hoping for Donaldson; I’m not expecting any sort of real run toward the HoME though. Like Eric, I think a 6-win season shoots him up the rankings, into 27th place, just behind Ron Cey. One more after that means he’s pretty much in. Still, I’ll take the under.—Miller
Where do our rankings diverge the most from the conventional wisdom?
Depends on whose wisdom. The wisdom of the ancients said that Pie Traynor was the best third baseman ever. We know now that’s not true or close to it. In analytical circles it’s no surprise that Traynor finishes nearer to forty than to the HoME, for those of a certain age, it may be shocking. By Sabrmetric wisdom, Tim Wallach’s high finish might raise eyebrows. He didn’t walk much, and folks really don’t think about him much thanks to a career spent mostly in French-speaking areas. But the power was strong, and the glove too. But by my own conventional wisdom, Ron Cey ranks as one of the most pleasant surprises of this whole exercise. He’s very, very close to electable, which I would never, ever have predicted when we started. If he hangs onto his game just one or two years longer, it’s a different story.—Eric
Do people think Ken Caminiti has a position even in the Hall of Very Good? I don’t think so. More than Caminiti, however, I think Toby Harrah had a career that would surprise a lot of people if they took a close look. And friends, this isn’t a DRA thing. Using that measure, Harrah looks worse than he does by my ratings. So why was he so valuable? First, he drew a ton of walks, 80+ on eight occasions. He could also run the bases like few others. Would you have guessed we was in the top two dozen from 1961-1990? I don’t think I would have. But he’s there. He’s even better in terms of walks, ranking 11th in unintentional passess. Only Pete Rose had more with fewer homers.—Miller
Where do we disagree with one another the most?
Curiously, I tend to be more interested in peak performance than Miller, but we appear to have swapped predilections with Stan Hack and Bill Bradley. The former’s career-oriented case plays better in my system than Bradley’s more peak-centered case. The latter of which plays up for Miller.—Eric
Shh, don’t tell Eric. I’ve tilted quite a bit toward peak myself.—Miller
Are there any players who MAPES+/CHEWS+ might overrate or underrate?
Yes. In Stan Hack’s case, we suspect that once BBREF crunches its PBP numbers for the 1930s and early 1940s, the Cubbies third baseman will pick up 20 or 30 runs. His current baserunning value is depressed by his awful stolen base rates, but his advancement rates once on base are good. Even more so, as a somewhat quick, lefty hitter, he probably has a lot of hidden GIDP-avoidance value. The combination of these positive upgrades on his value could push him beyond Elliott and near to Cey in my rankings. Harlond Clift and Traynor, himself, might also gain.—Eric
Please join us a week from today when we share with you Honus Wagner and the next 19 shortstops.