The Hall of Fame recognizes a player by where they played the most games, so the Hall will eventually see Alex Rodriguez as a third baseman. Since at this point in his career his splits at short and third are very close, I have included him here and on the shortstop list as well.
Hall of Fame standards vary by position, but a C-WAR score of 100 is usually the minimum of being Hall worthy. Ideally a player’s peak is 40+ (averaging 5 or more wins a year during their peak) and his career average is 60+. The average C-WAR line for a Hall of Fame third baseman is: 69.3 career average/46.2 peak/115.5 C-WAR. Third base has the toughest standards for admission into the Hall of Fame, only 15 third basemen are enshrined, 3 played exclusively in the Negro Leagues.
How to read the chart below:
The player’s name is followed by their career WAR from Baseball-Reference (BR), FanGraphs (FG), and Baseball Prospectus (BP). Those three numbers (or two, BP doesn’t publish historical WAR data prior to 1950) are averaged out (AVG). The AVG is the first half of C-WAR. Next you will find the player’s five best years in a row (BR-5), followed by the player’s three best additional seasons (BR-3), both according to Baseball- Reference’s WAR. Next to that is the total peak value (PK) of the five best years, and three best additional years added together. PK is the second half of C-WAR. Adding AVG+PK=C-WAR. The seasons next to PK are the five best years in a row (5 YEARS), followed by the three best additional years (3 YEARS +). The last number is C-WAR. Players highlighted in gold are members of the Hall of Fame. Players in blue are still active. You can zoom in and out of the chart with the magnifying glass symbols on the right, and download the entire PDF.
Please note that Baseball Prospectus’ WARP system is very unstable and produces frequent changes to a player’s value. The numbers below are up to date as of 11/24/12
Below is the chart for third basemen:
1. Alex Rodriguez 110.6 AVG/69.7 PK/180.3 C-WAR (and counting)
Alex Rodriguez has played at a level few post World War 2 era players have seen. During his peak he averaged 8.7 wins a year. Five of his peak years were played at short, three at third. Using his career numbers among batters who have played 40% or more of their games at third, he ranks 1st in WAR, 3rd in wOBA, 2nd in wRC+, and 2nd in OPS+. From 2004-2012 when Rodriguez has played almost exclusively at third, he has been worth 49.8 wins (Baseball-Reference), third in all of baseball behind only Albert Pujols (66.5), and Chase Utley (50). However, Rodriguez has admitted to using steroids from 2001-2003 when he played for the Texas Rangers. His best five years in a row were 2000-2004, so at least three of his peak years experienced some boost by performance enhancing drugs. Dismissing Rodriguez all together because of his PED use is a mistake. Two of his best seasons (05,07) came in the testing era, and he was just one of many players using steroids in the early 2000’s when use of performance enhancing drugs was encouraged and widely overlooked. The system failed, punishing players, and players alone retroactively is a gross misrepresentation of history. With the current voting group in place, Rodriguez will not get into the Hall. If Barry Bonds isn’t going to get enshrined neither will Rodriguez. Both are egregious errors. If the voters and Hall of Fame brass continue to ignore many of the best players of a generation, unfortunately the Hall will have rendered itself irrelevant long before Rodriguez will have ever appeared on the ballot.
2. Mike Schmidt 108.8 AVG/63.2 PK/172 C-WAR
Mike Schmidt is widely considered the best third baseman of all-time, and the numbers support this. During his eight year peak he averaged 7.9 wins a year. Among batters who have played at least 50% of their games at third, Schmidt ranks 1st in OPS+ (147), wRC+ (147), and career WAR on both FanGraphs (110.6) and Baseball-Reference (103.0). Schmidt finished with 548 home runs, most by a third baseman, his 1595 RBI rank third trailing only Chipper Jones and George Brett. Schmidt led the National League in home runs eight times, OPS five times, and WAR (Baseball-Reference) four times. Schmidt was also an excellent defender, according to the defensive metrics at FanGraphs, Schmidt is the 9th best defensive third baseman ever to play.
3. Eddie Mathews 96.6 AVG/57.7 PK/154.3 C-WAR
Eddie Mathews averaged 7.2 wins a year during his peak. Among batters who have played at least 50% of their games at third, Mathews ranks 2nd in OPS+ (143), 3rd in wRC+ (143), and 2nd in career WAR on both FanGraphs (107.2) and Baseball-Reference (91.9). Mathews finished his career with 512 home runs, one of only 25 players in MLB history to reach the 500 home run mark.
4. Wade Boggs 87.8 AVG/61.6 PK/149.4 C-WAR
Wade Boggs averaged 7.7 wins a year during his eight year peak, and was a five time A.L. batting champion. Boggs led the American league in on-base percentage six times, and WAR three times. Among batters who have played at least 50% of their games at third Boggs’ .328 career batting average ranks 2nd, and his .415 on-base percentage ranks 3rd. Boggs didn’t make his major league debut until he was 24 years old, that ties him with Kirby Puckett as having the oldest debut age for a Hall of Famer who started their career after 1950. Boggs is one of just 28 players in MLB history to reach 3,000 hits or more, finishing with 3,010.
5. George Brett 89.5 AVG/56.8 PK/146.3 C-WAR
George Brett averaged 7.1 wins a year during his peak, and is a three time A.L. batting champion. In 1980 Brett led the majors in batting average (.390), on-base percentage (.454), slugging percentage (.664), OPS (1.118), OPS+ (203), and had a WAR of 9.3. Among batters who have played at least 50% of their games at third Brett ranks 1st in hits, doubles, and is 2nd in both runs, and RBI. Like Boggs, Brett is a member of the 3,000 hit club, finishing his career with 3,154.
6. Chipper Jones 83.0 AVG/50.5 PK/ 133.5- C-WAR
Chipper Jones averaged 6.3 wins a year during his peak. Among batters who have played at least 50% of their games at third base, Chipper ranks 1st in runs (1619), RBI (1623), slugging percentage (.529), and OPS at .930. He is also in the top five in OPS+, on-base percentage, home runs, doubles, wRC+, and wOBA. Jones has announced that 2012 will be his last season, five years from now he will enter the Hall of Fame on his first ballot, deservedly so.
7. Ron Santo 70.9 AVG/56.9 PK/127.8 C-WAR
Prior to his enshrinement Santo had a legitimate claim as the best player not in the Hall of Fame. During his peak he averaged 7.1 wins a year. From 1960-1969 Santo ranks 5th in WAR (Baseball-Reference) behind only fellow Hall of Famers, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, and Frank Robinson. Santo led the N.L. in walks four times, and on-base percentage twice. Among batters who have played at least 50% of their games at third base, Santo ranks in the top 10 in home runs (342), walks (1108), and RBI (1331). In 1967 Santo produced the 2nd highest WAR (Baseball-Reference) a third baseman has ever posted at 9.6. Santo retired from baseball at age 34, the youngest retirement age for a Hall of Fame position player who started their career after 1950.
8. Brooks Robinson 79.9 AVG/47.7 PK/127.6 C-WAR
Brooks Robinson averaged 5.9 wins a year during his eight year peak, and is widely considered one of the best defensive players in the history of baseball. Robinson saved 294 runs over his career, fist all-time according to the defensive metrics at FanGraphs. His defensive WAR of 38.8 ranks third all-time, behind only Ozzie Smith (43.4), and his former teammate Mark Belanger(39.3). From 1960-1969 Robinson is tied for 6th in WAR (Baseball-Reference) behind only fellow Hall of Famers, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Frank Robinson, and Ron Santo.
9. Paul Molitor 75.7AVG/41.9 PK/117.6 C-WAR
Paul Molitor averaged 5.2 wins a year during his peak, a number below the Hall of Fame average of 5.7. Molitor played significant time at 1st, 2nd, and DH, playing more games as a DH than anywhere else. Over a twenty year stretch from 1980-1999 Molitor ranks 10th in WAR on Baseball-Reference, and 7th on FanGraphs. Molitor is a member of the 3,000 hit club finishing his career with 3,319.
10. Scott Rolen 69.8 AVG/45.7 PK/115.5 C-WAR
Scott Rolen averaged 5.7 wins a year during his peak, and is the third best defensive third baseman of all-time using the defensive metrics at FanGraphs. He is one of only 49 players in history to have a defensive WAR of 20.0 or higher. From 1997-2006 he was worth 51.2 wins (Baseball-Reference) 4th in the majors during that stretch trailing only Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, and Andruw Jones. Rolen has no black ink on his resume which doesn’t help is Hall of Fame cause, neither does the significant amount of time he spent on the disabled list. Rolen was an elite defensive player, and a very solid offensive performer for over a decade. Statically he meets Hall of Fame standards, which is really hard to do. I would vote him into the Hall, but I don’t think he will actually get enshrined, at least not by the BBWAA.
12. Graig Nettles 67.0 AVG/44.4 PK/111.4 C-WAR
Graig Nettles averaged 5.5 wins a year during his eight year peak, a number slightly below the Hall of Fame average of 5.7. Among batters who played at least 50% of their games at third, Nettles ranks 5th in home runs (390), 10th in RBI (1314), and 13th in runs with 1193. However Nettles fails to crack the top 50 in wOBA, or wRC+, and his OPS+ of 11o ranks 49th. Nettles was an excellent defender, FanGraphs ranks him 7th all-time at third, and like Rolen he is also one of only 49 players in history to have a defensive WAR of 20.0 or higher. WAR perhaps shows that Nettles was more valuable than he was given credit for during his playing time, however despite his impressive C-WAR score, I would not advocate for his enshrinement into the Hall of Fame. Third base is the most difficult position to gain enshrinement from, if Nettles is the best third baseman not in, third base is in very good shape.
Skipping around a bit:
Frank “Home Run” Baker averaged 6.1 wins a year during his peak. From 1909-1914 Baker ranks 4th in WAR (Baseball-Reference) behind only fellow Hall of Famers, Eddie Collins, Ty Cobb, and Tris Speaker. Baker’s 96 career home runs ranks 96th all-time among batters who have played at least 50% of their games at third.
Buddy Bell was an elite defensive player. FanGraphs ranks him as the 2nd best third baseman of all-time behind only Brooks Robinson. His defensive WAR of 23 ranks 25th in major league history. During his peak he averaged 5.3 wins a year.
Adrian Beltre seems to be chronically underrated. He is still compiling and likely has at least a few peak years still ahead of him. FanGraphs ranks Beltre 3rd all-time defensively at third. His defensive WAR (dWAR) of 22.1 is already higher than Rolen’s, and Nettles’. When his career is over he will likely end up with a defensive WAR near 30, placing him among the top 10 defensive players in major league history. Beltre also produced one of the best offensive seasons ever by a third baseman. In 2004 he hit .334/.388/.629 with a 1.017 OPS. He hit 48 home runs that year, had 376 total bases, and posted a WAR (Baseball-Reference) of 9.3. Beltre has a reasonable chance to finish his career with 400 home runs, and 3,000 hits, no third baseman in MLB history has done that. Perhaps then, his value will be appreciated.
John McGraw is enshrined in the Hall as a manger, but several numbers suggest he was deserving as a player as well. Among batters who played at least 50% of their games at third McGraw ranks 1st in wOBA (.433), 3rd in wRC+ (141), 1st in batting average (.334), and 1st in on-base percentage at .466. McGraw retired as a player at age 33 with only 4,940 plate appearances.
In 1953 Al Rosen posted the highest single season WAR (Baseball-Reference) a third baseman ever produced at 9.8.
Freddie Lindstrom’s C-WAR of 56.4 is the 7th lowest for a Hall of Fame batter. During his peak he averaged 3.2 wins a year.
Third base was the most fun to look at while doing this research. The top isn’t over crowded with segregation era players who played against inferior competition, and only three players enshrined fall well below standards. One of those players, Pie Traynor, was considered the best to ever play the position after his retirement. Even with the lofty standards several active players have a reasonable chance of enshrinement. Alex Rodriguez and Chipper Jones have already had Hall of Fame careers, Rolen meets standards, and Beltre, Wright, and Cabrera are all playing at a Hall of Fame pace. There are no players who have played primarily at third that have fallen off the ballot whose inclusion in the Hall I would support. Third base is as close to a perfect representation of a position that the Hall of Fame offers.
Since Baseball Prospectus does not publish WAR data for players before 1950, this does create a bit of unfair advantage for those players. This is because of the three sites, Baseball Prospectus tends to have the lowest WAR values for a player (especially with pitchers), so it puts modern players (1950-present) at an unfair disadvantage. So to adjust for this, below is the third basemen chart excluding Baseball Prospectus’ WAR altogether.
This list produced only modest changes but Adrian Beltre did see a significant bump up with his C-WAR score and moved up one place as well.
Since I calculated peak using only rWAR, below is the chart using just Baseball Reference’s WAR. Another words this is a player’s career WAR plus his eight year peak using on Baseball-Reference. FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus are not factored in to the chart below at all.
Again, only modest changes from list-to-list here, but all three are valuable to look at.
One other note, because C-WAR focuses only on WAR, it makes it impossible for me to include Negro League players who have been elected to the Hall of Fame. Nothing distorted stats like the exclusion of black players for over fifty years. While I can’t include them in C-WAR, I do want to mention Ray Dandridge, Judy Johnson, and Jud Wilson. All three were elected to the Hall of Fame as third basemen. Who knows how great they could have been, or how different the record book would look if they were simply allowed to have played in the majors.
Many thanks to the incredibly smart people who work at Baseball-Reference, FanGraphs, and Baseball Prospectus. Without their tireless efforts to improve and maintain their sites and information none of this research would be possible.
Any questions or comments about the Hall, or a player listed or not listed above, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on Twitter @Rosscarey
Originally posted 7/21/12