Home Featured Best MLB Players of the 2010s: Third Base

Best MLB Players of the 2010s: Third Base

by Chris Brown

With the 2010s in the rearview mirror, 110 Sports is taking a look back at the best players of the last decade at each position. There’s no one perfect way to evaluate baseball players. For these rankings, we weigh statistics such as OPS (on-base + slugging percentage) and WAR (wins above replacement), which, while imperfect, are good at assessing hitting contributions and overall value, along with various other factors like the player’s best years in the decade, length of high-level production, speed, defense, reputation, playoff experience and awards. 

A general note about eligibility for this exercise: Players are being considered for the top 10 only at the position they played most in the decade. If a player made a significant contribution at another position in the 2010s, they may receive an honorable mention there as well. Let’s get to it.

First base typically gets the credit for being home to the best hitters in the infield, but at least in the 2010s, third base isn’t far behind. From players who made their big league debut in 1998 to those who first saw major league action in 2015, this list of the top players to man the hot corner this past decade includes a wide variety of profiles and skillsets. Some haven’t been great players in a few years. Some are at the top of their game right now. We’ll start with a few honorable mentions.

Honorable Mentions

José Ramírez | CLE 2013-19

After a few seasons in the majors with less than full playing time — and less than stellar production — Ramirez’s first impressive season came in 2016, when he hit .312/.363/.462 with 46 doubles, 11 homers, 84 runs, 76 RBI, and 22 steals. His true breakout came the next two seasons, though, when Ramirez hit 29 and 39 homers and 56 and 38 doubles, respectively, while averaging 26 steals and hitting a collective .294/.380/.567. In both 2017 and 2018, Ramirez was named an AL All-Star, won a Silver Slugger, and finished third in MVP voting. His 2019 season got off to a horrid start, and although Ramirez still ended up with 23 homers and 24 steals, it was with a .255 batting average. The track record of elite production is still limited, but Ramirez was a true five category contributor in his best years of the decade.

Alex Bregman | NYY 2016-19

Bregman has emerged as one of the best hitters in baseball in the last few years, averaging 114 runs, 36 homers, 108 RBI, and eight steals in 2018 and 2019 while hitting an impressive .291/.409/.970. Bregman was an All-Star in both of the last two seasons and finished top five in AL MVP voting both years. Like Ramirez, though, Bregman’s stretch of really high level production in the decade spans only a couple years. At just 26 years old, Bregman is well positioned to be high on this list for the 2020s.

Ryan Zimmerman | WSH 2010-19

The face of the Washington Nationals since his debut in 2005, Zimmerman battled injuries throughout the decade, particularly in the last few years, but his production was as solid as it comes at his best. Excluding an injury-shortened 2011, Zimmerman averaged 25 homers and 86 RBI per season from 2010-13, finishing top 25 in MVP voting twice and winning a Silver Slugger. Mr. National only topped 20 homers once more in his career, hitting a career-best 36 in 2017 while racking up 108 RBI. Among those who played at least 400 games at third base in the 2010s, Zimmerman is ninth in home runs and fifth in RBI. Shoulder problems and Anthony Rendon’s emergence pushed Zimmerman away from third base, though, and he hasn’t manned the hot corner since 2014.

Kyle Seager | SEA 2011-19

You could describe Seager as the Elvis Andrus of third basemen: incredibly durable, played most of the decade, few major awards, with very consistently solid, but rarely elite, production. The Mariners third baseman is the accumulator of the position. Among players with at least 400 games at third in the decade, Seager is second in games played, fourth in hits, fourth in doubles, seventh in homers, and fourth in RBI. He only made one All-Star Game in the decade and never finished top 10 in MVP voting, but Seager hit between 20 and 30 homers in eight straight seasons from 2012-19, with his best showing coming in 2016 when he slashing .278/.359/.499 with 30 long balls and 99 RBI.

Top 10

10. David Wright | NYM 2010-16, 2018

Wright entered the decade as one of the top players in baseball, and his 2010 season featured 29 homers, 103 RBI, 19 steals and a .283/.354/.503 batting line. But things quickly went south from there. The Mets captain only surpassed 20 homers once more in his career, in part because of a dropoff in production but more because of a variety of injuries, including spinal stenosis. Wright did make the All-Star game two more times in addition to the 2010 season, but didn’t play more than 100 games in a season after 2014. He does rank third in steals (77) and seventh in OBP (.362) among players with 400 games played at third in the decade.

9. Matt Carpenter | STL 2011-19

Although he’s spent more time in the hot corner than anywhere else, Carpenter played 200+ games at three different positions in the 2010s, and also exhibited a variety of hitting profiles in the decade. In his first season with regular playing time, Carpenter led the majors in runs (126), hits (199) and doubles (55) in 2013, finishing fourth in MVP voting while winning a Silver Slugger and playing in his first All-Star game. While he had just 11 home runs in 2013 and eight in 2014, Carpenter upped his power output in the years that followed. In four seasons from 2015-18, the Cardinal averaged 96 runs, 27 home runs, and 76 RBI per season while hitting .260 with a strong .376 OBP. He also finished in the top 15 in MVP voting twice in that span.

Carpenter’s .226/.334/.392 season — with just 15 homers — in 2019 pulled his decade numbers down a bit, but the bigger reason he doesn’t rank particularly high in many major stats for the decade at third is because his hitting profile changed so much. He was a pretty great player for about six years of the decade, but in different ways. Some years he was a strong power hitter with a lower average and fewer runs. Other years he scored a ton of runs and hit for a plus average with little power. Regardless, Carpenter was an underrated offensive contributor for the majority of the decade, and his OBP of .372 in the 2010s trails only Kris Bryant and Alex Bregman at the position.

8. Justin Turner | BAL 2010, NYM 2010-13, LAD 2014-19

A late bloomer, Turner’s first great season didn’t come until 2014, when after a few years in a more limited role, the 29-year-old broke out with a .340/.404/.493 batting line with seven homers and 43 RBI in 288 at-bats with the Dodgers. In the five years that followed in the decade, Turner found his power stroke and regular playing time, averaging 21 home runs per season with a .297/.378/.508 batting line while dealing with smaller injuries nearly every season. Turner was an All-Star in 2017 and finished top 15 in MVP voting three times in the stretch.

He’s never been one of the top two or three third basemen in the game, but since his breakout midway through the decade Turner has been a strong option at the hot corner for the Dodgers. Unlike those above him on this list, Turner doesn’t have either an extensive track record of high production or a really high ceiling in the decade. That being said, he’s clearly been one of the better and more reliable bats at the position in recent years.

7. Anthony Rendon | WSH 2013-19

While he hasn’t boasted a great power bat until recently, Rendon has been one of the top players in baseball for a decent stretch now. In his second season in the majors, the Nationals infielder led the NL with 111 runs while hitting .287/.351/.473 with 39 doubles, 21 homers, 83 RBI and 17 steals, finishing fifth in MVP voting and winning a Silver Slugger. After injuries limited him to 80 games in 2015, Rendon has averaged 26 homers, 94 runs, 101 RBI, and seven stolen bases over the last four seasons while hitting .299/.384/.528. He finished top 12 in MVP voting each of the last three seasons, including third in 2019 after leading the NL in doubles (44) for the second straight season along with a career-high 34 long balls and MLB-best 126 RBI to go with a .319/.412/.598 triple slash line.

Rendon ranks ahead of Turner, Carpenter, Wright and the honorable mentions because his resume for the 2010s includes the best combination of high ceiling and sustained success thus far. With shorter seasons in 2013 and 2015 and no major league action the first few years of the decade, Rendon’s cumulative stats don’t compare to the players ahead of him, but he was fourth in batting average (.290) in the decade and sixth in OPS (.859) among players with at least 400 games in the hot corner in the 2010s.

6. Kris Bryant | CHC 2015-19

Bryant is one of just two players on this list to win an MVP award. In 2016, Bryant was named an NL All-Star in his first season in the majors, hitting 26 homers with 87 runs scored, 99 RBI, and 13 stolen bases while slashing .275/.369/.488. He won NL Rookie of the Year that season while finishing 11th in MVP voting. The next year, Bryant won the award, mashing 39 home runs, scoring a league-leading 121 runs, and driving in 102 runs while batting .292. His power in the three final years of the decade was more 30-homer power than 40-homer power, but Bryant finished seventh in MVP voting in 2017 and was named an All-Star again in 2019. 

Bryant’s first two major league seasons made people believe we could be watching the rise of a generational talent. While that doesn’t appear to be the case, Bryant’s strong production over the second half of the decade — and contributions to the Cubs’ 2016 championship — should not be underappreciated.

5. Manny Machado | BAL 2012-18, LAD 2018, SD 2019

It’s hard to believe Machado is just 27 years old — the youngest of any player in the top 10 — given the fact that he’s set to play in his ninth major league season in 2020. After getting his first cup of coffee in the majors at age 19 in 2012, Machado led the AL in at-bats (667) and doubles (51) in 2013, hitting 14 homers, scoring 88 runs, and driving in 71 runs with a .283 batting average. Machado won his first of two Gold Gloves in the decade, finished ninth in MVP voting and was named to his first of four All-Star games in the 2010s. 

After injuries limited him to 82 games in 2014, Machado averaged 159 games played, 35 doubles, 36 homers, 93 runs, 36 home runs, 96 RBI, and 11 stolen bases over the next four seasons while hitting .284/.345/.511 and being named to three more All-Star teams. Machado’s production dipped slightly in 2019 with the Padres in the first year of a 10-year, $300 million contract, but he still managed to smack 30+ homers for a fifth straight season.

It’s hard to find many knocks against Machado. He only played 100+ games once in the first half of the decade, but he’s been generally highly productive in every full season he’s played in the majors. He’s also been an elite defender, with a Baseball Reference defensive WAR value (11.7) ninth among all MLB players in the decade and second at third behind only our number two pick. If this was shortstop (where Machado has played for 236 games in his major league career) instead of third base, Machado would almost certainly be a top two or three pick. But the hot corner has been home to some of the best hitters and defenders in baseball over the last decade, meaning Machado settles in here in a strong fifth place.

4. Evan Longoria | TB 2010-17, SF 2018-19

Longoria was the iron man of the hot corner in the 2010s, leading all third basemen in games played in the decade with 1,410, nearly a full season’s worth of contests ahead of Kyle Seager in second (with 1,261). The longtime face of the Rays franchise somehow only made the All-Star game once in the decade despite finishing top 10 in MVP voting three times. In an eight-year stretch to begin the decade, Longoria averaged 145 games played, 25 home runs, 33 doubles, 87 RBI and a .268/.337/.472 batting line.

With Longoria’s durability and consistent strong production comes strong rankings in cumulative stats among third basemen in the 2010s. Among players with at least 400 games at the hot corner in the decade, Longoria ranks second in WAR and hits and first in runs, doubles, home runs, and RBI. That in and of itself is grounds for a high ranking. He’s also a three-time Gold Glove award winner, with two of those coming in the 2010s.

What Longoria lacks in relation to the three players ahead of him is as high of a ceiling in the decade. Longoria’s peak seasons weren’t quite as great as others, particularly in terms of power and average. And, as mentioned, his list of awards isn’t quite as long as others who played fewer years in the decade. Longoria also trails each of the next four players in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage.

3. Josh Donaldson | OAK 2010, 2012-14, TOR 2015-18, CLE 2018, ATL 2019

There were few third basemen in the 2010s better than Donaldson at his peak. His first great season was his first full season, when in 2013 Donaldson finished fourth in AL MVP voting following a 24-homer, 89-run, 93 RBI season with a .301/.384/.499 batting line. With the Athletics and then the Blue Jays, Donaldson finished top 10 in MVP balloting in each of the next three seasons, including in 2015 when he won the award. That year, Donaldson hit a remarkable .297/.371/.568 in 158 games with a league-leading 122 runs and 123 RBI along with 41 doubles and 41 home runs. 

Despite slightly lower home run outputs, Donaldson managed even better OPS marks the next two seasons, and after an injury-shortened 2018, he smacked 37 long balls and tallied 96 runs and 94 RBI this past season on a one-year deal with the Braves. The “Bringer of Rain” ranks fourth in home runs among third basemen in the 2010s, sixth in RBI, second in walks, and fifth in on-base percentage and slugging percentage. 

The knocks against Donaldson are few. While he played in 155-158 games for four straight seasons from 2013-16, a slower start to the decade combined with injuries in recent years means he doesn’t place at the top of any major stat categories. But he does rank third in WAR among third basemen for the 2010s behind only Longoria and our No. 1 player.

2. Nolan Arenado | COL 2013-19

Arenado didn’t make his major league debut until 2013 and didn’t have his first great season until 2015. But what he’s done since is nothing short of spectacular. Since the beginning of that 2015 season, Arenado is third, not at third base, but in baseball, in WAR (behind only Mike Trout and Mookie Betts), fourth in hits, fourth in doubles, second in home runs, and first in RBI. 

Since 2015, the Rockie has hit between 37 and 42 home runs each season, pacing the NL three times. He’s driven in between 110 and 133 runs each season, leading the NL twice. He’s played in 155+ games every season, hit at least 31 doubles every season, and hit .287 or better each year in that timespan. Arenado’s average season over the second half of the decade: .300/.362/.575 with 157 games played, 38 doubles, 40 homers, 104 runs, and 124 RBI. Arenado has been an All-Star five straight seasons, finished top 10 in MVP voting five straight seasons, and won four Silver Sluggers in the past five years. 

Oh yeah, and Arenado’s been the best defensive third baseman in baseball since his debut. Arenado is the only infielder in MLB history to win the Rawlings Gold Glove Award in each of his first seven major league seasons. The only real critique of Arenado’s candidacy for third baseman of the 2010s is that he was only a great offensive contributor for the final half of the decade, but what he’s done in the past five years is so sensational that he easily passes several older players on this list. Except one.

1. Adrián Beltré | BOS 2010, TEX 2011-18

How can a player who made his MLB debut in 1998 be the third baseman of the 2010s? Just ask Beltre, who first played in the big leagues when Arenado was just seven years old. Beltre’s best season was in 2004, when he led the majors with 48 home runs while racking up 121 RBI and hitting .334/.388/.629, but his most extended stretch of high level production came in his 30s in the 2010s. Beltre entered the decade having somehow never been named an All-Star, and with one Silver Slugger and one top 15 MVP finish. By the time he retired following the 2018 season, Beltre had been named an All-Star four times, won three more Gold Gloves to bring his career total to five, added three Silver Sluggers and finished top 15 in MVP voting in seven years in a row.

Think about that last stat for a minute. Beltre finished top 15 in MVP balloting for seven consecutive seasons. Five of those were top 10 finishes. Beltre hit between 28 and 32 home runs in five of the first seven years of the 2010s. From 2010-16, the Red Sox and Texas Ranger hit .310/.359/.521 while averaging 35 doubles, 28 homers, 86 runs, 28 home runs, and 95 RBI per season. Beltre’s .915 OPS at age 38 in 2017 was his best since 2012, as he smashed 17 home runs and hit 22 doubles in just 94 contests. Even in his final season, Beltre hit .273 with a 20-homer pace. 

Among players who played more at the hot corner than any other position in their major league careers, Beltre leads all third basemen in MLB history in hits, RBI and runs scored. He was truly an all-time great. His ceiling was not as high as others on this list, particularly in the 2010s, but Beltre’s greatness was consistent throughout the decade deep into his 30s. He had clearly the best combination of high-level performance and longevity among third basemen in the decade. 

Photos by Mike LaChance / Flickr (Beltre), jenniferlinneaphotography / Flickr (Arenado), Ian D’Andrea / Flickr (Donaldson), Ferguson / Flickr (Longoria)

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