Ranking the 9 greatest third basemen in MLB history
Even though perhaps the most memorable stint of his illustrious career came as the third baseman for the New York Yankees, Alex Rodriguez actually spent 702 more innings at shortstop than third base in his 22 major league seasons.
That's why, much to the chagrin of some, he was made eligible for our countdown of the nine greatest shortstops in MLB history. It's also why we opted not to consider him on this countdown.
Here is Audacy Sports' countdown of the nine greatest third basemen in MLB history:
9. Scott Rolen - Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, Toronto Blue Jays & Cincinnati Reds (1996-2012)
Best Season: 2004 - .314/.409/.598 with 34 home runs, 124 RBIs, 72 walks, 1.007 OPS, 6.2 offensive WAR, 3.3 defensive WAR and a 9.0 fWAR
Career Summary: .281/.364/.490 with 316 home runs, 1,287 RBIs, 2,077 hits, 899 walks, .855 OPS, 122 OPS+, 52.7 offensive WAR, 21.2 defensive WAR and 69.9 fWAR
With Paul Molitor and Edgar Martinez having spent the largest chunk of their careers as designated hitters, Rolen snuck onto this list. It's a reminder that one of the most complete players to play in the sport over the last 25 years had his peak overshadowed because much of it came during the Steroid Era. One of the greatest defenders to ever man the hot corner, Rolen won eight Gold Glove Awards during his career. He was a hell of an offensive player at his peak as well, which propelled him to seven All-Star teams. Though health may have kept him from accumulating as many counting statistics as he otherwise would have, Rolen is deserving of induction into Cooperstown.
8. Ron Santo - Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox (1960-1974)
Best Season: 1964 - .313/.398/.564 with 30 home runs, 114 RBIs, 86 walks, .962 OPS, 8.5 offensive WAR, 0.8 defensive WAR and 8.7 fWAR
Career Summary: .277/.362/.464 with 342 home runs, 1,331 RBIs, 2,254 hits, 1,108 walks, .826 OPS, 125 OPS+, 66.5 offensive WAR, 8.7 defensive WAR and 70.9 fWAR
Santo had one of the greatest peaks that a third baseman has ever had, as his WAR7 - a metric that measures your seven peak years - is fourth in baseball history among players at the position. The Chicago icon packed a ton into 15 seasons, as he made nine All-Star teams and won five Gold Glove Awards. He also led the league in walks and on-base percentage multiple times in his career.
7. George Brett - Kansas City Royals (1973-1993)
Best Season: 1980 - .390/.454/.664 with 24 home runs, 118 RBIs, 58 walks, 1.118 OPS, 8.5 offensive WAR, 1.3 defensive WAR and 9.1 fWAR
Career Summary: .305/.369/.487 with 317 home runs, 1,596 RBIs, 3,154 hits, 1,096 walks, .857 OPS, 135 OPS+, 84.8 offensive WAR, 2.2 defensive WAR and 84.6 fWAR
Since Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941, Brett has come the closest to hitting .400 over the course of a full season, as he hit .390 in the 1980 season, a campaign that ended with the Royals winning the American League pennant. Over the course of a 21-year career spent exclusively with the Royals, Brett led baseball in batting average, hits, doubles, triples, slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+ and sacrifice flies multiple times.
6. Chipper Jones - Atlanta Braves (1993-2012)
Best Season: 1999- .319/.441/.633 with 45 home runs, 110 RBIs, 126 walks, 1.074 OPS, 8.0 offensive WAR, -0.8 defensive WAR and 7.3 fWAR
Career Summary: .303/.401/.529 with 468 home runs, 1,623 RBIs, 2,726 hits, 1,512 walks, .930 OPS, 141 OPS+, 88.3 offensive WAR, -0.9 defensive WAR and 84.6 fWAR
One of the most accomplished switch hitters in MLB history, Jones has the third highest offensive WAR of all third basemen ever. To comfortably win the National League MVP in 1999, a season where Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa each hit over 60 home runs, gives you an idea of how complete of an offensive player Jones was at his peak. He did have a few seasons where he played left field and his defensive marks at third base were never above average, but it's impossible to overlook how great of a hitter he was.
5. Brooks Robinson - Baltimore Orioles (1955-1977)
Best Season: 1964 - .317/.368/.521 with 28 home runs, 118 RBIs, 51 walks, .889 OPS, 6.4 offensive WAR, 2.2 defensive WAR and 8.1 fWAR
Career Summary: .267/.322/.401 with 268 home runs, 1,357 RBIs, 2,848 hits, 860 walks, .723 OPS, 105 OPS+, 47.7 offensive WAR, 39.1 defensive WAR and 80.2 fWAR
Arguably the greatest defensive third baseman in MLB history, Robinson won 17 Gold Glove Awards and has the highest defensive WAR among all third baseman to ever play in the league. Though he may not have offensive numbers quite as gaudy as some of the other players on this list, Robinson did lead baseball in RBIs in 1964, which when paired with his elite defense, allowed him to win the American League MVP that season.
4. Wade Boggs - Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees & Tampa Bay Devil Rays (1982-1999)
Best Season: 1985 - .368/.450/.478 with eight home runs, 78 RBIs, 96 walks, .928 OPS, 8.3 offensive WAR, 1.2 defensive WAR and an 8.8 fWAR
Career Summary: .328/.415/.443 with 118 home runs, 1,014 RBIs, 3,010 hits, 1,412 walks, .858 OPS, 131 OPS+, 81.4 offensive WAR, 13.9 defensive WAR and 88.3 fWAR
Tales of his drinking ability perhaps overshadow just how great of a pure hitter Boggs was. Though he was never a power hitter, Boggs is still fifth among all third basemen in career offensive WAR and fourth in career hits. Additionally, his .328 career batting average is the highest of any player on the list. What's more, Boggs was an excellent defender, probably one worthy of more than the two Gold Glove Awards that he won during his 18-year career.
3. Adrian Beltre - Los Angeles Dodgers, Seattle Mariners, Boston Red Sox & Texas Rangers (1998-2018)
Best Season: 2004 - .334/.388/.629 with 48 home runs, 121 RBIs, 53 walks, 1.017 OPS, 7.4 offensive WAR, 2.5 defensive WAR and 9.7 fWAR
Career Summary: .286/.339/.480 with 477 home runs, 1,707 RBIs, 3,166 hits, 848 walks, .819 OPS, 116 OPS+, 71.6 offensive WAR, 27.2 defensive WAR and 93.6 bWAR
Beltre's place in history probably isn't properly appreciated because he only played one season of his career in the Eastern time zone. However, since the start of the 2000 season, FanGraphs says that Beltre has been the third most valuable player in baseball in terms of fWAR, trailing only Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols. He has over 3,000 hits, 450 home runs and won two Platinum Glove Awards at third base, despite the award not even being introduced until his age-32 season. Beltre, who retired after the 2018 season, will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
2. Eddie Mathews - Boston/Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves, Houston Astros & Detroit Tigers (1952-1968)
Best Season: .306/.390/.593 with 46 home runs, 114 RBIs, 80 walks, .983 OPS, 8.4 offensive WAR, 0.1 defensive WAR and 8.2 bWAR
Career Summary: .271/.376/.509 with 512 home runs, 1,453 RBIs, 2,315 hits, 1,444 walks, .885 OPS, 143 OPS+, 93.7 offensive WAR, 5.6 defensive WAR and 96.2 bWAR
One of the most consistently great superstars in MLB history, Mathews homered 30 or more times in 10 different seasons, en route to hitting 512 career round-trippers. Between 1952-1968, FanGraphs says that the only players in baseball that were more valuable than Mathews in terms of fWAR were Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Hank Aaron, three of the 10 greatest position players in MLB history. Perhaps because the Braves played in three different locations during his peak, Mathews seems to be overlooked in some historical discussions.
1. Mike Schmidt - Philadelphia Phillies (1972-1989)
Best Season: 1980 - .286/.380/.624 with 48 home runs, 121 RBIs, 89 walks, a 1.004 OPS, 7.6 offensive WAR, 1.6 defensive WAR and 8.9 bWAR
Career Summary: .267/.380/.527 with 548 home runs, 1,595 RBIs, 2,234 hits, 1,507 walks, a .908 OPS, a 148 OPS+, 91.8 offensive WAR, 18.4 defensive WAR and 106.9 bWAR
There's pretty much nothing Schmidt didn't do in his Major League career. The three-time National League MVP is one of the most accomplished offensive players in the history of the sport, having led the league in home runs, RBIs, walks, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+ and total bases at least three times in his career. For good measure, he won 10 Gold Glove Awards as well. If Alex Rodriguez was eligible for this list, him and Schmidt would have been an interesting matchup. Without Rodriguez in the mix, Schmidt was the clear-cut No. 1.