The Tri-Fecta: Comparing the Three Best Third Basemen of All-Time

They say good thing happens in threes, but also bad things, so ya know… i’m not exactly buying a whole lot of validity to that, except in this case.  The position we affectionately call “the hot corner” has had its share of hero’s (I have talked about them in my “position review” series), but when you narrow it down, there are three that truly rise above the rest:

Chipper Jones, Mike Schmidt, and the recently retired Adrian Beltre.

So the question is, naturally…… who’s the best?

Take into account their “black ink” (Hall of Fame credentials based on primary statistics), the context of the era’s they played in, and a deeper look at the analytics, the answer quite obviously is….

ALL OF THEM

Kind of a cop out eh?  Sorry about that, but I literally couldn’t decide.  Each one did something so distinctly different and extraordinary, that there is just simply no way to define one as the best while dismissing the other.  Here’s how they sort out:

 

Chipper Jones:  The Student of the Game

Philadelphia Phillies v Atlanta Braves

Notable Career Stats:

  • “Triple Slash” = .303/.401/.529 (.930 OPS highest ever)
  • 468 Home Runs
  • 1512 Walks to 1409 Strikeouts
  • Arguably greatest switch-hitter of all time

Why He’s the Best:

  • Best hitting approach, hit from both sides

Why He’s Not:

  • Injuries, suspect defensively.

There are few more “complete” hitters in the game of baseball than Larry “Chipper” Jones.  During an era when power was everything, he took a slightly different approach to hitting.  Get on base, at any cost.  He was ahead of his time in that way, becoming the only hall of fame third basemen with more walks than strikeouts, and the all-time leader in OPS at the position (On Base Percentage + Slugging Percentage).  Injuries did play an unfortunately significant role in his career, losing all of 1994, and never managing more than 143 games played in the last 8 years of his career, but even factoring that in, his approach to hitting, and incredible discipline at the plate from both sides puts him in irrefutably epic company.

Mike Schmidt:  The Classic “Power” Hitter

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Notable Career Stats:

  • 548 Home Runs (Most All Time among 3B)
  • 10 Gold Gloves (2nd only to Brooks Robinson)
  • 3 MVP’s (Most ever for 3rd Baseman)

Why He’s the Best:

  • The Power, good glove.

Why He’s Not:

  • Strikeouts.  Lots of them.  More accurate defensive metrics may tell a less flattering story about his defense.

Mike Schmidt was one of the greatest, most underrated players in the modern era.  He led the league in home runs 8 times, more than Reggie Jackson and Hank Aaron did combined.  He won 10 Gold Glove awards (at 3rd base), second only to Brooks Robinson.  He was awarded the MVP award three times in his career, more than Willie Stargel and Pete Rose could get between the both of them, and took home the World Series MVP in 1980 to boot.  Schmitty was no doubt the gold standard at the hot corner for many decades, despite his proneness to the strikeout (he led the league 4 times) and although more modern metrics aren’t as kind to his defense as the Gold Glove award voters may have been, he still presents a decent overall performance.  Schmidt has cemented his legacy as one of the best third basemen ever, although some would argue he could enter one of the best players ever, regardless of position.

Adrian Beltre:  “Mr. Almost Everything”838fa07dbc134df8800a845b7a74a1e4-838fa07dbc134df8800a845b7a74a1e4-0

Notable Career Stats:

  • 477 Home Runs (Third all time among 3B)
  • 636 Doubles (Second all time among 3B)
  • 166 TZR Defensive rating third all time at Third Base (better than Schmidt or Jones)

Why He’s the Best:

  • Power, defensive ability

Why He’s Not:

  • Not the dominant power of Schmidt, not nearly the plate discipline of Jones.

Adrian Beltre just wrapped up one of the easier “first ballot” Hall of Fame careers in recent memory.  He leaves the game holding the lead, or at least top 5, in several offensive and defensive categories among active players, the unanimous respect of his peers and not to mention the adoration of the baseball public.  He travelled through both leagues, playing for four teams over his career (Dodgers, Mariners, Red Sox and Rangers), leading the league in home runs once, and racking up 5 Gold Gloves in the process.  He will be remembered as one of the best, and when compared among his predecessors, maybe the most “complete” overall player among them.  He has more home runs than George Brett, more Gold Gloves than Chipper Jones, and the analytics are kinder to him than Mike Schmidt.  History can be cruel though, and when he draws the comparisons to his predecessors, one can point out his below-average approach at the plate, or the fact that he could never control the league enough to take home an MVP award.  All that being said though, Adrian Beltre is truly in a class of his own, because for every flaw one can find against his peers, behind it is a reason he’s better than them.

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