clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

A Sabermetrical Approach to the Question of Baseball’s Best Third Baseman

As the 2010 season is still in its infancy, I would like to revisit an aspect of the 2009 season that raised a few questions. As of 2008 the question of baseball's best third baseman revolved around the horrendously overrated David Wright, the steroid-using Alex Rodriguez, and the not-related-to-Eva Evan Longoria. However last year a new player elbowed his way into the conversation. Ryan Zimmerman, the Face of the Franchise TM, replaced David Wright in the debate.  This post will decisively conclude through sabermetrical analysis (and logic) who exactly the best third baseman in baseball was.

More after the JUMP...

We will start by looking at a simple overview of three players: A, B, and C.

PLAYER A (2009)
BA: .292
OBP: .364
SLG: .525
OPS: .888
ISO: .233
wOBA: .377
HR: 33
R: 110
RBI: 106
UZR: 20.1


PLAYER B (2009)
BA: .281
OBP: .364
SLG: .526
OPS: .889
ISO: .245
wOBA: .380
HR: 33
R: 100
RBI: 113
UZR: 18.5


PLAYER C
BA: .286
OBP: .402
SLG: .532
OPS: .933
ISO: .245
wOBA: .405
HR: 30
R: 78
RBI: 100
UZR: -11.7



Okay. So looking at players A and B, we notice that they are strikingly similar. Nearly clones, in fact, however Player A is a better defensive/contact hitter than Player B is, whilst Player B is a better power hitter than Player A.

Player C clearly is the best offensive player of the group, however his shoddy defense makes his play less valuable to his team than the others.

As you've probably already guessed, Ryan Zimmerman is Player A, Evan Longoria is Player B, and Alex Rodriguez is Player C.

Now you're probably going to say "but clearly Zimmerman is not the best of the three", right? 

Wrong. It's because you're an indoctrinated, uneducated sheep who uses ESPN for all of his baseball information. Just like most of the idiots who follow baseball.

First on the topic of offensive production, on a side not here, Zimmerman clearly has the worst offensive support of any of the players, you cannot argue against that. The Yankees lineup provides a boost to any player in it both in terms of run-scoring opportunities, run-driving opportunities, and in terms of protection. Mark Teixiera (tied for AL HR lead), Derek Jeter--I don't need to go any further. It's a fact. In addition, the Yankees have the wonderful benefit of playing in New Yankee Stadium (aka Coors Lite), which inflates power numbers (not everybody's but most people's) and thus inflates multiple stats. Evan Longoria, too, has a very good lineup. Bartlett/Zobrist/Longoria/Pena/Upton* is a potent 1-5, with ample run scoring/driving opportunities, and protection from AL HR leader Carlos Pena and Ben Zobrist.
Ryan Zimmerman, on the other hand, had a merely average offense around him with little run scoring potential (until NIMH arrived) nor nearly the amount of protection Rodriguez and Longoria had, yet still compiled a line that was comparable (better in some cases, worse in others) to the other two stanchions of the hot corner.
We can agree that offensive output partially depends on your situation (stick Zimmerman in NY, Rodriguez in WAS and you'd see a huge difference in stats, it's logic not homerism), and somewhat relative, but I'm not going to throw them out, they're still relevant. 
On the defensive side of the ball, it's no contest. Rodriguez was atrocious at third base (despite the fact he had a GG defender at first and short), he's not part of the conversation. Longoria had a very good year at third, coupled with sticky-glove Jason Bartlett and GG Carlos Pena. However, Zimmerman was the best of the three by a decent margin, even being the best defensive infielder in all of baseball despite the fact that he had the worst defensive 1B in baseball (by a HUGE margin) and a shortstop whose range is awful and is sub-par defensively at best. In addition, Zimmerman had the most chances of any 3B in baseball and successfully converted a high percentage of them.
The final thing to address is value, let's look at some more numbers:

Zimmerman:
Batting Value: 27.4
Fielding Value: 18.1
RAR: 70.9
WAR: 7.1
WAR$: $31.9


Longoria:
Batting Value: 29.3
Fielding Value: 15.4
RAR: 72.1
WAR: 7.2
WAR$: $31.9


Rodriguez:
Batting Value: 34.4
Fielding Value: -8.6
RAR: 44.4
WAR: 4.4
WAR$: $20.0


Of the three, Zimmerman and Longoria were the most valuable. That takes Rodriguez out of the conversation. Now by looking at all the numbers as a whole, you can make a case for either of the two to have the title "best third baseman"; however you have to incorporate the team surrounding them. Without the Rays' offensive and defensive support, Longoria's numbers wouldn't have been as high as they were. Ryan Zimmerman was the better fielder and a nearly identical offensive player, despite the gargantuan discrepancy in talent surrounding him. In the end, one can argue either of the two players all day, espousing beliefs about the AL East v the NL East, or the validity of sabermetrics, but based on the numbers, the raw data, Ryan Zimmerman was the best third baseman in baseball. The question is, can he continue to hold that title?