We are unknowing witnesses to a bright spot in baseball history in regards to third base. The hot corner stands alone as the least represented position in Cooperstown, but in the modern game, elite third basemen are becoming the new norm.
Manny Machado of the Orioles and Nolan Arenado of the Rockies are fantastic players on both sides of the ball. The 24-year-old Machado is already a three-time All-Star and finished fourth in last year’s MVP voting. His early success has not stunted his growth, however, as he is having his most impressive season to date in 2016. The cornerstone of the Baltimore franchise has tied his career high with 35 home runs and surpassed his previous high for RBIs while raising his batting average above .300 for the first time in his career. According to Fangraphs, Machado’s 6.3 WAR is the seventh-best in the entire league, a year after an eighth place finish in the metric, and he is somehow only third among third baseman.
The active player most similar to Machado is Colorado’s 25-year-old Arenado. For the second straight year, Arenado is leading the National League in homers and RBIs while reaching base more. It is on defense, though, where this star really shines. Now in his fourth big league season, Arenado has the best range factor per game among third basemen for the fourth time in his career. He also has the highest fielding percentage. This proves he can both reach many a batted ball and field them cleanly once he catches everything in his wide range.
Both Machado and Arenado have already earned multiple Gold Glove Awards. If they can sustain their current level of play, the pair could bring back memories of Mike Schmidt and George Brett, two of the five greatest third basemen of all time. Baseball fans had the fortune of watching their illustrious and simultaneous careers throughout the 1970s and 80s. We may be able to do the same with Machado and Arenado.
Machado has tough competition over in the AL East. Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson is the reigning MVP and is putting up a fourth-consecutive great season following his late bloom. At age 30, Donaldson is primed to finish in the top five of the MVP voting yet again thanks to his monster mashing and improved plate discipline.
Over on the North Side of Chicago, the Cubs have clinched an early playoff berth thanks in no small part to their young star Kris Bryant, who took no time to evolve into the complete package. Bryant won the Rookie of the Year Award last season by posting numbers most veterans would envy. In 2016, Bryant, the MVP frontrunner, has shown no signs of a sophomore slump, improving his numbers in basically every category while being the primary third baseman for baseball’s best team.
Kyle Seager has quietly put up a wonderful season for the Seattle Mariners, featuring career highs in homers, RBIs and all three triple slash stats. At 28 years old, Seager’s continual improvement has put him in conversations of elite guys at the hot corner.
We are witnessing the best era for third basemen ever.