With the hot stove in full gear, let’s compare and name the National League’s best 3rd baseman:
Kris Bryant began the year as one of the league’s most hyped player after his terrific age 24 campaign, in which he won the National League’s Most Valuable Player award, as well as coming off of a World Series victory. Bryant began the first half of the year slashing .269/.399/.529, and while the average may have been disappointing for many, an ice cold month was responsible for that, as we saw his bat cool to an ugly .232 in June. However, his bat only heated up from there, as he went on to finish the season with a more Kris Bryant-like .295/.409/.537 slash line with a 146 wRC+, which nearly led all third basemen. An increased rate in medium and hard hit balls during the second half could be responsible for his turnaround, or perhaps he just wasn’t finding many holes prior to the All-Star break.
One of the more unknown holes in Bryant’s game is his ability to hit in the clutch and knock in runs. Last season, Bryant batted just .237 with runners in scoring position. However, Bryant was able to compensate the low average by walking 17% of the time and instead handing the bat to Rizzo, who was far more successful in the clutch than Bryant, as evidenced by the 28 point difference in their wRC+ and a .117 point difference in their OPS.
While people may not of been blown away by his numbers based on his MVP season last year, he was nearly just as valuable as he was in 2016. Bryant wrapped up his 2017 with a sneaky 6.7 fWAR with perhaps a low share of MVP votes, at 132 with a 7th place finish. Bryant is currently the most valuable 3rd baseman in all of baseball since his rookie season in 2015 and has since racked up 21.6 fWAR since then. Bryant looks to be a menace in the Cubs lineup and a nightmare to opposing pitchers for years to come.
Switching over to the NL West, Arenado began this year as one of the most feared hitters in baseball, and he proved why again with his latest campaign. Arenado capped off his age 26 season with a brilliant .309/.373/.586 slash line including 37 long balls to go with an elite .959 OPS. He also finished with a 129 wRC+, good enough for 5th among qualified 3rd basemen. Arenado made his 3rd straight All-Star appearance in 2017 after a .301/.351/.554 first half to go with 17 home runs. Arenado finished his MVP caliber season with a second half slash line even better than the first half: 319/.402/.630 with 20 home runs.
While people may discount Arenado’s success due to Coors, he slashed a very healthy .283/.355/.531 away from Coors this year. While his slash line away isn’t as elite as his numbers at Coors, it proves that he’d be just as good anywhere else, especially if you give him bonus points for not having the comfort of home field advantage. When compared to teammate Charlie Blackmon, who had a .391/.466/.773 at home compared to a .276/.337/.447 away, Arenado’s splits are whole lot less concerning.
With remarks to the end of the season awards, Arenado won his 5th straight Gold Glove with a .979 fielding percentage, 20 Defensive Runs Saved, and only 9 errors. Arenado also won his 3rd straight silver slugger award. Arenado accrued a total of 5.6 fWAR, which garnered him 4th in MVP voting with 229 votes. Arenado staked his claim not only as one of the most premium defenders in all the baseball, but one of the very best players in all of baseball, and for good reason. While Arenado may not have an MVP title under his belt, he’ll be a candidate in the very near future.
Moving away from stats a bit, my favorite moment of last season was Arenado’s go ahead home run walk off cycle versus the Giants on Father’s Day. With the score 5-4 Giants in the bottom of the 9th inning, Arenado hammered the first pitch thrown by Mark Melancon with men on 3rd and 1st to cap off not only the game, but Father’s Day and his first career cycle. Talk about knocking out a few birds with one stone.
So who’s the better 3rd baseman? While you can’t go wrong with either of the two, Bryant just edges out Arenado as the National League’s best 3rd baseman in my opinion. Going forth, it’ll be exciting to see them compete for years to come in both the regular season, and hopefully the postseason. (Just not versus Boston)
Cover Photo: Getty Images