Comparing the league’s third basemen by WAR

Prior to starting this WAR endeavor, I was initially most interested in the story that the numbers told on the topic of MLB’s third basemen in terms of value. Likewise, Alex Rodriguez will always be a major point of interest for me in general. How often do you have a player who’s so completely polarizing? He came up through the system and into The Show with prodigious talent. Every single move he makes is under intense scrutiny. Love him or hate him, he’s going to be synonymous with Pinstripes for a long time to come. Of course none of this has any actual bearing on the WAR stat. Long story short, I was just especially excited to get to examine this particular position through the WAR lens. The formula sounded good in theory at least – an interesting sabermetric statistic plus the least-liked guy in baseball since the likes of Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens.

At this point, I’m not going to bother explaining the reasoning behind this analysis. If you’re just jumping in now, you can get more insight into what WAR is primarily designed for in the pieces about Teixeira, Cano or Jeter. Besides, you and I both know how this is going to play out. Some of you will peruse through this article and ultimately remain disinterested. A few might be in moderate agreement, or at the very least curious about the conclusion. Of those who do decide to chime in, the majority will most likely be comprised of critics. Those folks will respond with something seriously agitating, and I’ll be compelled to continue the banter in kind. Let’s get it over with.

Here are the numbers for several of the prominent third basemen in the league:

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The first thought that comes to mind when I see this table is, “WOW!” This year has an over-abundance of highly productive third basemen. Typically, the hot corner conversation usually involves a few key players – A-Rod, David Wright and Evan Longoria. This year alone we’ve all witnessed a strong resurgence from Scott Rolen. Ryan Zimmerman has been quite productive, as has Jose Bautista (although I still believe he is more of an outfielder). Oh yeah, and then there’s Adrian Beltre, who’s doing his damnedest to earn one heck of a paycheck next season. I have a sneaking suspicion that if the Sox don’t resign him, some other team is going to get massive buyer’s remorse.

As the data demonstrates, it’s not surprise that A-Rod lags his competition this season. In fact, this season, A-Rod claims the ninth (out of ten) highest WAR (2.3) of the group, beating out only Placido Polanco (1.4). Longoria’s WAR is absurdly high at 7.6. If one were to use the 2009 version of Alex as a point of comparison, he still only sits in the middle of this year’s pack with an overall WAR at 3.9. To put it bluntly, if last year’s A-Rod competed in this year’s campaign, he’d be valued similarly to David Wright and Scott Rolen! That’s not to be interpreted as an insult to either by any means. Rather, that’s more of a compliment to the field as it still leaves four other third basemen to gawk at (all of whom rank higher in value).

In terms of oWAR, Jose Bautista is having a revelation of a year (6.8). Who knows if that will ever repeat; but right now, the Jays are certainly cashing in. Longoria is putting up excellent offensive numbers and is making a strong bid for the most valuable player in baseball (in terms of production relative to cost and duration of salary). As much as I hate complimenting anything that comes out of Boston, I’ve got to give credit where it’s deserved. Beltre has been a major reason why the Red Sox managed to linger on in the playoff hunt for so long this season. Given his offensive stats, it’s no wonder he’s managed a 5.5 oWAR. As I alluded to above though, if I were a betting man, I wouldn’t necessarily assume this to continue in years to come.

Amusingly enough, Bautista has the worst dWAR (strengthening my outlook that he’s a not-so-closet-outfielder at heart). A-Rod is tied for second-worst with a -0.8 dWAR with Prado. David Wright (who happens to be one of my favorite ball players in the league despite being a Met) hovers around a similar value over a replacement level alternative. In case you weren’t totally sick of hearing this name, Longoria is on the other end of the spectrum with the second-highest dWAR (1.5) trailing only Chase Headley (1.7). I would have suspected Beltre to be atop this category, but evidently this is not the case.

Alright, it’s time for some sickening numbers. A-Rod (currently age 34), is receiving $33M for his services. The Yankees’ 2.3-WAR third baseman is making almost 70% more than the next-highest paid player in that position (Wright at $10.2M). Beltre is earning $9M, Zimmerman $6.3M, while Rol
en sits at $7.6M. Then there’s Longoria who’s making a laughable $950K.

I honestly don’t really know what to make of this. In terms of salary, A-Rod’s a complete rip off. His production according to Fangraphs is only worth approximately $14.1M. If only the Yankees paid him that much. With that being said, I do like A-Rod as a player and I still think his positives grossly outweigh his negatives. I also think it’s foolish to claim the Yankees would be better off without him. That’s simply not the case.

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