One of the Red Sox’s 2009 off-season investments that actually worked, Beltre was simply resplendent in his vacation away from the West Coast. Beltre’s .390 wOBA is his best since 2004, and he was awesome on defense yet again. Okay, but how does that compare to Hamilton? Offensively, there’s no competition—Hamilton is ridiculously better even counting the 20 games played difference—but defense is again the tricky part. Beltre is considered an elite defender at third, but how “elite” is he? Is he +20 elite or just +10, because that’s a win difference? That win difference is the difference between the two in essentially both measurements. Given that UZR has consistently put him in the 11-13 range over the past few years, he’s probably just that. And if he is just that, then he wasn’t better than Hamilton this season.
Longoria’s numbers are amazingly similar to Beltre’s. In FanGraphs, they really almost are identical, but B-Ref (in which Longoria is a win and a half better than Hamilton and Beltre) really messes things up. Longoria is somehow 1 bWAR better on offense than Beltre, which doesn’t seem possible considering their similar slash rates. Defense is also throwing things off again due to the defensive measurement. Longoria gets his another advantage on Beltre from being +15 on defense (Beltre is only +6) after being +21 the year before and only +6 the season before that. What does FanGraphs say? UZR says he was +15 and +18 the two years previous, so I might actually be tempted to give Longoria a few more points in his fWAR, making him better than Beltre, because it only has him at +11 for this season. But a few more points in fWAR doesn’t nearly close the gap, and what should be a major loss on offense in bWAR closes the gap significantly there.
The only things Bautista did better than Hamilton did were play in more games and hit more home runs. Otherwise, Hamilton was better offensively, defensively (much better), and played more valuable positions. I’m not sure there’s much of an argument here.
Cano‘s .319/.381/.534 slash line translates to a .389 wOBA, which is significantly lower than Hamilton’s, but Cano A) played in more games and B) played a more valuable position. There’s nothing particularly troubling about any of his numbers, which is odd because everyone else does. His defensive numbers are stable and place him as an average second baseman, and his offensive numbers even look repeatable, which is also odd. But even considering all of that, the metrics still have him 1-1.5 wins behind Hamilton, and there’s nothing that give Cano extra points to close the gap. It’s a little unfortunate actually. He and Longoria are the most likely of all these candidates to have another similar year to this one, but this year wasn’t extraordinary enough to put them over the top.
Beltre, Longoria, Hamilton, and Bautista are the only AL players that continuously come in the top spots in the wins above replacement statistics, although several others make appearances (Shin-Soo Choo, for instance, is 2.5 fWAR behind Hamilton but second, and just behind Longoria, in bWAR). Hamilton and Bautista are the easiest to compare because they are outfielders, and Bautista loses in that competition. The next competition pits the two third basemen together. Beltre is a bit better offensively, and it appears Longoria is a bit better defensively. Specifically, I don’t know that I can put one over the other. It’s essentially a tie. So it’s Beltre/Longoria versus Hamilton. Hamilton was by far and away the better offensive player, and while Hamilton did spend most of the year in the outfield corners, the positional adjustment isn’t that severe because he played 40 games in center. The difference in games played causes some room for concern, but FanGraphs already has him a win better while he’s close in B-Ref (park factors could be the reason Longoria has more offensive WAR than Beltre, but is a park really worth a win?). Add in the difference on defense (where Hamilton could gain a win in bWAR), and I’m ready to proclaim Hamilton the winner without needing to bring up his personal history. It’s just not particularly close.