Third basemen underrepresented in Hall of Fame

Scott Rolen is the highest returning vote-getter on this 12 months’s Hall of Fame poll, and there are a lot of, many legitimate causes to assist his candidacy, greater than we will record right here. But past something particular to Rolen and his personal particular person case, now we have a vested curiosity in this as a result of of one easy cause:

Rolen is a 3rd baseman, and the Hall of Fame doesn’t induct third basemen.

That’s it. That’s the whole premise right here. For no matter cause, third basemen have traditionally been underrepresented in the Hall of Fame, in comparison with the seven different non-pitcher spots.

Helpfully, the Baseball Hall of Fame website maintains a web page that breaks down the collected legends by place, and you’ll see it proper there: Just 17 third basemen, the fewest of any non-DH place group. It’s the one place with out at the very least 19 members inducted, and should you put aside catchers, who’re their very own animal fully, it is the one group with out at the very least 20 members.

But even that does not actually inform the complete story, does it? Because whenever you have a look at the record of 17 names listed as third basemen by the Hall of Fame, you will discover some issues.

Sure, you will see Brooks Robinson and Mike Schmidt, all-time greats who spent most of their time on the sizzling nook. But there’s additionally Freddie Lindstrom, who moved off the place after his age-24 season. There’s Paul Molitor, who began greater than 100 video games on the place solely 5 occasions, regardless of 21 seasons in the Majors. They could have performed extra third base than another place, however they actually did third basemen?

Maybe a greater means to have a look at it, on condition that gamers like Molitor moved round to completely different spots earlier than spending years as a chosen hitter, is to not fear about anybody’s main listed place. Let’s simply take all of the Hall of Famers who ever lived, and see what number of video games they performed at every place. (For these functions, solely AL/NL time from Negro League inductees is accounted for, given the continued work to enhance Negro League statistical accounting.)

Again, should you look previous catcher, a novel place with its personal calls for, third base is brief by a tons, at slightly below 29,000 video games performed. It’s not even three-quarters of the way in which to first base, which is at almost 40,000 video games performed – in half as a result of first base is considered as a better place, one which gamers can transfer to as they age. But third base, comparatively, is underrepresented.

Not satisfied but? Let’s return to the 17 listed third basemen on the Hall of Fame website, and have a look at how they break down:

Only Chipper Jones (born 1972) was born in the final six many years. Only Pie Traynor, who was born in 1898, was elected by way of the common BBWAA poll (in 1948) in the primary 4 many years of the Hall’s existence, till Eddie Mathews joined him in 1978.

So not solely are comparatively few third basemen in the Hall of Fame, many of those who had been by no means seen by anybody nonetheless alive as we speak, having been born effectively over 100 years in the past – or had been elected by committees lengthy after their deaths. This has lengthy been a identified subject, of course. Here’s the New York Times in 2018; here is The Hardball Times in 2013; here is Bill James himself means again in 1995 calling the place “dramatically underrepresented.”

Why? There are actually examples of nice hitters who had been moved off third to much less demanding positions as they aged – Molitor, Jim Thome, Tony Pérez, and Harmon Killebrew amongst them – and that is possible half of the issue, that early-career third basemen did not t stay late-career third basemen. (Which is a feather in Rolen’s cap: Every single one of his 2,023 profession defensive appearances got here at third.) Maybe the voters of many years in the past did not fairly recognize that third basemen needed to hit higher than center infielders and discipline higher than first basemen.

But perhaps it is also that the place we all know as we speak – the new nook is the place stars dwell – is in such a golden age that it makes you overlook that this wasn’t all the time the case.

For instance, FanGraphs writer and Hall of Fame voter Jay Jaffe has lengthy printed his JAWS metric, which is a model of WAR particularly targeted on Hall of Fame comparability. Eleven of the 13 greatest third basemen by this metric even in truth Hall of Famers; one will not be eligible but however ought to be a slam dunk when he is on the poll in 2024 (Adrián Beltré); the ultimate one is Rolen. By this measure, the very best non-HOF third basemen are Graig Nettles, Ken Boyer, and Buddy Bell — good gamers all, but none who appear to be apparent snubs. Role apart, it is tough to argue that there are a lot of deserving third basemen who’ve been unnoticed.

To additional illustrate this, we took the eight non-pitcher defensive positions, regarded up Wins Above Replacement at FanGraphs over the many years, and ranked them. For many, a few years, third base was a middle-of-the-pack place, nearly by no means deviating from “the center.” It wasn’t nice. It wasn’t poor. It was simply there.

Third base WAR rankings via 2009
1920-69: fifth of 8
1970-79: third of 8
1980-89: 4th of 8
1990-99: fifth of 8
2000-09: 4th of 8

Consistent, proper? Now look what’s occurred since, break up each into the last decade of the 2010s and over the past six seasons. Third base is dominant.

Third base WAR rankings since 2010
2010-present: 2nd of 8
2016-present: 1st of 8

If it seems like third base is full of superstars, then that is completely true. Five of the highest six WAR seasons for the place have come since 2015, and whereas that is somewhat about the truth that there are extra gamers and groups now than there have been traditionally, it is principally concerning the caliber of participant who mans the spot now.

That 2016 date is handy, as a result of in May of that 12 months, Jayson Stark (then of ESPN) presciently argued that the golden age of third basemen was then, and little has modified. (“It was once a bunch of massive furry males who had been the ability hitters in our sport,” then-Baltimore supervisor Buck Showalter informed Stark. “Now I’ve by no means seen so many guys with energy who’re additionally nice defenders.” )

When we lately regarded on the present gamers who would possibly find yourself in the Hall of Fame, we discovered three third basemen who appear to be they will have extraordinarily good instances (Manny Machado, Nolan Arenado, and José Ramírez) and a trio of others ( Rafael Devers, Alex Bregman, Evan Longoria) who will possible at the very least be in the dialog. If even 4 get in, and we assume that Rolen and Beltré precede them, then the quantity of Hall of Fame third basemen may have swelled by 35% in comparison with as we speak.

All of which comes again to Rolen, an eight-time Gold Glove winner who had an eight-year run from 1997-2004 the place he had posted the third-most WAR in the Majors – or, should you want, essentially the most WAR in the Majors amongst gamers who do not have PED connection points. Rolen is trending in direction of Cooperstown immortality as a result of he had an excellent profession, and since leaving him out can be a mistake. But his induction would additionally go a great distance in direction of correcting one other transgression: the shortage of third basemen in the Hall.

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