Who is the 3rd Best Player in the MLB?

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It is virtually indisputable that Mike Trout and Mookie Betts are the top two players in all of baseball. Currently, the gap between the two is de minimus at best and fluctuates by the day. The more interesting question, however, is the argument for the last member of the podium. Who is the 3rd best player in baseball? And is he close to cracking the top 2?

Factors

Tools

There are a plethora of factors to consider when deciding who the 3rd best player is. For starters, do pitchers qualify? This is a tough call as we often look at the best player as one that possesses elite qualities throughout all aspects of the game (often referred to as tools – speed, power, hitting for average, fielding, and arm strength). These criteria are not constant in determining the great ones over the course of history. Babe Ruth was considered an underrated fielder and did not possess elite speed. He was, however, one of the greatest hitters of all time which overshadows all other shortcomings. So if one elite “tool” can compensate for the others, then we cannot immediately exclude pitchers.  With that being said I will be a bit more critical with pitchers given the fact they rarely play twice in one week.

Sustained Success 

Are two years of elite play enough to crack the top 3? If not what is the minimum threshold? 3 years? 5? What about  7 years with frequent trips to the IL?  There really is no formula for this so it appears that each player has to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Clutch Gene

Just when we thought this process couldn’t get any more abstract we have added an unquantifiable factor. The clutch gene is the ability to perform when the game is on the line. We have to escape the perception that this is the 9th inning grand slam (Sup David Bote). The clutch moment can happen at any time given the fickle opportunism that baseball provides.

Candidates

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GENE J. PUSKAR, ASSOCIATED PRESS

Christian Yelich

Before this short season, Yelich may have cracked the top two on a number of lists. After two years of absolute dominance down the stretch, the 2018 MVP, had cemented himself as a clear top 5 player. His 2020 season (.202/.356/430) makes his candidacy for the 3rd spot a bit dicey but it also could very well be an outlier.

Statistical Arguments For 3rd Place:

  • .296 Carrer Batting average over 8 seasons
  • 2 seasons with OPS > 1.000
  • 3 Silver Slugger Awards

Statistical Arguments Against 3rd Place:

  • 0.2 WAR in 2020
  • Only 3 seasons with > 20 HR
Miami Marlins v New York Mets
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Jacob deGrom 

It would be hard to argue that any player has been more dominant as Jacob deGrom over the past 3 seasons. With 2 CY youngs and a likely top 4 finish this season, deGrom has cemented himself as one of the best the game has to offer.

Statistical Arguments For 3rd Place:

  • 2 consecutive Cy Young awards (2018 and 2019)
  • 2018 ERA of 1.71
  • League Leader in Strikeouts (2018 and 2019)
  • 3 Consecutive seasons of WHIP < 1.000

Statistical Arguments Against 3rd Place

  • Only 3 seasons of 200+ IP
  • Only playing every 5th day
  • 0-1 with a 7.20 ERA in the World Series
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Nolan Arenado

Baseball purists would love to put an asterisk next to Nola Arenado’s statline. As have mentioned in previous writings, the Coors Field advantage exists but is way overblown. He is the definition of a 5-tool player with emphasis on his stellar glove.

Statistical Arguments For 3rd Place:

  • 37+ HR in 5 of his 7 full-length seasons
  • 3x League Leader in HR
  • 2x League Leader in Total bases
  • 3x Platinum glove winner

Statistical Arguments Against 3rd Place

  • Low OBP in comparison to high batting average
  • Coors Field stigma
  • Large gap in Home and Road splits
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Cody Bellinger

At the age of 24, Cody Bellinger has already earned some impressive hardware. The reigning MVP currently finds himself in the World Series, looking to crack the top three, or even give his teammate Mookie Betts a run for his money.

Statistical Arguments For 3rd Place:

  • Averages 39 HR per 162 games
  • 2019 League Leader in Total Bases

Statistical Arguments Against 3rd Place

  • Has yet to lead the league in any major statistical batting categories
  • Only 1 season with .300+ Batting Average
  • Averages just under a strikeout per game
  • Only 4 seasons of MLB service time
AP Photo/John Bazemore

Freddie Freeman

Freddie Freeman could be one of the most overlooked stars of recent memory. He has been the cornerstone of the Braves organization for over a decade and continues to put up consistent and impressive numbers.

Statistical Arguments For 3rd Place:

  • 5 consecutive seasons of hitting .295 or greater
  • Played in 99% of games over the last 3 seasons

Statistical Arguments Against 3rd Place

  • Never top 3 in MVP Voting
  • 28 HR per 162 games average
  • 5 SB per year average

 

 

 

Written by Rex Hime