Braves: Ranking the Third Basemen of the NL East

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Welcome back to the National League East position group rankings. If you missed it, don’t forget to go back and check out the first base and second base rankings.

Third base is currently a solid position group across the MLB. Off the top of my head, you have Nolan Arenado, Manny Machado, Matt Chapman, Rafael Devers, Alex Bregman, Anthony Rendon, Jose Ramirez, and many more.

Oddly, for the National League East, it is one of the weakest groups. That will most likely change over time as players develop, but currently, third base is nowhere near as strong as it would be in a different division.

Just like with the other rankings, there will be some caveats on how we evaluate players. This could be due to some players not having played a full year because of injury, being a late call-up, or being a rookie. Some teams have not set their starters yet, so we will go off of projections in those situations.

Let’s start with the Braves. If you’re a fan of Riley, you are not going to like this. In just 131 games, he has accumulated -0.4 WAR, a subpar slash line of .232/.288/448, an OPS+ of 86, and a defensive WAR of  -0.6. His OPS+ was the same in both seasons, which happens to be 14% below league average.

There is reason to be optimistic, though. As Clint Manry stated in his Top Bounce-Back Candidates article, Riley’s strikeouts have dropped by 12.6% from 2019 to 2020, and his wOBA jumped from .269 to .365 against breaking balls. Oddly though, his raw power dropped. His ISO in 2019 was .245, but in 2020, it was .176. To be fair, it is a small sample size. Even with metrics showing that he could potentially improve this year offensively, his floor will be very low if he does not improve on defense. In just 421.1 innings at third base, he has accumulated -7 Defensive Runs Saved. Riley is not the worst on the base paths. So far, he has accumulated a UBR of -0.8.

For the Mets, JD Davis projects to be the starter. He averages about .24 WAR per 162 games so far, with an OPS+ of 112 and a slash line of .268/.346/.448. However, Davis had an OPS+ of 137 in 140 games in 2019 with a slash line of .307/.369/.527. If the Mets could guarantee to get the 2019 version of Davis, he would be the clear favorite in the group. His defense is terrible, though. Davis has accumulated -3.6 dWAR in 262 games, hence why his overall WAR is so low. As far as DRS goes, he has -19 in 770 innings at third. That is on pace to create 67% more negative DRS than Riley. Davis should be a DH in a perfect world. His baserunning isn’t doing him any favors, either, with an UBR of -3.4 thus far in his career of 263 games.

Alec Bohm handles the hot corner for the Phillies. He will be difficult to judge because he has only played 44 games. He was on pace to have 3.3 WAR per 162 game season with a 136 OPS+ and a slash line of .338/.400/481. It is a small sample size, but his Minor League numbers were fantastic. He even had OPS+ of 194 in Single A and 146 in AA. However, Bohm was on pace to have a dreadful defensive season, accumulating negative 0.4 dWAR in those 44 games. As far as baserunning goes, he is in the top-two of this group with 0.2 UBR in 44 games in his small sample size.

For the Nationals, Carter Kieboom projects as the starter. He has not been good — on pace for -2.57 WAR per 162 games played. Kieboom had one of the worse ISOs in the league (0.51), a slash line of .181/.209/.232, and a 47 OPS+. So far, he is average on defense with a dWAR of exactly 0.0. However, if you just look at his time at third base and not shortstop, he shows signs of being exceptional. In only 255.2 innings, he has accumulated 5 DRS. Like many of the other guys in this group, he has not shown good output on the base paths, posting a -0.3 UBR.

Brian Anderson is the third baseman for the Marlins and is one of the more underrated players in the league. He recorded 2 WAR last year in just 59 games and averages 3.85 per 162 games played. We don’t really need to dig any further. If Bohm can figure out how to play defense, he could surpass Anderson, but for now, this position belongs to Brian. However, while we are here, let’s look at the numbers.

Anderson’s offense is not eye-opening, but it is solid. He owns a career slash line of .266/.349/.431 with an OPS+ of 112. As far as baserunning, he is about twice as good as Bohm, but with a much bigger sample size. He has accumulated 3.5 UBR in 366 games, which is on par for 1.55 per 162 games. Defensively, Anderson has 4 DRS in 1,837.1 innings at third but has improved tremendously. If you just look at his last 1,046.2 innings, he has 12 DRS at third base.

So, all things considered, here are the rankings:

1. Anderson
2. Bohm
3. Davis
4. Riley
5. Kieboom

There is an excellent chance that Riley could surpass Davis and Bohm surpass Anderson. This is a volatile group, to be certain, but it will also be a fun group to watch.

Here’s to hoping Riley breaks out this year!

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