Third Basemen and Career Confluences

Later this season, Scott Rolen, Adrian Beltre and Chipper Jones could all pass the 2000 mark for career games at third base. Actually, barring injury or retirement, it’s a virtual lock. How  unusual is that? Let’s find out.

Here’s the list of games played at 3rd base over a career. To focus on only games at a position, I’m using game data rather than season data, so this list and the ones that follow are for 1918 to the present.

Rk Player #Matching PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Brooks Robinson 2870 Ind. Games 11759 10631 2844 482 68 267 1355 860 991 .268 .322 .401 .723
2 Graig Nettles 2413 Ind. Games 9730 8543 2128 309 26 372 1240 1042 1117 .249 .331 .422 .753
3 Gary Gaetti 2282 Ind. Games 9226 8410 2160 424 36 339 1258 598 1510 .257 .310 .437 .747
4 Wade Boggs 2216 Ind. Games 10003 8531 2801 537 55 107 933 1337 675 .328 .417 .442 .859
5 Mike Schmidt 2213 Ind. Games 9414 7805 2076 381 54 512 1482 1422 1772 .266 .380 .525 .905
6 Buddy Bell 2184 Ind. Games 9292 8337 2344 393 54 187 1043 787 725 .281 .343 .409 .751
7 Eddie Mathews 2181 Ind. Games 9452 8007 2181 332 69 487 1367 1334 1383 .272 .376 .514 .889
8 Ron Santo 2130 Ind. Games 9021 7808 2177 355 64 338 1300 1072 1281 .279 .365 .471 .835
9 Tim Wallach 2054 Ind. Games 8400 7641 1987 411 35 250 1084 610 1221 .260 .318 .421 .739
10 Eddie Yost 2008 Ind. Games 9017 7215 1838 335 55 138 674 1589 905 .255 .395 .374 .769
11 Ron Cey 1990 Ind. Games 8188 7036 1841 322 21 312 1123 985 1191 .262 .354 .446 .800
12 Aurelio Rodriguez 1988 Ind. Games 7023 6553 1555 283 45 123 643 320 934 .237 .274 .351 .625
13 Scott Rolen 1965 Ind. Games 8280 7187 2017 506 41 308 1255 876 1366 .281 .365 .491 .856
14 Adrian Beltre 1952 Ind. Games 8041 7360 2033 429 28 307 1110 540 1211 .276 .329 .467 .796
15 Chipper Jones 1914 Ind. Games 8368 7092 2164 438 34 383 1314 1180 1093 .305 .401 .538 .940
16 Sal Bando 1897 Ind. Games 7905 6726 1705 276 37 235 1002 987 874 .253 .353 .410 .763
17 Robin Ventura 1888 Ind. Games 7896 6741 1800 327 13 284 1132 1029 1117 .267 .362 .446 .808
18 Pie Traynor 1863 Ind. Games 8097 7375 2363 364 162 57 1262 469 267 .320 .363 .437 .800
19 Stan Hack 1836 Ind. Games 8264 7064 2138 350 80 57 617 1067 449 .303 .396 .399 .795
20 Terry Pendleton 1788 Ind. Games 7410 6821 1842 345 38 138 914 471 937 .270 .316 .392 .708
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/17/2012.

It’s unusual that those three players would all reach this point in their careers at the same time. Why? Mainly because, age-wise, they are all at different points in their careers. Beltre is 33, Rolen 37 and Jones 40. Rolen has never played in the field at any other position and Beltre seldom has, but Jones has over 20% of his career games at other positions. Here are their career lines as of this writing.

Player G OPS+ From To Age PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS Tm
Chipper Jones 2413 141 1993 2012 21-40 10272 8691 1578 2643 529 38 459 1584 1466 1370 .304 .402 .532 .934 ATL
Adrian Beltre 1993 110 1998 2012 19-33 8179 7489 1014 2071 438 28 317 1136 548 1232 .277 .329 .469 .798 LAD-SEA-BOS-TEX
Scott Rolen 1975 122 1996 2012 21-37 8289 7196 1191 2021 506 41 310 1259 876 1368 .281 .365 .492 .856 PHI-STL-TOR-CIN
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/17/2012.

Age aside, a lot of similarities between Beltre and Rolen. Rolen takes more walks and has more doubles (hence, the higher OPS+), but otherwise eerily alike. Jones is on another level and appears bound for Cooperstown. The other two may get there too – Rolen by dint of being regarded as the outstanding defensive third baseman of his time, and Beltre by compiling some serious counting numbers which, given his age, he might very well do (which would be particularly impressive considering he has played most of his career in pitcher-friendly parks).

But, back the original question. How unusual is it for contemporaries at a position to reach 2000 games at the same time? Interestingly, this isn’t the first time there have been three active third basemen at this level. Graig Nettles, Mike Schmidt and Buddy Bell were all active and past the 2000 game plateau in 1987 and 1988. So were Gary Gaetti and Wade Boggs from 1997 to 1999, Bell and Schmidt in 1989, and Brooks Robinson and Ron Santo in 1973 and 1974.

What about other positions? Here are the shortstops.

Rk Player #Matching PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Omar Vizquel 2702 Ind. Games 11226 9875 2690 427 76 77 901 974 996 .272 .338 .354 .692
2 Luis Aparicio 2583 Ind. Games 11220 10220 2676 394 92 83 790 736 741 .262 .311 .343 .654
3 Ozzie Smith 2511 Ind. Games 10718 9344 2450 400 69 28 790 1066 585 .262 .338 .329 .667
4 Derek Jeter 2427 Ind. Games 11172 9890 3105 496 64 243 1199 992 1649 .314 .384 .451 .834
5 Cal Ripken 2302 Ind. Games 10060 8964 2486 471 40 346 1330 948 1004 .277 .346 .455 .801
6 Larry Bowa 2223 Ind. Games 9091 8402 2190 262 99 15 525 472 566 .261 .300 .321 .621
7 Luke Appling 2218 Ind. Games 9620 8302 2594 420 93 43 1054 1238 488 .312 .402 .401 .803
8 Dave Concepcion 2177 Ind. Games 8823 7990 2137 355 45 98 889 664 1102 .267 .322 .360 .682
9 Alan Trammell 2142 Ind. Games 8888 7848 2241 384 53 177 945 810 814 .286 .352 .416 .768
10 Edgar Renteria 2116 Ind. Games 9026 8105 2317 436 29 140 918 716 1167 .286 .343 .399 .742
11 Bert Campaneris 2097 Ind. Games 9081 8186 2104 290 79 78 606 587 1080 .257 .310 .340 .650
12 Barry Larkin 2087 Ind. Games 8955 7851 2320 438 75 196 945 925 804 .296 .371 .445 .816
13 Royce Clayton 2053 Ind. Games 8126 7348 1898 362 55 110 719 559 1407 .258 .312 .367 .680
14 Roy McMillan 2027 Ind. Games 7570 6680 1625 252 35 66 587 657 698 .243 .315 .321 .636
15 Pee Wee Reese 2014 Ind. Games 8993 7641 2076 322 79 122 843 1167 845 .272 .369 .382 .752
16 Garry Templeton 1965 Ind. Games 8013 7538 2060 323 105 69 716 365 1057 .273 .306 .371 .677
17 Don Kessinger 1957 Ind. Games 8186 7343 1862 247 77 14 506 652 728 .254 .315 .314 .629
18 Miguel Tejada 1947 Ind. Games 8324 7609 2188 434 23 292 1214 522 985 .288 .339 .466 .805
19 Mark Belanger 1942 Ind. Games 6536 5724 1307 174 33 20 388 574 825 .228 .301 .281 .582
20 Chris Speier 1900 Ind. Games 7351 6454 1589 269 49 96 641 769 861 .246 .327 .348 .675
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/17/2012.

So, we had three together (Vizquel,  Jeter, Renteria) in 2010 and 2011, and almost a fourth last year with Miguel Tejada. There were also three in 1995 and 1996 with Cal Ripken, Alan Trammell and Ozzie Smith. Just Trammell and Smith were also above 2000 from 1991 to 1994, as were Vizquel and Jeter in 2009 and this year, Vizquel and Royce Clayton in 2007, Vizquel and Barry Larkin in 2004, Dave Concepcion and Larry Bowa in 1985, and Bowa and Bert Campaneris in 1983.

The conventional wisdom for second basemen is that they lack the staying power of the left-side infield positions, possibly because they are, presumably, more easily replacable since a rifle arm is not a prerequisite. Let’s see.

Rk Player #Matching PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Joe Morgan 2527 Ind. Games 11154 9134 2489 445 96 267 1117 1835 995 .272 .393 .430 .823
2 Roberto Alomar 2322 Ind. Games 10270 8957 2692 499 78 207 1110 1019 1119 .301 .372 .443 .815
3 Lou Whitaker 2310 Ind. Games 9825 8453 2336 413 65 240 1059 1177 1080 .276 .363 .426 .789
4 Nellie Fox 2295 Ind. Games 10275 9163 2650 353 112 35 787 716 215 .289 .348 .364 .712
5 Charlie Gehringer 2206 Ind. Games 10089 8722 2800 568 146 181 1408 1177 360 .321 .405 .482 .887
6 Frank White 2154 Ind. Games 8080 7489 1916 394 54 158 854 400 983 .256 .294 .386 .680
7 Willie Randolph 2153 Ind. Games 9385 7953 2194 314 64 54 681 1235 666 .276 .373 .352 .725
8 Bill Mazeroski 2094 Ind. Games 8293 7676 1999 293 62 137 847 441 703 .260 .300 .368 .668
9 Jeff Kent 2034 Ind. Games 8630 7691 2247 512 45 357 1418 723 1368 .292 .358 .510 .868
10 Ryne Sandberg 1995 Ind. Games 8674 7820 2228 378 71 277 1009 732 1171 .285 .346 .458 .804
11 Craig Biggio 1990 Ind. Games 9076 7823 2232 497 44 226 884 895 1277 .285 .372 .447 .819
12 Bobby Doerr 1852 Ind. Games 8022 7089 2042 381 89 223 1244 807 606 .288 .362 .461 .823
13 Ray Durham 1843 Ind. Games 8116 7139 1988 427 75 185 840 787 1156 .278 .353 .437 .790
14 Red Schoendienst 1833 Ind. Games 8170 7496 2180 383 67 79 683 556 299 .291 .341 .391 .732
15 Billy Herman 1812 Ind. Games 8208 7337 2244 461 78 46 789 682 407 .306 .367 .409 .776
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/17/2012.

Conventional wisdom would appear to be supported. There’s only Lou Whitaker and Willie Randolph in 1992. Randolph was within 50 games of 2000 when Frank White retired after the 1990 season.

At  first base I’m expecting a whole bunch. Let’s see.

Rk Player #Matching PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Eddie Murray 2413 Ind. Games 10346 9119 2631 462 30 409 1567 1108 1189 .289 .363 .480 .843
2 Fred McGriff 2239 Ind. Games 9469 8146 2339 407 24 464 1465 1213 1701 .287 .379 .514 .893
3 Mickey Vernon 2237 Ind. Games 9665 8581 2454 481 119 169 1284 936 840 .286 .359 .429 .788
4 Mark Grace 2162 Ind. Games 9206 7995 2428 509 45 173 1134 1065 627 .304 .384 .444 .827
5 Rafael Palmeiro 2139 Ind. Games 9328 8103 2355 451 27 441 1428 1047 1064 .291 .373 .516 .889
6 Lou Gehrig 2137 Ind. Games 9611 7953 2705 531 162 493 1987 1506 780 .340 .448 .634 1.081
7 Charlie Grimm 2129 Ind. Games 8692 7869 2294 393 108 78 1071 573 404 .292 .342 .399 .741
8 Jeff Bagwell 2112 Ind. Games 9363 7742 2299 483 32 449 1519 1393 1542 .297 .408 .542 .949
9 Andres Galarraga 2106 Ind. Games 8628 7838 2269 429 32 389 1388 563 1925 .289 .348 .501 .849
10 Steve Garvey 2061 Ind. Games 8728 8152 2428 406 38 256 1236 432 904 .298 .332 .451 .783
11 Joe Kuhel 2057 Ind. Games 9051 7950 2209 412 111 131 1048 971 604 .278 .359 .407 .766
12 John Olerud 2053 Ind. Games 8481 7095 2107 474 12 239 1158 1200 914 .297 .400 .468 .869
13 Willie McCovey 2045 Ind. Games 8381 7057 1914 311 38 449 1333 1195 1323 .271 .378 .517 .895
14 Todd Helton 2029 Ind. Games 8743 7334 2367 559 35 347 1319 1261 1042 .323 .422 .550 .972
15 Keith Hernandez 2015 Ind. Games 8473 7302 2168 423 58 160 1063 1059 997 .297 .385 .436 .821
16 Chris Chambliss 1962 Ind. Games 8039 7326 2054 379 42 179 929 608 891 .280 .335 .417 .752
17 Norm Cash 1944 Ind. Games 7765 6582 1796 240 40 373 1089 1027 1061 .273 .375 .491 .867
18 Jimmie Foxx 1918 Ind. Games 8470 7110 2319 398 107 481 1690 1290 1137 .326 .430 .615 1.046
19 Wally Joyner 1913 Ind. Games 7905 6942 2013 402 25 201 1089 810 790 .290 .363 .442 .805
20 Gil Hodges 1908 Ind. Games 7601 6577 1811 280 43 349 1205 896 1041 .275 .362 .490 .852
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/17/2012.

Actually, rather less than I would have guessed. Probably because, while we associate first base with aging stars, often those aging stars relocate to first from another position. Anyway, there were four together (McGriff, Galarraga, Palmeiro, Bagwell) in 2004 although, for the record, Galarraga played exactly one game at first base that year. There were three together (Bagwell, Palmeiro, Olerud) in 2005, and also in 2002 and 2003 with Grace, McGriff, and Galarraga. Grace and McGriff were also past the 2000 game milestone in 2001. But, aside from that considerable “flurry” in the first half of the last decade, nothing.

Finally. catcher, where I’m expecting very few, if any.

Rk Player #Matching PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Ivan Rodriguez 2430 Ind. Games 9974 9316 2765 552 51 306 1300 498 1427 .297 .334 .466 .799
2 Carlton Fisk 2226 Ind. Games 8961 7947 2173 380 43 356 1222 790 1236 .273 .346 .466 .813
3 Bob Boone 2225 Ind. Games 8079 7181 1819 300 26 104 815 660 602 .253 .315 .346 .661
4 Gary Carter 2056 Ind. Games 8334 7382 1939 349 29 301 1132 768 901 .263 .334 .440 .774
5 Jason Kendall 2025 Ind. Games 8558 7498 2169 391 35 74 732 710 677 .289 .367 .380 .748
6 Tony Pena 1950 Ind. Games 7036 6454 1680 298 27 107 705 453 840 .260 .309 .365 .674
7 Brad Ausmus 1938 Ind. Games 7081 6261 1577 270 34 80 606 632 1030 .252 .325 .344 .670
8 Jim Sundberg 1927 Ind. Games 6859 5986 1484 242 36 94 620 694 958 .248 .326 .347 .674
9 Al Lopez 1919 Ind. Games 6562 5875 1533 204 43 51 640 550 533 .261 .326 .336 .662
10 Benito Santiago 1917 Ind. Games 7407 6856 1805 319 41 213 900 418 1244 .263 .306 .415 .721
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/17/2012.

So, as expected, only 5 players have caught over 2000 games but, surprisingly, all were contemporaries of one or more of the other four. So, we had Fisk and Boone in 1990, Fisk and Carter in 1991 and 1992, and Kendall and Rodriguez in 2010.

Clearly, more teams, a longer schedule, better conditioning and training, and bigger paycheques have all contributed to players playing longer than in the past. Still, it’s interesting to see times when all-time greats at a position are contemporaries.

I’m going to do a bit of digging and see if I can find the games where opposing starters at a position had the most career game experience. And, I’ll also take a look at the outfield. Meanwhile, let me know your thoughts. Any surprises?


Comments

Third Basemen and Career Confluences — 53 Comments

  1. I’m not so sure it’s a lock for Rolen given his atrocious offensive numbers this year following a poor year in 2011 he may well get benched.

  2. Howard, why do the Reds continue to give Scott Rolen a regular spot in the lineup when he consumes so many outs?

    Loyalty, inertia, front-office incompetence, fan pressure, dry minor-league system?

    How will they ever catch the Cardinals if they allow an offensive position to be occupied by a batting liability?

    • I can’t believe it’s loyalty or fan pressure considering Rolen has had only one good season for them. The other possibilities sound very reasonable though.

  3. It’s fairly amazing that easily 2 and arguably 3 of the 10 best third basemen of all-time (I would put Beltre about 12th or so right now but 2 more good years would put him at 10 for me) had careers that were almost entirely concurrent and so many people didn’t seem to notice? At least I don’t remember a whole lot being written about it. Chipper got the best press but was usually over-shadowed by Atlanta’s pitching. Rolen played in Schmidt’s shadow in Philly and always seemed to be mentioned after Albert and Jim Edmonds in St. Louis. Beltre bounced around a fair bit and was most often noticed for his up and down seasons rather than his defense or the huge offensive seasons he did produce.

    It does seem incredible that all but maybe 3 of the 15 greatest third basemen of all time played at least some of their career in the past 40 years and that the best of the 3 that didn’t only missed by a few years. Shortstop and maybe catcher are the only positions close to being so heavily weighted with modern era players but at both of them you have a couple of stars who’s careers started before WW2 at or near the top of the list (Wagner/Vaughn and Gibson/Cochrane). Baker is the only one who comes close at third and his career was pretty short for a non-catcher and he doesn’t crack my top 5,

    • Hartvig, just out of curiousity, does Brooks Robinson top your all-time list of “best” third basemen?

      The difficulty, in my view, of ranking players, is separating offense from defense. Silver Slugger Award versus Golden Glove Award.

      You must maintain a minimum level of batting productivity to remain in the lineup, yet the definition of that level varies over decades with the run environment and the defensive position.

      Mark Belanger would not be able to crack a 2012 major-league roster, in my opinion.

      • No, Schmidt is my number 1 pick. And in truth the order I list them in today might not be the same as I would in a month or two. I’d say Robinson would probably max out at about number 5 but right now I’d say he’s number 8. Since I lived well outside of any major league television market the only times I got to see him play live was on a few games of the week and in some series games. I did get to “hear” him play on a lot of radio broadcasts however. But since defense was alway so subjective I always tended to give more credence to the stuff you could find on the backs of baseball cards and I think that prejudice is still a part of my makeup somewhere.

        As wonderful an infield of Brooks and Ozzie and Maz would be I would still take Wade Boggs and Ernie Banks and Jeff Kent over them. To be fair, Robinson and Smith were good enough hitters that I would still take them over almost any other player but both still rank towards the bottom of my top 10’s.

        • Hartvig, Brooks Robinson at number 8???

          With all due respect, then why does he lead by such a wide margin over Schmidt and Boggs in games played at 3B? His managers and general managers were not blindly loyal.

          Didn’t Brooks play in an era when defense was valued more than today? Preventing runs was as important as driving them in when runs were at a premium!

          • Like I said, I value offense over defense, at least within limits. Of the 7 guys that I have above him I would call 6 of them at the least good fielding 3rd baseman and probably the worst of them (Chipper) was at the very least adequate. Schmidt was outstanding. Mathews, Santo and Baker were excellent, especially when you consider that in Baker’s time third base was a fielders position first and foremost and he was still better than average. Boggs and Brett were much better than their reputations give them credit for- I believe that both were above average at least for most of their careers. All of the above had a higher career WAR than Robinson other than Santo and Baker who were close but in much shorter careers. The same is true for win shares (I think). Robinson is far behind any of them in runs created even though he had the longest career of the bunch. I just don’t see that as good as his defense was that it was enough to offset the difference in offensive production. Robinson was a pretty good to average hitter for much of his career but he had maybe 2 outstanding offensive seasons, neither of which really measure up to the 2 (or ever 3, 4 or 5 or more in some cases) best seasons of the guys I have above him.

            I think Robinson was the best fielding third baseman ever by a significant margin. I think he was a pretty good hitter for many years who had a couple of great seasons with the bat. If I were a manager and I had a 23 year old Brooks Robinson playing third base for me I would be happy as all get out. If I had Miguel Cabrera at third base and Robinson came along Cabrera would be my DH or first baseman or left fielder before you could say jack flash. To top it all off, everything I’ve ever read about him says he’s one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.

            But as great as he was with the glove those other 7 guys are going to put a lot more runs on the board than he will save you with the glove and that’s going to win you more games.

          • Very well written, Hartvig. I’m like you-I do a lot of flip-flopping when it comes to rating the third basemen after Schmidt.

            Revisiting the topic tonight, I spent an hour earlier looking at Wade Boggs’ career and was surprised at how much of a benefit he received from playing in Fenway Park. Boggs hit an alarming number of doubles in his time with the Red Sox, enough to place him fifth on the all-time list for doubles in a player’s 1st 11 seasons:

            1. Albert Pujols 455
            1. Todd Helton 455
            3. Joe Medwick 453
            4. Paul Waner 451
            5. Wade Boggs 422

            What’s interesting is that Boggs in that time had almost exactly twice as many doubles at Fenway compared to on the road (281 to 141). Taking this and the fact that Boggs hit “only” .302 on the road for his career into account makes me think Boggs may only have won two or three batting titles and probably would not have approached 3,000 hits playing for another team in the AL.

          • “why does he lead by such a wide margin over Schmidt and Boggs in games played at 3B?”:

            Wade Boggs started late (age 24) because the Red Sox didn’t think he had enough HR power, and was blocked at third base his rookie year (1982) by Carny Lansford. He also lost about 70 games due to the 1994-95 strike.

            Mike Schmidt didn’t play regularly until 23, he missed 55 games due to the 1981 strike, and he played first base base regularly in 1985.

            Why specifically did Brooks play so long:

            1) Brooks come young to the Orioles and played regularly/semi-regularly at 20/21, when he probably wasn’t quite a good enough hitter to do that. The Orioles were rebuilding in the late 50s under Paul Richards, reversing decades of failure as the Browns.

            2) Once he got established at age 23 in 1960, he rarely missed a game, or played another position (30 G not at 3B):
            – over 16 years, from ages 23-38, he never played less than 144 games
            also:
            – 150 or more games 14 times
            – 155 or more games 11 times
            – every game in aseason five times

            3) The AL was noticeably weak for third basemen in the 1960s. Until Craig Nettles in 1971-72 and Buddy Bell in 1973-74, there were no other established 3Bmen to challenge him for the perception of the best AL 3Bman.

            I mean, Frank Malzone, Max Alvis, and Pete Ward were very good players for a time, but don’t really come close to Brooks.

          • bstar@14 Re: Boggs and 2Bs…

            I think Boggs was a good enough hitter that he could change his approach a little depending on whether he was at home or on the road. Since the Green Monster could easily give up doubles, he would try to do just that, and then maybe didn’t spray the ball towards LF as much on the road. If this is true, it could account for the tremendous difference in home/road 2B splits. As opposed to him blindly hitting the ball the same wherever the game was and just accepting the outcome. I don’t see Boggs being happy with his 2B output on the road if it were so much less than home (just because of the field). I would think he would make adjustments.

          • @30 tmckelv & 14 bstar:

            Regarding green monster doubles and Boggs, a couple of long-time LH hitting Red Sox, Yaz and Williams, went 382/262 and 319/206 home /away in the EXACT number of plate appearances home and away career for Yaz and 4,954 / 4,834 PA’s home /away for Williams. I just don’t know if a dead-pull hitter like Williams was looking to do this at home as many of these would have been just natural fly ball outs on the road. Pretty odd that he hit 113 more doubles at home in 120 more plate appearances. If they are fly ball outs, all 113, he becomes a .332 home park hitter – much more in line with his .328 career road average

          • I used to argue for the supremacy of Santo over Brooks back in the day, and everyone thought I was off my rocker. Santo’s bat was clearly superior (even in Brooks’s MVP year, Santo’s OPS+ was almost 20 points higher) and his glove was excellent as well. I just thought the difference in offense between the two gave the clear edge to Santo, and Brooks’s defense, while superlative, could not make up that gap. It will be interesting to see, as defensive metrics improve, if such a view will continue to hold water.

          • Tmckelv-

            I actually wrote quite a lot that it might be possible that the opposite might be true- that Boggs altered his approach so much at home that it hurt him on the road- but looking at the splits for other Boston hitters tells me that’s really not likely either. They were all adding 40 points to their batting average at home (even Teddy Ballgame hit 33 points better) and they were all hitting a boatload more doubles in Fenway then on the road. It didn’t matter- dead pull lefty like Williams or Yaz or dead up righty like Rice, gap hitter like Boggs, pure hitter like Lynn before he developed his power stroke. I understand righty pull hitters and lefty slap hitters knocking a lot of balls of the Monster but Teddy and Yaz must have bounced a lot more than I remembered around that little jag in deep right center than I recall.

          • I think there’s something else to consider about Robinson’s ranking, and it relates to Lawrence Azrin’s historical description of third basemen (#25, which I appreciated seeing again). Robinson changed the way people looked at third base defensively – at least, that’s my recollection (recalling the period from the mid-’50s to the mid-’70s).

            When I was young, Pie Traynor was, as Lawrence says, the standard historically (I’d never heard of Jimmy Collins then – pre-Macmillan encyclopedia days what kids had?). Frank Malzone was the person I recall being celebrated as best active all-around third baseman (don’t ask – I have absolutely no idea), with Ken Boyer in the NL. Obviously, Mathews was in a class of his own, but not much mentioned as a third-baseman, he just stood there when the other team batted (I’m sure he was better than that – for some reason, he always seemed to be undervalued).

            When Robinson began to attract attention in the mid-’60s, it wasn’t because he was better in the field, it was because he was playing the position at a level never before imagined, particularly in terms of getting to the line to cut off doubles. Watching him (on TV) in the pre-webgem era, he seemed like a circus act – no fun for me: I was always rooting for other teams. (I’ve since read descriptions of Collins that sounded similar.)

            A few years later, Nettles was playing like that and then Schmidt – I really can’t remember Santo as an acrobat except leaving the field, but those other two guys really surprised me, especially Schmidt. It was as though the next Mathews understood that third base was now a Robinson position. So in that sense, Robinson changed the game with the standards he demonstrated, and in ranking players, I think we should always take into consideration skills that change the game.

            The caveat to this story is that there’s one guy left out – Clete Boyer. Boyer, C., was getting press for spectacular fielding before Robinson, but his bat was so weak that he wasn’t an example of what a third baseman could do, he was proof that the Yankees were so rich they didn’t need a bat at third at all – and they could steal a glove (or anything else) from KC whenever they wanted to.

        • Amen…sooner or later, “they” are going to nail this “dWAR”/”fielding value”/ etc thing. In the interim, it’s a lot of speculation as to the true measurable value of the glove. Beltre is a career 110 OPS+. Great, spectacular glove included, how much ground does that make up on guys like Sheffield, Dick Allen, or Ryan Braun if they were to stay at 3B and transform themselves from woefully inadequate butchers to plain mediocre in an on-the-job training type setting.

          Years ago, Bill James stated he would have given serious thought to keeping Braun at 3B and tried to score 6 runs per night with another good bat in LF. If Allen hadn’t played 0 (zero !) games in the minors at 3B, he may have been able to stay there at the ML level – same with Sheffield. And Braun was a pretty quick call up after being drafted out of Miami since his bat was deemed ready. Maybe the Brewers should have committed to him at 3B?…sorry, I’m rambling

          • You’re mentioning Beltre caused another thought to pop into my head about why it’s difficult to rank players. As an offensive player, Beltre has been notoriously inconsistent. When you’re ranking him against a player with similar career totals who was known for his consistency should it count for or against him? Is it better to have the guy who hits 20 homes and bats .290 year in/year out or do you want the guy who stinks up the joint one year but looks like a Hall of Famer the next? A few other names of players with reputations for being inconsistent that come to mind are Mickey Vernon, Roy Campanella (perhaps undeserved because of injuries) and possibly the most extreme case of all, Kevin Mitchell. I’m inclined to lead towards the big season guys because for most teams the window to win the World Series is usually pretty narrow and they’re more likely to get you there.

            As far as you notion about sacrificing defense for offense, I’m inclined to agree with that as well- at least a certain positions. I think it was foolish of the Yankees to pay what they did for Rodriguez and then move him to third base (which reminds me- if we count him as a third baseman then everyone one my list moves down a notch) because much of his value was in being a shortstop who could hit like he could. There’s a reason that since the end of the dead ball era that third base has been transitioning to a hitters position. That said, I also don’t think that just anyone could play the position either. Of the guys you mentioned, Sheffield probably was the most athletic but I’m not sure that he would have cared enough to try and improve his fielding. I do think that given different circumstances that Allen may have succeeded, at least for a few more years. I’m a little more doubtful about Braun.

            Detroit’s experiment with Cabrera this year might be a good opportunity to see how the experiment works out.

        • Brooks Robinson is one of my favorite players ever. I don’t think it’s biased, though, to have him in any top-three list at that position. Schmidt probably surpassed him, and Santo was great on O & D as well.

        • WE’ve had this discussion about the timeline of who was regarded as the greatest third baseman of all-time before, so SORRY to repeat:

          When I first started following MLB in the late 60s, It was Pie Traynor who was generally considered the GOAT (greatest of all time) at third (this continued well into the 80/90s for some people). Jimmy Collins would get mentioned by real old-timers, but somehow Eddie Mathews and his 512 HR would be relegated to “oh yeah, he was great too…”.

          By the mid-70s Brooks was the consensus GOAT 3Bman till the late 80s, well after Mike Schmidt and George Brett had established himself as all-time greats. By the early 90s, Schmidt and Brett were the consensus #1/#2 GOAT 3Bmen, with grudging acknowledgement of Mathews.

          After 2000 Wade Boggs was added to the pantheon and Ron Santo get new respect through his re-evaluation by advanced stats-types, and in the last couple years Chipper Jones has getten a lot of recognition.

          So the latest rankings for the consensus GOAT 3Bman is roughly:
          – SCHMIDT (recognized as #1)
          – Brett or Mathews
          – Chipper Jones (sometimes in the above group)
          – Brooks or Boggs
          – Santo

          For current players, A-Rod, Rolen and Adrian Beltran also get mentioned.

          For pre-WWII players, HR Baker, Jimmy Collins,and Stan Hack have new appreciation.

          Traynor is out of the Top-10.

          The HOF voting for third basemen is seriously messed up. There are fewer of them than at any other position, and two of them (George Kell and Freddie Lindstrom) clearly don’t belong.

          • Now that Santo is in the Hall of Fame, though, who is left out there as a third baseman that should clearly be in? I can’t really think of anyone. Do we really want to venture into Graig Nettles/Darrell Evans territory? I don’t want to go there. The fact that there are so few third basemen in the Hall says more about there being fewer worthy candidates than it does bad voting by the BBWAA, in my humble opinion.

          • The one exception is Dick Allen, who so clearly should be in the Hall it defies explanation. But I don’t really consider Dick to be a third baseman; he played more games at 1B than at third for his career.

    • Hartvig, it shouldn’t surprise us that “so many people didn’t seem to notice.” Third base is relatively underrepresented in the HOF; Santo’s election brought the number of HOF third sackers to 10, by my count (based on a requirement of 1,000 games played at 3B).

      Meanwhile, guys like Sal Bando, Graig Nettles, Buddy Bell, and of course B.James’s “most underrated player in the history of baseball,” Darrell Evans, remain relatively unsung.

      • And the chance of any of those 4 you listed ever getting into the Hall of Fame, however deserving, are unfortunately still worse than a snowball in hell.

        About the only currently eligible third baseman for the VC to vote on who has any chance at all would be Ken Boyer and he’s a 100 to 1 shot at best.

        At least when we’re making up a lineup of the best players not in the HOF we have a strong field at third base to choose from.

        • Does anyone know which third basemen have been considered by the VC in recent years? B-R only lists the VC inductees, not the ballots or the vote totals. I know that the HOF has released the actual vote totals in recent years.

          I found a few recent VC ballots on-line, and only saw Boyer’s name. Have Nettles or Bando or Dick Allen been considered yet?

          • Steven, thank you for chiming in.

            But by what standard do you want Ken Boyer to be included in the pantheon of all-time great 3rd-baseman?

          • He played in the shadow of Eddie Mathews for much of his career, but put up consistent numbers from 1955-64. Like Ron Santo, he was pretty much done by the age of 35. He didn’t make it to the majors until he was 24, so his cumulative stats don’t match up to Robinson, Schmidt or Mathews. More importantly, my first glove was a Ken Boyer Rawlings Trap-Eze model.

  4. Doug, in creating the lists of games played at a position was it any portion of a game played defensively there or a start at that position?

    Just trying to drill down through all the good stuff in your blog and make sense of it for myself!

    In other words, Omar Vizquel’s total of 2702 games at shortstop does not include any games entered defensively at another position?

    • Neil,

      It was playing at that position at any point in the game. So, could be a starter, a defensive replacement, a PH or PR who stayed in the game, or player who started (or entered) the game at another position and moved to the position of interest, or some combination of above.

      Since I set my magic number at a fairly substantial 2000, I wanted to be as generous as possible in counting games.

      • Thank you, Doug.

        The career totals by position aren’t skewed very much by the defensive shift to another position, I’m sure.

        • I was thinking about ‘starts’ vs ‘appearances’ as well, and the list hardly moves. In fact, the top nine remain the same, while Cey nudges into the 10 spot ahead of Yost. So only Yost has appeared in, but not started, 2,000 G at 3B.

          But, in looking at starts, it is certainly less likely that all three will join the list this year. Rolen (1,937), Beltre (1,907) and Jones (1,893) have a mathematical chance, but Beltre might be the most realistic.

  5. Good points, Neil, yet i both agree and disagree about Belanger. In late 1990s, for example, no way he cracks the offensive-minded lineups of anyone, esp. a team like the Mariners then. But right now in 2012, i think the M’s or A’s would view a slick-fielding .250-hitting SS as an improvement.

    • Hey, Shping. Thanks for the input. But at what point did Mark Belanger ever hit 0.250 consistently?

      Agreed about the Mariners or A’s accepting a light-hitting shortstop currently, but Belanger had three of seventeen seasons above 0.250, not counting his 1965 cup of coffee.

      His career 0.228 average makes him the poster child for no-bat, good-glove middle infielders of the run-starved sixties.

      Is Johnny Mac the closest to a modern-day equivalent of Mark Belanger?

      • I agree a guy like Belanger would have a tough time being a day-in, day-out starter year after year but I think he would always find work.

        His career OPS of .582 puts him above Clint Barmes, Cliff Pennington, Jimmy Rollins, Erick Aybar, and Alexei Ramirez’ 2012 seasons so far and right in line with Sean Rodriguez, Dee Gordon, and Jamey Carroll.

        Granted that’s not an apples-to-apples comparison (17 years vs. 30 games) but the point is there are plenty of SS in any given season that struggle to hit at all, and a glove like Belanger’s would keep him in the ML. Just maybe not as a 10-year starter.

        • It’s hard not to chime in about Belanger. He could play shortstop for me every day. Also, it may have held significance that he was the Orioles’ player rep for many years.

          • If you had a good enough offensive lineup besides him, he could sit in the 9-hole for a decade on an AL team, I suppose.

          • Belanger could take a walk (and a few HBP), steal a few bases, and stay out of GDP, so he wasn’t a total offensive sinkhole.

            I’m sure that Earl Weaver was aware of this. Plus, when his offense was _really_ wretched, Weaver started him a lot less. In 1970, 1972, and 1975, he started 109, 76, and 109 games. His OPS+ was 56, 42, and 64 (career: 68). So Weaver wasn’t starting Belanger regardless of how he hit.

  6. So, here are those games with the most career experience for opposing starters at the same position.

    3B – Ron Santo and Brooks Robinson, June 16, 1974, approx. 4675 games
    SS – Omar Vizquel and Derek Jeter, May 1, 2010, approx. 4930 games (NOTE: Vizquel started at SS yesterday against the Yanks, but Jeter got the night off)

    I’ll post some more of them when I figure them out.

    • Here’s some more “most experience” games, showing starters for the indicated game and total career game experience at that position.

      2B – Frank White and Willie Randolph, Sep 24, 1990, 4097 games
      1B – Fred McGriff and Mark Grace, Apr 7, 2003, 4346 games
      C – Ivan Rodriguez and Jason Kendall, Jun 23, 2010, 4309 games

    • Here’s some pitcher experience games.

      Relief – Jesse Orosco and Mike Plesac, May 3, 2003, 2220 games
      Starters – Phil Niekro and Don Sutton, Jun 8, 1987, 1586 games

  7. Doug, I hope you’re right in assuming Chipper Jones will reach 2,000 games at 3B for his career this season, but I’m not so sure he will get there. Even when nothing in particular is bothering him, Chipper has managed to play three consecutive days only once this yr; sitting out every third game has kind of become the norm for Jones this year. He’s got 24 games at third this year in the Braves’ first 39 games, which is a pace that would get him to the 85 more he needs to get to the 2,000 threshold. But if he spends a few small sessions more on the DL this year as he is want to do here lately, I’m a little worried he may not get to 2,000 before his last hurrah.

    • Chipper will also take over as the all-time leader for third basemen in RBI very soon; right now he’s ten behind Brett and Schmidt who are tied at 1,595.

  8. Good post, Doug. A couple of things I learned directly or indirectly from this:

    — Beltre’s BA in particular has been badly hurt by his home parks. Even after making up some ground with the friendly park in Texas last year, his home/road BA splits are .262/.290.

    — Brett played less than 63% of his career games at 3B — 1,692 out of 2,707. I knew of course that he had spent some time at 1B and DH in his later years, but I didn’t realize those games added up to about 3 full years’ worth at each spot.

  9. Regarding Chipper Jones, how much further does he move up the 3B food chain if he can pad his stats with 3 seasons of full-time DH duty instead of playing in the field and missing time due to injuries?

    Guys like Molitor (couldn’ stay on the field much as a position player), Eddie Murray, Brett, Winfield, Thome, Reggie Jackson, etc…all moved up the all-time career lists and passed some significant milestones (3,000 hits, 500 HR’s, huge RBI totals) thanks to the DH

    • You know that Jones has already announced his retirement earlier this year? I suppose that he might change his mind if he were feeling in good health through the whole season, but even though he’s playing well, he’s already missed 12 of 39 games,and doesn’t seem to have gone more than a week without missing a game.

      I don’t think it’s a matter of playing the field vs. just dH-ing, it sounds like he’s ready to retire after this year.

      Also see bstar’s comment above in #15.

      • No…I’m talking about Jones averaging 157 games played between age 24 and 31 versus 123 games played between age 32 and 39. That’s another 1- 1 1/2 years of accumulating – maybe 40 home runs and 150 runs scored and RBI as well as 200+ hits if he can DH and stay healthy. Just like Molitor, Jackson, Brett, Murray, Thome, etc…

        • SORRY! – I misunderstood you, that’s a very good point that Chipper could’ve added to his career stats if he had DH’d in the AL in the second half of his career.

          One small counterpoint, I don’t think that he’d have been a fulltime DH in the AL at 32. I know he’s not regarded as a great defensive third baseman, but I think he was adequate enough not to be moved to DH until age 36 or later.

          Plus, it’s possible that Chipper still could’ve gotten hurt if he were primarily a DH. Of course, it’s all pure conjecture on our part.

        • It’s nice to dream of numbers like that for Chipper, Paul. But I don’t think necessarily playing third base is what has hurt him physically so much; it’s just his aching body in general. Every time the guy has to slide, the entire Braves nation holds their collective breath. Any thoughts Chipper had of coming back next year were quickly quelched earlier this year when the Old Man went in for his millionth knee surgery.

          He will be sorely missed next year, though. The Braves are 18-5 this year when Chipper starts for them, 6-10 without.

  10. #30,#32,#39 : Doubles In Fenway Park –

    Fenway has always been a great doubles park, obviously a lot of that is due to The Wall. It takes away some line-drive HRs, but gives back many many more doubles on medium-deep flies that would be outs almost everywhere else, but bounce of The Wall. Plus RS batters have the advantage that opposing LF/CFers don’t have experience in playing the Wall. There’s also that wierd part of the box seats down the third-base line that juts out.

    The Red Sox are first in doubles this year, and either 1st/2nd from 2007 on.

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    My last blog (wordpress) was hacked and I ended up losing months of hard
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