Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Who Belongs In the Hall? (Part IV--Third Basemen)

Third base is the most overlooked position in the Hall of Fame. Before 1980, there were only six hot corner guardians enshrined at Cooperstown. Since then, five more were added to the mix: Brooks Robinson (1983), Mike Schmidt (1995), George Brett (1999), Wade Boggs (2005) and Ron Santo (2012). Of these five recently added players, four are statistical leaders at their position. Robinson holds the record for most Gold Gloves with 16 (more than any infielder in history). Brett collected 1,596 career RBI's--one more than Schmidt. Schmidt hit more homers than anyone in the group with 548. Boggs leads the pack with a .328 career batting average and .415 on-base percentage.

In examining the list of current candidates, it's a pretty safe bet that we will not see another third baseman in the Hall in the immediate future. There are two players I believe deserve serious consideration when they become eligible down the road:

Scott Rolen
Rolen was Rookie of the Year in 1997. He captured 8 Gold Gloves and was named to 7 All-Star teams. He played in 2 World Series with the Cardinals, coming out on the winning end in 2006. He currently ranks among the top 10 all-time in assists and the top 20 in fielding percentage. Factors that may negatively affect his candidacy include a ton of strikeouts (one per every 5 AB's) and a tendency to get hurt. In 17 seasons, Rolen got into 150 or more games just 5 times.

Chipper Jones
Jones was one of the greatest switch-hitters of all-time. He holds two NL marks among players who swung from both sides of the plate: Most HR's in a single season (45) and most career homers (468). In 19 seasons, he hit .303 and drove in over 1,600 runs while scoring more than 1,600 times. He remained productive even in his later years, capturing a batting title in 2008 at the age of 36. He played for Atlanta throughout his career (an accomplishment in itself) and helped guide the Braves to 3 World Series appearances. He was an 8-time All-Star and MVP winner in '99. In my personal opinion, Jones is the most viable candidate despite his run of the mill defensive work.

Of third basemen currently in the majors, there are several worth mentioning.

Adrian Beltre
Beltre was only 19 years-old when he started in 1998. Today, he is only 34. He has become a more disciplined hitter over the years, topping the .300 mark in 2 of his last 3 campaigns. At the time of this post, he was hitting .326. Beltre led the NL in homers with 48 in 2004. He paced the loop in doubles (49) during the 2010 slate. To date, he has won 4 Gold Gloves and is approaching the 400-homer threshold. He also has more than 2,400 hits. If he can remain productive to the age of 40, he might hit the magic 3,000 mark. We'll see--history has dictated that the last 500 hits are the most difficult to attain.

Aramis Ramirez
Ramirez started the same year as Beltre and is only a year older. He has similar offensive stats, but no Gold Gloves. Arguably, he should have captured the honor in 2006 and 2012, when he led NL third basemen in fielding percentage. As of the present, Ramirez has more than 800 extra-base hits. He has reached the 100 RBI threshold on 7 occasions while topping the .300 mark at the plate the same number of times. Ramirez is currently having a down season due to a knee injury that kept him out of action through most of July. Time will tell if he can regain his old form. 

Miguel Cabrera
Though it's still a bit early to have his plaque cast in bronze, Cabrera is in the midst of a storied career. The first triple crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski, Cabrera has driven in 100 or more runs every year since 2004. In that span, he has clubbed no less than 26 homers per year. He is an 8-time All-Star and 4-time Silver Slugger recipient. He was AL MVP in 2012. At the time of this post, he was leading the league with a torrid .358 batting mark. Barring major injuries or a shockingly sudden decline, this guy is more than halfway to Cooperstown.

Other current players of note include David Wright, Hanley Ramirez and Evan Longoria, though the jury is still out on all three. Players from yesteryear that deserve honorable mention include Graig Nettles (390 career HR's/ 2GG), Darrel Evans (414 career HR's) and Matt Williams (378 career HR's/ 4GG). While I'm at it, I should toss Ron Cey into the fray as well. He was a 6-time All-Star who played on 4 pennant winning squads.  


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