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The Cubs Have the Top Third Baseman in Baseball, Natch

Analysis and Commentary

Lately, we’ve been going through Buster Olney’s positional rankings here at Bleacher Nation, noting you not only of their arrival, but also digging into the Cubs-related components.

So far, by Olney’s measure, we’ve learned that the Cubs likely have three of the top starters in baseball (Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, and Kyle Hendricks made the cut), one of the best relievers (Wade Davis) and first basemen (Anthony Rizzo), potentially two of the best second basemenand one of the best young shortstops (Addison Russell).

That’s a whole lot of best. 

And before Olney released his rankings of the top third basemen, it was fair to assume that Kris Bryant was going to make the cut. After all, he was the 2016 NL MVP, and was second only to Mike Trout in WAR last season. But given the relative depth at the position throughout the league, it wouldn’t have been inconceivable to learn that he just missed out on the top spot … but it would have been wrong.


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Indeed, Kris Bryant takes the top spot as the best third baseman in MLB, ahead of some really talented individuals. Take a look at the full write-up for some perspective, but here’s the list:

  1. Kris Bryant, 2016 World Series Champs
  2. Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles
  3. Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies
  4. Josh Donaldson, Toronto Blue Jays
  5. Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers
  6. Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays
  7. Kyle Seager, Seattle Mariners
  8. Justin Turner, Los Angeles Dodgers
  9. Mike Moustakas, Kansas City Royals
  10. Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians

Honorable Mentions: Anthony Rendon (Nationals), Todd Frazier (White Sox), Maikel Franco (Phillies), Alex Bregman (Astros), Jake Lamb (Diamondbacks).


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Like most of these lists, the third basemen have an upper tier and a lower tier, even within the ten best at the position. And by my eye, that cutoff begins at #5, Adrian Beltre, but even that is a damn impressive group.

Consider that, aside from Bryant, you have a 24-year-old third baseman who’s already been worth 23.0 WAR in his young career (Manny Machado). A 25-year-old third basemen who’s eclipsed the 40-home run mark twice in his career, while playing stellar defense at third base (Nolan Arenado). A three-time All-Star, MVP third baseman who’s finished in the top eight of MVP voting for four straight years (Josh Donaldson). And a five-time Gold Glover with 445 home runs, 81.3 career WAR and a (presumably) a one-way ticket to Cooperstown already in his name (Adrian Beltre).

And Kris Bryant is ranked ahead all of them. 

According to Olney, and you should really check out his full article for a greater explanation, there was some divergence of opinion on who should take the top spot between Bryant, Arenado, and Donaldson (for some obvious reasons), but Bryant took home the honor because of his apparent potential to be even better in 2017. To be fair, besting an 8.4 WAR, MVP, World Series Champion season is a tall order that only a few players could ever dream of achieving. Arguably, Kris Bryant just happens to be one of those players.


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Consider a few of Kris Bryant’s key improvements in 2016, noted in the write-up: after swinging and missing 16.5% of the time in his rookie season, Bryant swung through just 13% of his offerings last year. In addition, after striking out 30.6% of the time in 2015 (about as high as a productive player can get), Bryant struck out just 22% of the time in 2016 (just barely below average). With the drop in strikeouts, and an increase in his homers, Bryant’s BABIP dropped 46 points from 2015 to 2016, but his batting average rose 17 points.

Throw in that he’s an average defender (definitely not a bad thing) and a superb baserunner, and Kris Bryant takes the cake at third base.

Just as the Cubs appear to be favorites to repeat in 2017, so does Kris Bryant as the National League’s MVP. There are plenty of talented players and candidates, but very few are as well-rounded and productive as the Cubs’ third baseman.


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And hey, he just got married, so he’s got that going for him, too:

 


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Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami is a Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @Michael_Cerami.