The great baseball debate continues in week three as Sports Unbiased unveiled the third article in a series of debates that will encompass every position in Major League Baseball. The Best First Baseman in Baseball: The Best Of MLB Debate Series fired up the engines and the second installment, Best Second Baseman in Baseball kept the fires hot. Remember, every player on every team is fair game. Are veterans like David Wright or Evan Longoria the choice? What about an upstart like Josh Donaldson? Is it someone else entirely? The Core Three of baseball writers here at Sports Unbiased have weighed in. So who did Jen Rainwater, Adam Solowiei or Brian Reese select? Let’s get to it and find out.
Adam: Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays
While players like Josh Donaldson, Manny Machado and Matt Carpenter are the future of the position, the here and now belongs to Evan Longoria of the Tampa Bay Rays. The 28 year old is a three time All-Star, two time Gold Glove winner, a Silver Slugger Award winner as well as the 2008 Rookie of the Year. Longoria just became the Tampa Bay Rays all-time home run leader when he belted number 164 against the New York Yankees. In 2013, among second baseman, Longoria was second in home runs (32), runs (91), and ISOP (.230). For years Longoria has been counted on as the main focus of the offense in Tampa.
Longoria is no slouch with a glove on his hand either finishing in the top seven in Fielding Percentage (.972) and is number two in active third baseman Fielding Percentage at .965. Longoria is no slouch ranging for balls as evident by his 2.73 Range Factor per nine innings, good for fourth on the active list. Also, there are only five third baseman in Major League Baseball history with more Wins Above Replacement (WAR) than Longoria through age 27. When you are an active player and on a short list only trailing Hall of Famers like Eddie Mathews, Ron Santo, George Brett, Mike Schmidt and Frankie Frisch, you are doing something right. Longoria is signed to a team friendly long term deal and is entering his prime. While others show promise, Longoria has done it and is only getting better.
Brian: David Wright, New York Mets
David Wright has arguably been the best third baseman in the National League for some time now and with the emergence of Evan Longoria in the American League, the argument for league’s best third baseman is subjective. They have almost identical stats at the plate in 2014, but with a better career resume I have to still give the edge to David Wright.
I completely agree that Donaldson, Machado, Carpenter could make this list and will one day, possibly in the course of this season, best considered the top three third baseman, but Wright continues to excel even being the only player mentioned over 30. He’s a career .301 a hitter with a .381 OBP with 223 home runs and is on pace, with over 1,500 hits, to get to 2,500+ hits by the time his career is over. Being a seven time All-Star and two time Silver Slugger Award winner, Wright is on his way to being the best player in Mets team history. He’s a .956 career fielder and two time Gold Glove winner. He’s the captain of the New York Mets and should be considered the best fielder in that city once the other captain in the Bronx leaves. Longoria may have an advantage in post-season experience, but Wright’s career numbers are still more impressive.
Jen: Josh Donaldson, Oakland Athletics
Ha-ha! Of course people WILL immediately accuse me of being biased (and maybe I am a little bit) when I give you guys my choice as the best third baseman in baseball but I have seen him play A LOT more than the majority of the country and seeing someone play live on an almost daily basis definitely gives you a perspective that not a lot of other people get to see. There’s Manny Machado, Evan Longoria, David Wright and all can easily be argued as better than my choice, however I believe that by the end of this year everyone will agree that the Oakland A’s third baseman Josh Donaldson is the best in the game. The 28-year old had a huge breakout year in 2013 and finished 4th in the MVP voting, while he could have won it the way he helped the A’s with his spectacular defense and power offense. He hit .301 last season with 24 home runs and 93 RBI. He will easily surpass the 30 home run, 100 RBI mark this year. He has started the season off hitting well and already has 7 homes runs and 20 RBI in 108 at-bats.
The thing that makes Donaldson special is his incredible defensive skills. I will admit that he has made six errors already this season but that is bound to change based on his performance in 2013. Oakland’s O.co Coliseum has the most foul territory in all of baseball and that makes it possible for some incredibly hard plays to be made or not made. Donaldson never misses the ball even if he has to battle the tarp and the fans in the way he will come up with it. I wish I could post a video of one play he made that was probably one of the coolest baseball moments I have ever seen and I have been at a Perfect Game and games 18-20 of the A’s 2002 20 game win streak, so that is saying a lot that his play is up there with those moments. Also, keep in mind that this is only his fourth year in the big leagues so he is only going to improve. He may not have the .301 career average of David Wright or the Gold Gloves of Evan Longoria but he hasn’t truly had his shot yet. Let’s face it not many people actually pay attention to the A’s which is why they are always surprised when the A’s do well.
Donaldson is most certainly the MVP of the back to back reigning AL West Champion A’s and should have more notoriety than he has received (especially considering his All-Star game snub). Personally I think he is the best in baseball. He might not have the numbers or awards to beat the others mentioned but take into consideration the team he plays for, the tough division they play in and the fact that he is by far their MVP and you just might see that not only will Josh Donaldson improve, he will emerge to the rest of the world as the best third baseman in the game! Go A’s! LOL!!
While it is clear that third base is not as cut and dry as some other positions. That point is evident in the arguments that were made for David Wright and Josh Donaldson. However, both arguments lack when talking about the best third baseman in the game. Let’s start with David Wright. Wright and Longoria have played almost the exact same number of games from 2011 through this season. In that time Wright has 54 home runs, 223 runs, 224 RBI and made 38 errors. Meanwhile, Longoria hit 82 home runs, scored 219 runs, knocked in 253 RBI and made only 34 errors. Wright still a solid player but has not won a Gold Glove since 2008, is over 30 years old now, carries a much higher annual salary than Longoria and his time as the best third baseman in the game has passed him by. The reality is David Wright, while a big name, has not played in the post season since 2006. While some argue it is not his fault, carrying $20 million of a team’s $90 million payroll in 2014 alone could hamper the team’s chances. Don’t let the New York stage cloud judgment when comparing a player entering his prime with one three years his senior.
Josh Donaldson on the other hand is much younger. My mistake, he is the same age as Longoria washing out any age argument. While Josh Donaldson was working his way through the minors, Longoria was already winning Gold Gloves, going to All-Star games , and hitting six home runs en route to the 2008 World Series. The reality is that Longoria is a proven commodity of the same age as Donaldson. Defensively I do not see the comparison. While I can respect the thought the reality is Donaldson is 19th in fielding percentage amongst all third baseman so far in 2014. Meanwhile, Longoria has made one error. Many can argue potential but you cannot predict the futures of two players the same age. You cannot dismiss the predictions of Kipnis compared to the stats of Cano one week and then take the opposite stance the next week, this isn’t politics. However, if you did then you would have to predict Longoria over 30 home runs and around 100 RBI because he has proven both over more than one full season. Is Donaldson good? Absolutely. The best third baseman in MLB? Not even in the American League.
The beauty of sports is the debate and here we believe that debate breeds understanding, excitement and eye opening insight. There you have it, the writers believe the best third baseman is either Evan Longoria, David Wright or Josh Donaldson. Did any of their arguments sway you? Is there someone else you think should be considered the best? Vote and leave a comment below.