There are fewer third basemen in the MLB Hall of Fame than any other position. Only 10 major leaguers have been given the ultimate individual endorsement as a third baseman in 100+ years (three Negro leaguers have also been inducted). That number will likely only increase by one over the next 20 years. I don’t know for certain why the position has seen so few Hall of Famers but I’m guessing it has to do with the grueling nature of the position. The nightly beatings that third basemen endure must shorten the average career at that position. It’s also possible that the best defenders/craziest players get placed at third base and usually the best defenders/craziest players are not also the best hitters. Even when a team does come upon a player that excels in both areas, injuries are almost always an issue. One only needs to look at the best active third basemen and their injury histories to see how taxing the position can be. Chipper Jones, Scott Rolen, Troy Glaus, Eric Chavez, and Aramis Ramirez seemingly spend time on the DL every season. Rolen and Glaus have seen their Hall of Fame odds go from “very likely” to questionable at best because of said injuries. There are three third basemen under the age of 25 that might be as good as Chipper Jones or better. If they can stay healthy, they’ll all be gunning for Cooperstown.
Here are the categories that I will be using to breakdown the candidates and a brief description of each category: The “Lock” and “Likely” categories will be counted as being projected into the Hall of Fame. There won’t be too many “Borderline” candidates but I’ll decide those projections on a case by case basis. I will not count players under 25 regardless of my opinion but I’ll identify players under 25 who seem to be off to excellent starts.
Lock: Barring steroid scandal, will be a Hall of Famer
Likely: Player is on the path based on career progression
Borderline: Pretty close to 50/50; or could make a charge
Not Likely: Almost no chance; would take an unexpected resurgence
Under 25: Players that have a good start to a potential HOF career
Active Hall of Fame Third Basemen
I could probably make an argument that Chipper Jones is a “lock” but I’ll just keep him in the “likely” category. Just consider “likely” to mean 95% in this instance. Jones—when healthy—has been a run-producing machine. He had eight-straight 100-RBI seasons from ’96-‘03. He has hit over .300 in nine of his 13 full seasons. He won the NL MVP in 1999. He has a good shot at 500 Home Runs and 3,000 hits which would make him the first third baseman to accomplish that feat. He has more career walks than strikeouts and an OPS+ of 144. His career numbers would be even more impressive if he hadn’t missed close to 120 games due to injury over the last four seasons. If he can stay healthy for five seasons—which is asking quite a bit—he’ll be knocking on the door of all sorts of milestones.
At 29, Rolen was well on his way to securing Hall of Fame-status. Three years and a bunch of injuries later and things don’t look so certain. Rolen still has a fine resume but he’ll need to get back to his pre-2005 offensive form that saw him produce five 100-RBI seasons before the age of 30. If Rolen can’t regain that sort of production, then his fate may be similar to Nomar Garciaparra’s. Both players were clearly good enough in their primes but neither has managed to stay healthy. Rolen is recognized as one of the great defensive third basemen of all-time which will help his cause if it’s close. Rolen has only finished in the top 15 in MVP voting once in his 11 full-seasons. A player on his way to Cooperstown should have a better showing than that. Rolen probably has a 33% chance of making it but I can’t project him in on that percentage.
At 23, Glaus hit 47 HRs with 102 RBIs. At 24, he hit 41 HRs with 108 RBIs. At 25, he hit 30 HRs with 111 RBIs. Based on those numbers alone, one would have to consider Glaus at the time to be a virtual lock for the Hall of Fame if he stayed healthy. Unfortunately, he did not stay healthy. He missed more than half of his team’s games over the 2003 and 2004 seasons. He bounced back with two very solid efforts in 2005 (37 HR/97 RBI) and 2006 (38 HR/104 RBI) but has once again suffered injuries in 2007. His career batting average (.253) and OPS+ (119) are relatively weak. With 272 HRs, Glaus has an outside shot at 500 for his career. However, with mediocre numbers everywhere else, I’m not sure that would even get him in.
Chavez is basically Rolen circa-2004. In fact, their similarities are remarkable. Like I mentioned above, when Rolen was 29, it looked like he had a very good shot at making it to Cooperstown. Considering the likeness, I have to say Chavez has a decent chance as well. Chavez is regarded as one of the great defensive third basemen in MLB history. He has seven-straight seasons of 22+ HRs. He has four 100-RBI seasons. The problem with Chavez comes from not having any high-end seasons offensively. He has only finished in the top 15 in MVP voting once in nine seasons. He has never scored 100 runs or hit .300 in a full season. I’m willing to give Chavez a fighter’s chance but at this point, I have to project him “out.”
Ramirez is all over the map in terms of production. He is just as likely to hit .310 with 30 HRs and 110 RBIs as he is to hit .272 with 22 HRs and 90 RBIs. That sort of production—even though it is somewhat inconsistent—is nothing to scoff at. The problem is that Ramirez, like Chavez, doesn’t have the high-end seasons to be considered among the elite to ever play the position. He has never scored more than 100 runs in a season. He has never walked more than 50 times in a season. His career OPS+ is an underwhelming 111. He does have four100-RBI seasons and four 30+ HR-seasons. He is also relatively young at 29. It is too early to be certain but I don’t see Ramirez ever having the kind of production that will garner a selection to Cooperstown.
Beltre isn’t a Hall of Fame-caliber player in any regard or by any measure. However, at 28, he is just about half way to 3,000 hits. He would only have to average 114 hits per season over the next 14 years to reach that mark. It would almost be impossible to not average that many hits person if he does play that long. So, the question is, will Beltre play until he’s 42? Beltre has a very good shot at becoming the first player in MLB history to reach 3,000 hits without being voted into the Hall of Fame. I predict that will happen.
Under 25 to keep an eye on:
Per my rules, Cabrera is not eligible to be projected into the Hall of Fame. He has to fall under the “Under 25 to look out for” category. But, I think there is a very good chance that Cabrera will be recognized as the greatest offensive third baseman in MLB history by the time his career is over. However, it would not shock me if he eventually moved to another position at some point. Only 24 years-old, Cabrera is working on his fourth-straight 100-RBI season. His career batting average is .315 and rising rapidly. He has finished fifth in the NL MVP voting in each of the last two years and will likely fare better in the ’07 voting—possibly even winning it. Using Baseball-Reference.com’s player similarity scores, Cabrera—through the age of 23—compares most favorably to Hank Aaron.
If Miguel Cabrera is a 10 on a scale of 1-10 for third basemen, then Wright is a 9.5. Wright, like Cabrera is only 24 (and thus not eligible to be projected into the Hall of Fame per my rules) and is working on his third-straight 25+ HR/100-RBI season. His OPS+ is a sizzling 135 and he sports a .305 career average. Wright started early enough that he’ll likely pile up massive career numbers on his way to Cooperstown.
Braun’s offensive statistics for ’07 are ridiculous. Perhaps nobody in MLB history has started a career more impressively. In just 69 games (all in ‘07), Braun has 22 home runs, 59 RBIs, a .346 batting average and a 169 OPS+. While 69-game mark is a little early to start talking about the Hall of Fame, it is not too early to put him on the list of players to watch under 25.
Final Projected Third Basemen (1)