Now that the 2021 MLB regular season has come to an exciting conclusion, it’s time to reflect on the outstanding performances that defined this year in baseball. We have already broken down the top hitters at catcher, first base, and second base, which means it’s time to move on to third base. In the fourth edition of this ten-part series, we’ll take a look at players whose offensive efforts stood out the most at the hot corner. Third base is where one might find elite glovework portrayed in diving stops and barehanded grabs, but it has also been a position that displays some of the most dangerous power threats and elite hitters. The lack of depth at third base is made up for by having a circle of offensive superstars leading this ranking. Let’s get into the players that defined the third base position in 2021 with their efforts at the dish.
We’ll use a combination of counting stats, rate stats, and advanced stats to break down each player’s case to be included amongst the best hitters at their position. All stats via Fangraphs.
15. Evan Longoria – San Francisco Giants
81 G, 291 PA, .261/.351/.482, 45 R, 13 HR, 46 RBI, 1 SB, 12.0%/23.4% BB/K, 123 wRC+
As one of the best players in Tampa Bay Rays history, Longoria had a renaissance year in 2021 as a member of the San Francisco Giants. The long-time third baseman once again briefly looked like the player that previously posted five 5+ fWAR seasons with Tampa Bay.
His playing time was diminished this season, holding him back from accruing more impressive stats, because of troubles with injuries and the effective platooning of manager Gabe Kapler. Nonetheless, Longoria still had a great season with the help of the Giants coaching staff, ranking in the top-seven in BB%, OPS (.833), and wRC+ among players at his position with at least 250 plate appearances. Those impressive rankings helped him squeak onto this top 15, but he’s not ranked any higher because of his lack of plate appearances.
14. Alex Bregman – Houston Astros
91 G, 400 PA, .270/.355/.422, 54 R, 12 HR, 55 RBI, 1 SB, 11.0%/13.3% BB/K, 115 wRC+
The recent offensive production of Bregman has fallen well short of his 2019 AL MVP runner-up campaign. On top of his downfall at the plate, he has dealt with controversy off the field with the sign-stealing scandal. Bregman ranks this low on this list not because of his performance or because of a personal vendetta, but because he dealt with injuries that kept him from putting up more notable statistics.
The two-time All-Star stands out because of his elite eye at the plate, where he worked an outstanding 0.83 BB/K ratio (second among third basemen). Other than his plate discipline, Bregman posted mediocre results. His power was middling and most of his other metrics were a lot worse than the league-leading rates he put up in 2018-19. However, Bregman rated out as a top ten third baseman due to his wRC+ (min. 400 PA) and would have ranked higher with better health.
13. Patrick Wisdom – Chicago Cubs
106 G, 375 PA, .231/.305/.518, 54 R, 28 HR, 61 RBI, 4 SB, 8.5%/40.8% BB/K, 115 wRC+
Having been known as a “quad-A” player during his time in the minor leagues, Wisdom’s 2021 breakout season was one of the biggest surprises in baseball. He busted out with four dingers in his first fours starts and then followed that up by hitting four more in his next six starts. That initial burst of power secured Wisdom’s spot in the middle of a Cubs lineup that soon traded off a number of stars.
The 30-year old third baseman ran with the playing time afforded to him and continued to show off his power, finishing fourth in slugging percentage at third base. Amazingly, he had success despite recording the highest strikeout rate of all-time (min. 350 PA). That horrid strikeout rate is the reason Wisdom ranks outside of the top ten on this list. Wisdom could be a diamond in the rough for a rebuilding Cubs team, but if he doesn’t get that K rate under control, he might end up seeing triple-A pitching again.
12. Eduardo Escobar – Milwaukee Brewers
146 G, 599 PA, .253/.314/.472, 77 R, 28 HR, 90 RBI, 1 SB, 8.0%/20.7% BB/K, 107 wRC+
Coming up as a utility player, not much was thought of Escobar as a member of the Minnesota Twins. He reached new heights with the Arizona Diamondbacks and made his first All-Star team this past summer. He earned that All-Star selection by providing exceptional power as a switch-hitter. His 28 home runs were the second-most by a switch-hitting third baseman and boosted his SLG percentage to top ten status at his position.
A mid-season trade to the Brewers had Escobar making his second run at a World Series. Unfortunately, the Brewers were bounced in the NLDS, leaving Escobar ringless as he enters free agency for the first time. Escobar might be the biggest potential bust among free agent third basemen this offseason, and most likely won’t have as much success with his new team as he did in Arizona and Milwaukee.
11. Luis Urias – Milwaukee Brewers
150 G, 570 PA, .249/.345/.445, 77 R, 23 HR, 75 RBI, 5 SB, 11.1%/20.4% BB/K, 111 wRC+
After coming to the Milwaukee Brewers in an offseason deal with the San Diego Padres prior to 2020, Urias struggled to show the potential he built up in the minor leagues. Fortunately for the Brewers, he found his footing this past season and had a quietly remarkable year at the plate.
He produced across the board with a keen eye, improving contact skills, and a solid power stroke. Those skills were evidenced by a top ten walk rate among third basemen, a .266 AVG in the second half, and a top-ten OPS mark at third base (min. 400 PA). Heading into his age 25 season, Urias has nothing but time to continue improving at the plate. With club control through 2025, the Brewers will get to see how time winds up helping the young infielder.
10. Jeimer Candelario – Detroit Tigers
149 G, 626 PA, .271/.351/.443, 75 R, 16 HR, 67 RBI, 10.4%/21.6% BB/K, 119 wRC+
After taking a massive step forward in the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign, the Tigers third baseman continued those efforts this past season. With his contributions over the last couple of years, Candelario has set himself apart as one of the better switch-hitters in the MLB. He fits into the mold of fellow AL Central third baseman, Yoan Moncada, in that they’re both switch-hitters with gap power and a disciplined approach at the plate.
His power was apparent in the 42 doubles he hit, a tally that tied for the major league lead and led all third baseman; five more than the next-most at the position. His ability to take walks wasn’t as impressive, but he still racked up the sixth-most (65) at his position. On a rate basis, Candelario walked at the tenth-highest rate by a third baseman with at least 300 plate appearances, and paired with his solid contact ability (fourth-most hits  of any third baseman), he became one of three third basemen to walk at least ten percent of the time while batting at least .270; joining Alex Bregman and Justin Turner in that select group. Entering his first offseason of arbitration eligibility, Candelario will look to build upon the success he’s had in the recent past as the Tigers begin to emerge from their lengthy rebuild.
9. Yoan Moncada – Chicago White Sox
144 G, 616 PA, .263/.375/.412, 74 R, 14 HR, 61 RBI, 3 SB, 13.6%/25.5% BB/K, 122 wRC+
Although he has yet to live up to the hype that accompanied his rise through the minors, Moncada has still performed exceptionally, manning the hot corner on the South Side. Moncada was the second-best offensive switch-hitting third baseman because of his elite capacity to work walks. Not only did he tie for the highest walk rate among third basemen, but he also took a base on balls 84 times; more than any other player at this position. Those position-leading marks revealing Moncada’s patience at the plate helped him to get on base at the highest rate of any third baseman.
The 26-year old’s power didn’t manifest in his home runs, as he only tallied 14, but he did tie for the fourth-most doubles (33) at his position. Just that little bit of power paired with his elite plate discipline allowed Moncada to rate out as the ninth-best offensive third baseman by wRC+. Prior to the 2020 season, Moncada signed a five-year, $70 million extension, keeping him in Chicago through at least 2024, with a club option for the following year. Having posted a 97th percentile max exit velocity of 113.8 mph, per Statcast, Moncada still touts some untapped power potential that could be realized as soon as next year.
8. Nolan Arenado – St. Louis Cardinals
157 G, 653 PA, .255/.312/.494, 81 R, 34 HR, 105 RBI, 2 SB, 7.7%/14.7% BB/K, 113 wRC
In six seasons with the Colorado Rockies between 2013-2018, Arenado proved himself to be one of the best players on both sides of the ball at the hot corner. Then, prior to the 2019 season, he signed a nine-year, $275 million dollar extension that would keep him in Colorado through the 2027 season (if he didn’t exercise his post-2021 and 2022 opt-outs). A deal of that size not only affirmed Arenado’s caliber as a third baseman, but also suggested that he would be with the Rockies for his entire career. Everything changed when the relationship between Arenado and Colorado’s front office got testy, resulting in Arenado’s trade to the St. Louis Cardinals ahead of the 2021 season.
In his first year in new threads, the nine-time All-Star proved that he wasn’t a product of Coors Field by continuing to provide power with his bat. That power showed up in his double (34) and homer totals, as the former was the third-most and the latter the fourth-most by a third baseman. His sensational extra-base hitting prowess resulted in top five SLG and top ten OPS marks among third basemen with at least 400 plate appearances. Combining his thump with his low strikeout rate made Arenado one of the most unique power hitters in the game, as he joined Juan Soto, Jose Ramirez, and Jose Altuve as the only hitters to strike out less than 15 percent of plate appearances with a SLG% above .475.
Like most hitters leaving Colorado, the batting average of Arenado took a hit because of the BABIP-boosting effects of his former ballpark, but he was still a top ten hitter at his position and earned himself his ninth consecutive Gold Glove Award at third base for his regularly exceptional work in the field. Arenado has already decided not to exercise that previously mentioned 2021 opt-out and will remain under contract with the Cardinals for the next six seasons where he will attempt to cement his Hall of Fame case.
7. Josh Donaldson – Minnesota Twins
135, 543 PA, .247/.352/.475, 73, 26 HR, 72 RBI, 13.6%/21.0% BB/K, 124 wRC+
In his first full season with Minnesota, Donaldson, the 2015 AL MVP, continued to perform at the level that earned him three All-Star selections from 2014-16. The right-handed hitter has historically been the premier supplier of power plus plate discipline at third base and the case was no different in 2021. Donaldson tied Moncada for the Majors’ highest walk rate at the hot corner and rated out as the seventh-best power hitter at third base via the position’s seventh-highest SLG percentage (min. 400 PA). That amalgamation placed Donaldson among the league’s most dangerous hitters. The only players that matched or bested Donaldson’s 13.5% BB rate and .475 SLG in greater than 500 plate appearances were Max Muncy, Joey Votto, Shohei Ohtani, Bryce Harper, and Juan Soto.
His Statcast metrics also agree with the notion that he is still one of the most elite hitters in the game. His Savant sliders are splattered in dark red, displaying 92nd percentile marks or better in average exit velocity (94.1 mph), max exit velocity (114.7 mph), hard-hit rate (52.7%), expected weighted on-base average (.385), expecting slugging percentage (.533), barrel rate (17.4%), and walk rate. Those Statcast metrics, as well as the fifth-best wRC+ at his position, clearly support Donaldson’s placement on this list and will surely keep him in the Twins lineup entering his age 36 season. Having dealt with nagging leg injuries over the past few years, it will be important for Donaldson to continue producing when he’s able to take the field.
6. Kris Bryant – San Francisco Giants
144 G, 586 PA, .265/.353/.481, 86 R, 25 HR, 73 RBI, 10 SB, 10.6%/23.0% BB/K, 123 wRC+
Bryant has a closet full of trophies that includes an NL Rookie of the Year Award, the 2016 NL MVP Award, and a 2016 World Series ring he earned for helping the Chicago Cubs break their championship curse. Although he hasn’t added much to his accolades since that World Series other than a couple of All-Star selections, Bryant’s services were still in demand at last season’s Trade Deadline. He was acquired by the San Francisco Giants (Caleb Kilian and Alexander Canario were sent to the Cubs in return) and aided in their conquest of the NL West division.
A right-handed hitter with the ability to play all over the field, Bryant stood out at the dish for his efforts across the board. Usually when a player spreads out his production to cover multiple facets of offense, they don’t stand out for one specific skill. Despite Bryant’s all-around production, he was still able to stand out definitively in the power department where he posted a top-five SLG mark at his position (min. 400 PA).
He paired that power with decent speed, joining Manny Machado and Jose Ramirez as the only third basemen to hit 20 or more dingers with double-digit stolen bases. As a result of crossing home plate from long balls and being in scoring position regularly because of his stolen bases and his 32 doubles, Bryant scored the sixth most runs by a third baseman. Rating out as the fifth-best offensive third baseman by OPS (.834) sets Bryant up to earn a massive payday as he enters free agency for the first time in his career this offseason.
5. Justin Turner – Los Angeles Dodgers
151 G, 612 PA, .278/.361/.471, 87 R, 27 HR, 87 RBI, 3 SB, 10.0%/16.0% BB/K, 127 wRC+
Since coming to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2014 and changing his swing, Turner has been one of the most consistent hitters at the hot corner. Despite posting his lowest batting average since 2016, Turner tied his career-high in homers for the second time. The fact that he had his lowest average in five years, yet still tied for the fourth-highest by a third baseman (min. 400 PA) in 2021 is a testament to the elite level Turner has played at during his time with the Dodgers.
In addition to his contact ability, the right-handed hitter showed off his disciplined approach by recording his position’s fourth-best BB-K ratio (0.62, min. 500 PA), helping him reach base at the third-highest clip by a third baseman. His wRC+ was the biggest benefactor (other than the Dodgers, of course) of his impactful efforts at the dish. It rated out as the fourth-highest by a third baseman and secures his rightful placement in the top-five hitters at third base. Jose Ramirez and Manny Machado were the only other third basemen to strike out less than 20 percent of the time while being 20 percent better than league-average at the plate, according to wRC+.
As Turner gets set to enter his ninth season with Los Angeles at the age of 37, he will hope that his supportive Statcast metrics (.358 wOBA, .356 xwOBA) portend a continuation of the success he’s had on the West Coast. He will most likely finish out his career with the Dodgers, considering the fact that the vesting option attached to the two-year, $34 million extension he signed to stay with the team prior to the 2021 season would activate ahead of his age 38 season.
4. Manny Machado – San Diego Padres
153 G, 640 PA, .278/.347/.489, 92 R, 28 HR, 106 RBI, 12 SB, 9.8%/15.9% BB/K, 122 wRC+
The $300 million infielder once again showed why he is worth so much when he finished this past season as a top-five offensive third baseman. Machado ranks this high because he did more than just a few things well last season.
On top of posting top-five rates in AVG, SLG (min. 400 PA), and OPS (.836), Machado also racked up counting stats, recording the third-most hits (157), runs, and RBI at his position. Most impressively, he displayed power and contact while striking out at the fourth-lowest rate by a third baseman with at least 500 plate appearances.
In a similar fashion to the two third basemen Machado ranks directly in front of, he paired his power with skills that don’t usually go hand-in-hand with home runs. Much like Justin Turner, Machado supplied power and avoided going down on strikes, but Machado bested both Turner’s home run total and K%. Much like Kris Bryant, Machado also added speed to his skillset, but Machado bested both Bryant’s stolen base total and SLG%. Those facts helped Machado rank ahead of his contemporaries on this list.
Machado most likely won’t exercise the post-2023 opt-out in his megadeal, which would keep him in San Diego for seven more seasons.
3. Austin Riley – Atlanta Braves
160 G, 662 PA, .303/.367/.531, 91 R, 33 HR, 107 RBI, 7.9%/25.4% BB/K, 135 wRC+
Quite a few players broke out across the league in 2021, but one of the most notable breakouts was by the everyday third baseman in Atlanta. Riley did everything at the plate in his breakout season for the World Champion Braves. He paced third basemen in OPS (.898) by getting on base at the second-highest clip and recording the third-best SLG percentage. In addition to the best OPS at third base, Riley also led all third basemen with his .303 batting average because of his position-leading 179 hits.
Riley showed the power that accompanied his minor league career by mashing the fifth-most home runs by a third baseman. That power display not only helped Riley cross the plate more times than all but three third basemen, but also helped him drive in more runs than any third baseman not named Rafael Devers. Ultimately, Riley’s efforts at the dish resulted in a second-place finish in wRC+ at his position, securing his place inside the top three on this list.
Statcast doesn’t fully support Riley’s breakout season (.277 xBA, .500 xSLG), but it does suggest he can still be a legitimate threat with his bat going forward (those expected stats were both better than 85% of the league). The best right-handed hitting third baseman in the MLB in 2021 will be arbitration-eligible for the first time in his career this offseason after qualifying for Super-Two status; he is a player entering his third MLB season in the top 22 percent of service time accrued by players who have amassed between two and three years of service time.
2. Rafael Devers – Boston Red Sox
156 G, 664 PA, .279/.352/.538, 101 R, 38 HR, 113 RBI, 5 SB, 9.3%/21.5% BB/K, 134 wRC+
Devers has quickly become one of the best hitters in all of baseball during his short career. Now he can officially lay claim to the title of best left-handed hitting third baseman in the MLB after he was the driving force for a Red Sox team making a playoff run that ended in an ALCS defeat at the hands of the Houston Astros. Devers has made a living by hitting the daylights out of balls down the middle of the plate, while taking any other pitch around the zone into the outfield for base hits. Having an aggressive approach as one of the best pure hitters in baseball helped Devers to wrap out the second-most hits (165) by a third baseman, resulting in the second-best average (min. 500 PA) at the position.
Devers wasn’t just hitting a bunch of weakly hit bloopers for singles, he brandished his power with a position-leading home run total and the second-most doubles (37) among third basemen. That display of power aided in Devers’ journey to tie for the best slugging percentage by a third baseman. Additionally, extra-base hits in a great hitter’s park surrounded by one of the league’s best lineups boosted Devers’s run-producing numbers. He not only scored the second-most times by a third baseman, but he also paced third basemen by driving in 113 runs. Ultimately, by the end of the season, Devers achieved top-three marks in OPS (.890) and wRC+ at his position, ensuring his placement inside the top-three offensive third baseman.
At just 24-years old this past season, the sky is the limit for the young third baseman. Supporting that claim, his efforts at the dish were reinforced by some of the best Statcast metrics in the league. He rated out in the 89th percentile or better in average exit velocity (92.9 mph), max exit velocity (114.4 mph), hard-hit rate (51.8%*), expected weighted on-base average (.391*), expecting batting average (.290), expecting slugging percentage (.560*), and barrel rate (15%*) — asterisks indicate career-best marks. Sensational stats via Baseball Savant usually precede and uphold huge performances by hitters, and that is the case for the Red Sox star third baseman who will enter next season as one of the most dangerous young bats in the MLB.
1. Jose Ramirez – Cleveland Guardians
152 G, 636 PA, .266/.355/.538, 111 R, 36 HR, 103 RBI, 27 SB, 11.3%/13.7% BB/K, 137 wRC+
Since fully breaking out in 2017, Ramirez has been a model of consistency in Cleveland, regularly finishing in the top five of AL MVP voting. He was one of the best players in baseball again in 2021 as he attempted to carry his team’s offense by himself. Ramirez succeeded in keeping the Guardians afloat last year and was able to add to his career resume with another league-leading performance.
Ramirez paced third basemen in a number of important offensive metrics, portraying his skillset as a baseball player. He proved to be the most disciplined hitter with his position-best 0.83 BB/K ratio (fifth in BB%, fifth in K% individually). He boasted the biggest power by tying for the position’s best slugging percentage. He was the most impactful baserunner at his position, stealing 13 more bases than the runner-up in that category. Finally, he showed his importance to the Guardian lineup, crossing home more than any third baseman. In the end, those position-leading marks in different categories came together to give Ramirez the best wRC+ by any third baseman.
Ramirez’s combination of power and speed might have been the most impressive facet of his game last season. He trailed only Shohei Ohtani and Fernando Tatis Jr. in home runs plus stolen bases, indicating that he was among the league’s greatest threats to order a combo meal. Amazingly, Ramirez is the only switch-hitter in that illustrious group, making him stand out that much more. Among all major league hitters with at least 500 plate appearances, Jo-Ram rated out as the 18th best offensive producer by wRC+. Once again, he is already in elite company by ranking that high, but he separates himself by hitting from both sides of the plate. The only switch-hitter with a higher wRC+ (min. 500 PA) than Ramirez last season was Bryan Reynolds (142 wRC+).
Having signed a long-term extension with Cleveland prior to 2017 and recently having his 2022 option exercised, Ramirez will be the Guardian’s best hitter for the next two seasons as the franchise enters a new era. Not only will he be the biggest offensive threat in Cleveland next season as he continues his incredible career, but he will also be able to look back on 2021 with fondness, knowing that he was the best hitter at his position that season.
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