Much like shortstop and second base, third base appears to be another position without a real clear winner. However, unlike any of the positions we’ve covered so far, third base didn’t really have a lot going over the past decade. Nonetheless we shall try to determine who was the best Arizona third baseman over the past decade.
Per FanGraphs, there were 20 players that are counted as “third basemen” (there were about 34 guys that played at least 1 inning). Of those 20, 11 had 0.0 fWAR or worse. There was a lot of churn at the position - from Cody Ransom to Chris Johnson to Matt Davidson to Sean Burroughs and many more, all supposed to be a positive at the position that all mostly accounted to very little. In the end, there were only six players that played at least 100 games at third for AZ:
- Jake Lamb: 578 games
- Ryan Roberts: 262 games
- Martin Prado: 261 games
- Eduardo Escobar: 212 games
- Mark Reynolds: 145 games
- Eric Chavez: 124 games
I have to narrow this list to five, so one of those six will not make the cut. Lamb, Roberts, Prado, and Escobar are all in the top 4 in both fWAR and bWAR, so they will advance. This leaves Mark Reynolds and Eric Chavez. Reynolds has a slight advantage in fWAR (1.6 vs 1.4) whereas Chavez has a slight advantage in bWAR (0.6 vs 0.4). They’re practically interchangeable but I’m going to go with Mark Reynolds, as he played more games this decade and was homegrown. Feel free to disagree in the comments but I don’t imagine this will impact the final vote all that much.
Jake Lamb (578 games played, 2014-present)
fWAR: 6.7 (1st)
bWAR: 4.6 (2nd)
As it seems to be with the position, Lamb’s ranking in terms of WAR depends on which site you look at.
Lamb was called up in the 2014 season and had a bit of a slow start which carried over into 2015. He flashed a solid glove, rating above-average in both UZR and DRS over his first two seasons. However, the real breakout came in 2016, where he had a massive power breakout (.260 ISO). When paired with his solid walk rate (10.8%), Lamb was good for a 114 wRC+. 2017 was a similar offense season, with a solid 111 wRC+ behind a .239 ISO and 13.7% BB%.
However, injuries seemed to really derail Lamb. In 2016, he had a 151 wRC+ in the first half before he hurt his hand. He never seemed to recover and posted an abysmal 68 wRC+ in the second half. 2017 was a similar story: 129 wRC+ in the first half with an All-Star Game nomination and an 86 wRC+ in the second half, though no injury was aligned with this.
The injury troubles would continue on. In 2018, Jake Lamb would injury his shoulder in early April; he battled it all season with multiple DL stints before undergoing shoulder surgery. His ISO: .126. In 2019, again got hurt very early in April, this time with a Grade 2 quad strain. Lamb would once again struggle with this injury all season and couldn’t hit for power, with his ISO only sitting at .160 for the season. Lamb continued to show that he could get on base and draw walks, but without the power he flashed in 2016 and 2017, he was a below average hitter.
Lamb’s also had issues with consistency on defense and left-handed pitching. Here is a list of Lamb’s DRS by season:
It’s not common for a player to bounce up and down like that. But such is the game of Jake Lamb. But the real stigma for Lamb is his splits against LHP. Against RHP, Lamb is a career 110 wRC+ hitter. Against LHP he’s a paltry 55 wRC+.
Putting all of this together, Jake Lamb has been an enigma at 3rd. He should probably be the clear-cut favorite here due to playing time and performance, but the fan perception for Lamb tends to be rather negative. Which is strange, because the usual “indicators” that seem to correlate with fan appeal (WPA and clutch, namely) don’t appear to be helping Lamb.
Lamb absolute dominates in Win Probability Added with 5.25 for his career. Second is Ryan Roberts at 2.13. Eduardo Escobar, for reference, is at 0.22. Lamb is 7th all-time among Dbacks hitters in WPA and is also the fourth-most clutch player (per FG’s Clutch rating). These two things should make Lamb a fan favorite but alas, he just couldn’t seem to win the fan base over.
Ryan Roberts (262 games played, 2010-2012)
fWAR: 3.5 (3rd)
bWAR: 3.0 (4th)
Ryan Roberts is the epitome of having one great season, greatly outperforming your true talent, and winning over the fan base thanks to a charming personality (and tattoos leading to the nickname “TatMan”) and some truly legendary moments.
Before coming to AZ in 2009, Roberts bounced around, acquiring 30 PA over two seasons (2006-2007) in Toronto and one whole PA in 2008 with the Rangers. Roberts looked to be the classic AAAA type, with above-average numbers in AAA but never seeming to make an impact in the MLB.
Roberts would end up getting 351 PA in 2009 with Arizona, across a variety of positions, before being stuck in AAA for most of 2010. However, after incumbent 3B Mark Reynolds was traded to Baltimore after the 2010 season and the other “options” at 3rd failed in miserable fashion (Geoff Blum, Sean Burroughs, Melvin Mora - this is making me cringe while writing these names), Ryan Roberts hopped all over the gaping hole at 3rd and ran away with it.
Roberts would finish 2011 with 2.4 bWAR/3.6 fWAR, thanks to a 109 wRC+ and plus defense at third (at least per UZR). But besides having an all-around solid season, Roberts was really notable for some of the legendary moments he was a part of. His 2.84 WPA in 2011 is the third-highest season for any 3B in Dbacks team history, to put things into perspective.
The first notable moment is the walk-off grand slam he hit against the Dodgers on 9/28/11 in extra innings. The story behind it is epic: the Dodgers scored five runs in the top of the 10th to go up 6-1. The first two hitters for AZ got out, so the Dodgers needed one more out to win the game. However, Cole Gillespie and Miguel Montero hit two singles and Chris Young walked to load the bases. Pinch-hitter John McDonald would reach on an error to make it 6-2 before Aaron Hill drew a based-loaded walk to make it 6-3. Up came Ryan Roberts, who drove the first pitch he saw into the LF bleachers for a walk-off grand slam in the 10th inning, all part of a six-run, two-out rally.
But that wasn’t all for Roberts. The Diamondbacks surprised a lot of people and made the playoffs, earning a matchup with the Milwuakee Brewers. Even though AZ would lose the series, Roberts went 7-20 with 2 HR and 6 RBI, good for a .350/.350/.700 line. The most notable moment would be his first-inning grand slam in game 4, giving the Diamondbacks a 4-1 lead in a must-win game that they eventually won 10-6.
After 2011, Ryan Roberts quickly came down to earth, with a 76 wRC+ in the first half of 2012 before being traded to the Rays for Tyler Bortnick as part of being DFA’d. Roberts would acquire 404 PA after leaving AZ and hasn’t played since 2014.
It might have only been one magical season for TatMan, but it was a good one and AZ fans will forever remember him for it.
Martin Prado (261 games, 2013-2014)
fWAR: 1.6 (5th)
bWAR: 3.7 (3rd)
Acquired in the infamous Justin Upton trade, Prado can’t be considered anything other than a massive disappointment in his brief tenure in the desert. Coming off a stellar 2012, with 5.4 bWAR/4.5 fWAR, Prado was supposed to finally give AZ that long-term answer at 3rd, after fellow disappointment (man, this position is full of disappointment...) Chris Johnson couldn’t seem to win the team over in his half-season in AZ, despite a respectable 114 wRC+.
Unfortunately, Martin Prado just couldn’t seem to make things work in AZ. Prado was known for having defensive versatility, which his career 48 DRS at 3rd and 15 DRS in LF should testify. Arizona predominantly used him at 3rd but he didn’t seem to get things going defensively, with 0 DRS and -0.5 UZR. Small sample size, of course, but he didn’t really seem to make those amazing plays in AZ like he did in Atlanta.
Prado also didn’t seem to live up to expectations with the bat, though he did manage to scrap a roughly-average season (104 wRC+). The big thing with Prado is that he just seemed to always come up short when it mattered most - his WPA and clutch were both negative for 2013, which was the likely driving-force in the fans just not really taking to Prado. Furthermore, Prado was pretty awful in 2014, with a 88 wRC+ before he was traded mid-season to the Yankees and had an atrocious -1.72 WPA in only half a season.
All-in-all, Prado seemed to be cursed with some bad luck/timing in his brief stint with AZ, but unfortunately, first impressions matter quite a bit to fans. Prado only got worse before he was traded, leaving many AZ fans with a sour note.
Eduardo Escobar (212 games played, 2018-present)
fWAR: 4.7 (2nd)
bWAR: 5.1 (1st)
Eduardo Escobar was acquired at the deadline in 2018 to help a playoff push for AZ and all he has continued to do is perform at a high level while winning over the fan base with his high levels of energy, charisma, and strong performance.
Originally known for his defense, Escobar was a glove-first prospect that primarily played shortstop when he came up with the White Sox in 2011. He would be traded to the Twins in 2012 and continued in the same theme: defense-first though he did become a league average hitter, with 101 wRC+’s in both 2014 and 2015. Escobar would flirt with league-average power but his offense was primarily driven by BABIP, not striking out a ton, and walking just enough to have a semi-okay OBP.
Flash forward to 2018 and suddenly, Escobar is hitting with power. Escobar retooled his swing to hit more flyballs (jumping from 37.4% in 2016 to 45.3% in 2017), which enabled him to hit for more power. This is the Escobar that we’ve known in AZ.
Despite the power breakout and 125 wRC+, the price to grab Escobar at the trade deadline wasn’t too bad (though Jhoan Duran might come back to haunt us). Escobar didn’t actually perform THAT well - a 104 wRC+ and 1.1 fWAR for the second half of 2018) - but it was a cheap upgrade over the injured Lamb and the revolving door of Daniel Descalso, Ildemaro Vargas, and Deven Marrero.
The big win, however, was that Escobar has an absolutely fun and likable personality and the fans quickly turned to love him. The Diamondbacks were able to sign Escobar to a dirt cheap 3 year, $21 million deal that has pretty much already broken even thanks to a 4.2 bWAR/3.7 fWAR 2019 season.
Mark Reynolds (145 games played, 2010)
fWAR: 1.6 (4th)
bWAR: 0.4 (10th)
Mark Reynolds is mostly known for his time in AZ prior to this decade, though he still ended up with the 5th-most games played at 3rd in this decade and therefore snuck into the list.
After being a surprise come 2007 and helping lead AZ to a surprising playoff berth, Reynolds had several solid seasons in AZ. He was especially good in 2009, even acquiring an MVP vote, with a 127 wRC+. Unfortunately, Reynolds really struggled defensively. He was very athletic and would make some tremendous plays, but would also mess up the most routine of plays. Reynolds was also the poster boy of the “trade strikeouts for homers” era, except he came up in a time when many fans thought striking out was worse than it actually is.
Nonetheless, 2010 was pretty much that in a nutshell. Reynolds would have career-highs in both K% (35.4%) and BB% (13.9%). His power had taken a step back from 2009 and in the end, finished roughly league-average with a 96 wRC+. This would also be his “best” season defensively, with only -5 DRS and UZR even rating him slightly positive.
Unfortunately, 2010 was kind of a nothing season for AZ, with the team going 65-97 and firing GM Josh Byrnes and Manager AJ Hinch mid-season. Kevin Towers would take over as the new GM and one of the first moves he would do is trade Mark Reynolds to Baltimore for two relievers: David Hernandez and Kam Mickolio. Mickolio would amount to practically nothing, but Hernandez would end up having two strong seasons for AZ out of the bullpen.
For Reynolds though, 2010 marked the end of his era in Arizona. He had a fine 2010, but was mostly prominent in the prior decade. He primarily makes this list due to a requirement for five players to vote for and no better options in the decade.
Who is your pick for the Diamondbacks’ Third Baseman of the decade?
This poll is closed