On Saturday, Nolan Arenado went 0-for-5 with four strikeouts. He did make a pretty nifty defensive play, but it would be safe to say that this was not going to be the game his supporters note when crafting his case for induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame five years after his retirement. But it was on April 15 that Arenado accumulated ten years of Major League Baseball service time, which is the bare minimum required for induction into Cooperstown.

Ten years is the minimum, but most Hall of Famers played a fair amount more than a decade in the big leagues. Of the sixteen players currently in Cooperstown who spend the majority of their big-league careers at the hot corner, the fewest total seasons one played was thirteen–accumulated by Frank “Home Run” Baker and Freddie Lindstrom, both of whom retired before the Hall of Fame even opened. Six third baseman accumulated over ten All-Star Game appearances–Hall of Famers Wade Boggs, George Brett, Eddie Mathews, Brooks Robinson, and Mike Schmidt, in addition to Cardinals legend Ken Boyer, whose case will be revisited later.

A popular, increasingly fashionable metric for determining Hall of Fame credentials is JAWS, coined by current FanGraphs writer Jay Jaffe, which averages a player’s career (Baseball Reference) Wins Above Replacement with the sum total of that player’s seven best MLB seasons by the metric, thus allowing an examination of the player’s full career as well as his peak. I don’t believe the metric is gospel–neither does Jaffe, to be clear–but not unlike a Wins Above Replacement list in the first place, it provides a pretty decent list of Hall of Fame cases. I prefer to use a modified version which incorporates FanGraphs’s WAR measurements as well–for third basemen, it is a less extreme modification than for pitchers or especially catchers, but it does feel worth the effort–and FanGraphs is a little bit lower on Nolan Arenado than Baseball Reference, though it’s not like the perspectives are wildly varied.

By combined FanGraphs and Baseball Reference JAWS, Nolan Arenado ranks as the 23rd greatest third baseman in baseball history. He ranks 25th if you were to include Álex Rodríguez, who played barely more at shortstop than third base, and Miguel Cabrera, who was more definitively a first baseman but did win two MVP awards and a Triple Crown while playing third base. Arenado is sandwiched on the third base leaderboard by Ron Cey, who earned 1.9% of the vote in his one year on the Hall of Fame ballot, and Jimmy Collins, who was inducted in 1945 when he was 75 years old and had been deceased for two years. Cey and Collins reflect how idiosyncratic voting can be for Hall of Fame third basemen. Cey, though a six-time All-Star and the MVP of the 1981 World Series for the Los Angeles Dodgers, never finished higher than eighth in National League MVP voting and, despite a very good career, was never viewed as a serious candidate for Cooperstown–in 1993, he received fewer votes than Pete Rose, who notably was not eligible to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Collins does not have a statistical record which would put him in contemporary Hall of Fame discussions, but is probably only the fifth least qualified third baseman in the Hall, the Hall that needed years of cajoling to induct Scott Rolen, behind George Kell, Freddie Lindstrom, Pie Traynor, and Deacon White. Cooperstown once had a relatively low standard for the hot corner, and has spent the last many decades veering in the opposite direction to counteract that.

That said, while being the 23rd greatest third baseman of all-time is a nifty accomplishment, even if you got to select sixteen third basemen from scratch, omitting the dubious choices, the sixteenth greatest eligible third baseman, Sal Bando, stands at 50.9 JAWS, while Arenado stands at 46.0 JAWS. To be clear, Bando is very much within Arenado’s striking distance–even if Arenado doesn’t have another season to match his top seven (which, at 32, is entirely within the realm of possibility), he would only need to accumulate another five average-ish seasons to eclipse him. But for now, the third basemen who have earned this hypothetical honor are Graig Nettles, Dick Allen, Buddy Bell, Ken Boyer, and Bando, with Adrián Beltré also sailing in and Evan Longoria being right on the edge.

Nettles and Boyer make for interesting comparisons for Nolan Arenado. Nettles, whom long-time readers of my work may know as my most irrational and obnoxious Hall of Fame hobby horse, hit 390 career home runs and was a Gold Glove-winning defensive player, but despite playing the majority of his career with the New York Yankees, he was never able to galvanize enough support to even reach double-digits on his Cooperstown campaign. Ken Boyer, notably the only Cardinals player with his number retired who is not in the Hall of Fame, barely stayed eligible after his first year on the ballot, and while his vote totals did increase, in fifteen years on the ballot, Boyer only reached 25.5% in any given year.

I think both of these guys probably should be in the Hall of Fame, though I can’t pretend either’s omission is uniquely egregious. But ultimately, neither player was being evaluated by WAR, much less JAWS. They were being judged by the perceptions which colored the opinions of baseball writers. And baseball writers love Nolan Arenado. Arenado, though a very consistent hitter who usually ranks among the best offensive third basemen in the National League, has never been the best in a season by Offensive Runs Above Average, but he has snagged five Silver Slugger Awards. By Ultimate Zone Rating, Arenado deserves four Gold Gloves–absolutely an accomplishment worth celebrating and evaluating with regards to the totality of his career–but he has won ten, totaling six Platinum Gloves, being voted the best defensive player at any position in the National League (while it is fairly absurd to give this award to any third baseman in any season, I’m going to give him a pass here because the last NL Platinum Glove winner was Anthony Rizzo, in a year where he was the fourth best defensive first baseman in the National League). Nolan Arenado is already tied for 10th in history with ten Gold Gloves, trailing only Brooks Robinson in terms of third basemen, while ranking nowhere near second in terms of Defensive Runs Above Average (he ranks 23rd among third basemen, and although the entire top ten consists of primarily third basemen, it starts to get a bit fishier among the second group of ten).

In a bygone era where WAR was either yet to be devised or was ignored, Nolan Arenado might already be a Hall of Famer based on intangibles–this isn’t to say that these intangibles are even inherently wrong (a Hall of Fame simply sorted by value metrics wouldn’t be very much fun, anyway), merely that they are discounted relative to previous eras. But I do think they matter some, so even though Nolan Arenado ranks behind Robin Ventura by JAWS, I do think a freshly eligible Nolan Arenado would earn more than Ventura’s 1.3%. This is all a largely silly conversation, though–even if Arenado becomes a simply average player for the next half-decade, he is going to reach a JAWS threshold where soft factors will surely put him over the top. In short, if Nolan Arenado retired today, well, that would be pretty weird to do in the middle of the season like that, but also, he probably wouldn’t make the Hall. But in this current reality, he probably will get there.

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