Lots of teams boast high-end talent at third base nowadays, ranging from impressive sluggers to slick fielders with more than enough pop. However, it wasn’t always like that. In fact, there was a time in which the hot corner was not-so-hot when it comes to elite talent and highly accomplished batters.
The Yankees, though, had arguably one of the best of all-time in Alex Rodriguez and a very good contributor in Graig Nettles. Join us and find out which players complete the top five third basemen in the team’s history, ranked by fWAR, and a few honorable mentions.
We use FanGraphs’ version of WAR and not Baseball Reference. The former includes UZR in the fielding equation while the latter uses DRS.
Alex Rodriguez: 113.7 fWAR (51.7 with the Yankees)
Steroids or not, there’s no denying that Alex Rodriguez is one of the most talented individuals to ever take an MLB field. He played more than half of his career with the New York Yankees, settling in at third base given the presence of Derek Jeter at shortstop.
In 2784 career games, A-Rod slashed .295/.380/.550 with a .395 wOBA and a 141 wRC+. He belted 696 home runs, scored 2021 times and drove in 2086 runs. He even stole 329 bases. He was a true difference-maker, and despite everything that happened in previous playoffs and the steroids controversy, his performance in the 2009 postseason helped the Yankees bring home their 27th championship.
Rodriguez was a 14-time All-Star (1996–1998, 2000–2008, 2010, 2011) a World Series champion (2009) and he also won three AL MVP awards (2003, 2005, 2007) two Gold Glove Awards (2002, 2003) 10 Silver Slugger Awards (1996, 1998–2003, 2005, 2007, 2008) and five AL home run crowns (2001–2003, 2005, 2007.) He was the batting champion in 1996.
Graig Nettles: 65.7 fWAR (43.6 with the Yankees)
Rodriguez has a huge WAR advantage on Nettles, but the impact of the latter on the history of the franchise is still considerable. A low-average bat, that didn’t stop the third-sacker from averaging about 20 homers per game, surpassing 30 a couple of times at the peak of his abilities in 1976 and 1977.
Nettles was perhaps more famous for his stellar defense. He won two Gold Gloves, in 1977 and 1978. Perhaps not coincidentally, those were the two World Series he won with the Bombers. His fantastic glove was crucial in the 1978 Fall Classic against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Nettles hit 390 home runs and had 1314 RBI. He played eleven seasons in the Bronx, and was a fan favorite. He was a six-time All-Star (1975, 1977–1980, 1985) and captained the Yankees between 1982 and 1984.
Gil McDougald: 39.7 fWAR
Yes, McDougald made the list as a second baseman. However, we should note that he played 2037.0 frames at the keystone, 2373.1 at shortstop and 823.2 at the hot corner. He was a truly versatile infielder.
McDougald retired young, at 32, but he had a very good career nonetheless. He was a six-time All-Star (1952, 1956–1959) and a five-time World Series champion (1951–1953, 1956, 1958) while also winning the AL Rookie of the Year award in 1951.
As our own Peter Brody noted, McDougald was an important andperhaps unheralded contributor to the fantastic 1950’s Yankees, alongside Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and company.
Red Rolfe: 26.2 fWAR
Red Rolfe was a major contributor to the successful second half of the 1930’s for the Yankees, sharing a team with Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Bill Dickey, Lefty Gomez, Red Ruffing and others.
That Yankees team was something else, winning the World Series from 1936 to 1939 and then again in 1941. Rolfe’s best year was 1939, leading the American League with 213 hits, 139 runs scored, and 46 doubles, to go along with a .329 average, 14 home runs and 80 RBI.
Rolfe made the All-Star team four times, from 1937 to 1940. He retired in 1942 after ten seasons in the majors. He contributed far more with glove (57.8 fielding runs above average per FanGraphs) than with the bat (16.7 batting runs.)
He went on to manage the Detroit Tigers from 1949 to 1952, achieving a 278–256 record.
Clete Boyer: 29.6 fWAR (20.1 with the Yankees)
Boyer actually beat McDougald for the third base job in 1960’s spring training. The Yankees won the pennant in 1960, but Boyer suffered a somewhat embarrassing moment when he was substituted in the second inning of the World Series’ first game by manager Casey Stengel with runners on base. Despite batting 14 homers as a rookie, Stengel didn’t trust his bat. The pinch-hitter flew out and the Yankees lost that game and, a few days later, the Fall Classic on Bill Mazeroski’s walk-off homer in Game Seven.
Next season, Boyer batted .224, but his defensive contributions were outstanding and the Yankees won it all. That team featured the likes of Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Elston Howard, Yogi Berra, Moose Skowron, Whitey Ford and other stars.
Boyer played five seasons with the Braves to finish his career with 29.6 fWAR, 20.1 of which came with the Yankees. He had a career-high 26 blasts and 96 RBI in 1967, his first year with the Braves.
Other notable Yankees’ third basemen
Other notable third basemen in Yankees’ history are Frank “Home Run” Baker, who was perhaps the game’s elite slugger in the pre-Ruth era (6th, 19.3 fWAR) Wade Boggs (7th, 16.5 fWAR) Scott Brosius (12th, 8.7 fWAR) and Chase Headley (13th, 8.6 fWAR.)