Alex Rodriguez is one of the greatest players in the history of Major League Baseball. It’s easy to open a document, list his accolades, acknowledge the obvious caveats, and just be done with it, but awhile ago, I heard a very interesting statement: It could at least be argued that A-Rod is the best shortstop and third-baseman of all-time.
Let’s look into that.
Right off the bat, a couple of disclaimers before we get started:
1. It is impossible for any player to accumulate total production to the point that he’d lead two different positions in career numbers. Nonetheless, A-Rod played enough games at third and short to record significant sample sizes and be present somewhere on the leaderboards. We’ll assess his contributions on a per-season basis while also factoring in volume to some extent and see where that leaves us.
2. The case is not nearly as far-fetched as one would assume.
Alex Rodriguez began his career with the Seattle Mariners in 1994 and played a decade at the shortstop position before heading to the hot corner in 2004 after being traded from the Texas Rangers to the New York Yankees.
Alex Rodriguez as a Shortstop:
1,264 Games - 5,667 Plate Appearances
344 Home Runs - 987 Runs Batted In - 177 Stolen Bases (46 CS)
Alex Rodriguez as a Third Baseman:
1,157 Games - 5,218 Plate Appearances
287 Home Runs - 907 Runs Batted In - 136 Stolen Bases (29 CS)
Since FanGraphs’ splits tool only goes back until 2002, I’ll use the full extent of A-Rod’s time with the Mariners and Rangers as his shortstop period and with the Yankees as a third baseman until he moved to DH in the final two years.
As I said above, a player doesn’t necessarily need to be number one or even top three in compiling stats to be considered the best in his position. That obviously helps and one could even argue that it does, given how many people of Sandy Koufax’s generation think that he was one of the best pitchers who ever lived despite his short career. (For what it’s worth: I don’t agree with that stance.)
A-Rod doesn’t have the same scenario. After all, his lack of games at each position is not due to injury, but simply a law of nature. Keeping that in mind, how would he rank in WAR total against the all-time leaderboard at each position?
62 (SS): 17th
50.1 (3B): 31st
A-Rod gets a disadvantage especially at third base because this ranking counts players with limited time at third (in fact, they should probably be considered first basemen).
Let’s now look at what that WAR looks like on a per 162 game basis.
62 over 1,264 games at SS: 7.9 WAR over 162 games
50.1 over 1,157 games at 3B: 7.0 WAR over 162 games
Take a moment to appreciate the magnitude of this. Through 10 years at each of two of the most premium positions in all of baseball, A-Rod was worth 7.9 and 7.0 WAR per season at third base and shortstop respectively. That alone puts him in this conversation.
For the purposes of proper context, compare those numbers with the WAR leaders at those two positions — a pair of players who many would say were the best to play there:
Mike Schmidt: 7.17 WAR per 162 games (106.5 total)
Honus Wagner: 8.0 WAR per 162 games (138.1 total)
The only thing that keeps A-Rod from being on two different leaderboards with those two is the fact he only was able to play half of his career at each position. In fact, combining his entire career, A-Rod is in the middle of those two with 113.7 career WAR
The undeniable fact is that Alex Rodriguez played both shortstop and third base at the highest level the sport has ever seen. That’s enough to at least keep him in that conversation for best at the two positions ever; it’s just a matter of how much you want to concede with volume.