WAR Lords of the Diamond (Third Base)

Previous sessions in the WAR Lords series: C I 1B I 2B

For the next step in my ongoing quest to quantify the greatest Rockies ever by position, I'm tackling the hot corner, third base. Once again I'm using Sean Smith's historical WAR database for my information; here's a glossary of the terms he uses and an explanation of WAR. Please see the catcher article for an explanation of my ranking methodology. 

Third base, according to Tom Tango's positional adjustment scale, is given a +2.5 runs adjustment due to the fact that it requires a better fielder than, say, first base or right field. That is because the third baseman requires good reflexes as he is usually the closest fielder to the batter. The third base position requires a strong arm, as the third baseman often makes long throws to first base, but also a quick release, as they sometimes must throw quickly to second in time to start a double play. The third baseman must also range well to get to fly balls in both fair and foul territory.

However, the hot corner is still primarily a position that is geared traditionally towards offensive production because third base does not require the speed of an outfield or middle infield position (see Atkins, Garrett), so teams stick their big bats at the hot corner. In the new Sabermetric Age (oh yeah, it's coming) I think that you'll see third base become a much more defensive-oriented position again, as it was in the early days of baseball.

Most of the Rockies' third basemen have fit the mold of the slow slugger, though Ian Stewart's slick defense is an example of the position's evolution. The quantity of players measured is not high (7), but their quality is good: all of the top five posted at least one season above league-average WAR (2.0) for the Rockies. You will be at the least mildly surprised by the results.

Without further ado, the top Colorado denizens of the hot corner...after the jump.

Third Basemen

And the most valuable third baseman in Rockies history, according to my methodology...is Purple Row punching bag Garrett Atkins! Sure, Vinny Castilla has the biggest career WAR for the Rockies, but he also played the most games. Atkins out produced Castilla in both the three-year and one-year metrics to claim the WAR Lords title for third base. Here are the results:

1. Garrett Atkins

Career WAR: 11.1 (2nd)
Top Three Seasons: 10.8, 2005-2007 (1st)
Top Season: 6.4, 2006 (1st)
Average Rank: 1.33

Garrett's poor performance thus far in 2009 does not affect his status on this list, but it does tarnish his legacy as a Colorado Rockie. The 2000 5th round pick out of UCLA first reached the majors in 2003 and became the full-time starter in 2005, a year in which he finished fourth in the Rookie of the Year standings and produced 1.5 WAR. However, his best season (by far the greatest by a Rockies third baseman) was 2006, in which Atkins produced 6.4 WAR. Atkins not only hit .329 with 29 HRs and 120 RBI, but he also had a split line of .329/.409/.556/.410 (BA, OBP, SLG, wOBA). In addition, Atkins provided positive value fielding (Total Zone of 11).

Atkins was 26 and one of the best young players in the game--and then he regressed, steadily and quickly. He went from .410 wOBA in 2006 to .368 to .337 down to .293 so far this year--and his pay has increased dramatically as his hitting skills (namely, his bat speed) have decreased. Atkins is likely to be non-tendered by Colorado after this year, but 2006 (and 2007) will get him another chance somewhere. 

2. Vinny Castilla

Career WAR: 15.1 (1st)
Top Three Seasons: 10.1, 1996-1998 (2nd)
Top Season: 4.5, 1998 (2nd)
Average Rank: 1.67

A charter member of the Blake Street Bombers, Castilla is probably the most loved third baseman in Rockies history. Castilla spent parts of nine years with the Rockies, playing in two All-Star games, winning three Silver Sluggers, and belting over 30 home runs five years in a row. Vinny was picked 40th by the Rockies in the 1992 expansion draft as a shortstop (indeed, he was the Rockies' main shortstop in 1993) and was moved over to third in 1995 to replace Charlie Hayes' leaving in free agency, where he remained until 2000. His 1998 season was his greatest, as he produced well in the traditional (.319 BA, 46 HRs, 144 RBI), advanced (.362 OBP, .589 SLG) and sabermetric (.396 wOBA) stats.

The fan favorite regressed in 1999 and was traded after the season for Rolando Arrojo and Aaron Ledesma, after which he spent four relatively punchless years away from Coors Field. He returned to Colorado in 2004 as a free agent, and in familiar surroundings produced 35 HR, 131 RBI, and 3.4 WAR for the Rockies (.271/.332/.535/.362). After the 2004 season, Castilla played for the Nationals and Padres, but returned in late 2006 to retire as a Rockie, where he now works in the front office. 

3. Jeff Cirillo

Career WAR: 8.1 (3rd)
Top Three Seasons: 8.1, 2000-2001 (3rd)
Top Season: 4.1, 2001 (3rd)
Average Rank: 3

Cirillo was acquired as part of a three team trade before the 2000 season in which the Rockies sent away Jamey Wright, Henry Blanco, and Justin Miller. The 30 year-old Cirillo was expected to pick up where Castilla left off, and in his two seasons Cirillo proved to be up to the task, producing WARs of 4 and 4.1 (part of a six-year run of at least 4 WAR in each year, justifying his $8.45 million in total compensation.

Cirillo made the 2000 All-Star game, a year in which he batted .326/.392/.477/.376--and then he was just as good in 2001, in large part due to his phenomenal fielding (TZ of 21) and similar batting stats. He didn't stop giving the Rockies value with his 2001 season--he was traded to the Mariners after the season for a package that included Brian Fuentes. Cirillo then proceeded to produce at a below league-average level for the rest of his career.

4. Charlie Hayes

Career WAR: 3.7 (4th)
Top Three Seasons: 3.7, 1993-1994 (4th)
Top Season: 3.1, 1993 (4th)
Average Rank: 4

The Rockies' Inaugural third baseman, Hayes was selected by the Rockies as the 3rd pick in the 1992 expansion draft. The then 27-year old Hayes responded by producing a career year in the very-hitter friendly environment that he was thrust into--a year that he never again came close to replicating. In 1993, Hayes produced 3.1 WAR, posting a line of .305/.355/.522/.378 with above average fielding (TZ of 3). After coming down to earth in 1994 (0.6 WAR), the Rockies let Hayes go in free agency, making way for Castilla.

5. Chris Stynes

Career WAR: 2.3 (5th)
Top Three Seasons: 2.3, 2003 (5th)
Top Season: 2.3, 2003 (5th)
Average Rank: 5

Whawhawhaaat?? Chris Stynes? Yep. In 2003 (just after the implementation of the humidor), the 30-year old Stynes, who had two good years in Cincinnati among a few awful ones as a part-timer for three other teams, was signed as a stopgap by the Rockies for $750k after the glorious Todd Zeile era. And when Stynes was given a career high in PA (502), he produced as about a league-average third baseman for the Rockies--posting a league-average wOBA (.329). In addition, he provided excellent defense at the hot corner (TZ of 12) The Rockies let him walk in free agency (bringing back Castilla) and the next year he was out of baseball. Go figure.

6. Ian Stewart

Career WAR: 1.3 (6th)
Top Three Seasons: 1.3, 2007-2008 (6th)
Top Season: 1.1, 2008 (6th)
Average Rank: 6

Give it time--the Rockies' 1st round pick in 2003 will hopefully eclipse at the least Chris Stynes on this list. If Stewart ever puts it together at the plate, he'll shoot up this list.

7. Todd Zeile

Career WAR: 0.7 (7th)
Top Three Seasons: 0.7, 2007-2008 (7th)
Top Season: 0.7, 2008 (7th)
Average Rank: 7

Oh, Todd Zeile, the Rockies' erstwhile 2002 starter. He was acquired in a three team trade in which the Rockies gave up Ross Gload, Alex Ochoa, and Craig House--in other words, nobody. He wasn't bad with the bat (.273/.353/.425/.341) but he wasn't great either, and his fielding was below average (-5 TZ). The problem was that the Rockies were paying Zeile almost $7 million to be below average, and the club let him go after his existing contract expired.

Next week: Shortstops

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