Mike Schmidt is widely considered by many to be the best third baseman of all-time. He drove in 1595 Runs, hit 548 Home Runs and scored 1506 Runs. He led the National League in Home Runs eight times, Slugging percentage and OPS five times, and OPS+ six times. He has the highest WAR of anybody that’s played the majority of their career at third base (106.9). He was easily one of the best power hitting third baseman of all-time, if not the best. But, Schmidt didn’t only do it with the bat. He won 10 Gold Gloves while working the hot corner, second all-time to Brooks Robinson (16). What Schmidt did with both the glove and bat made people consider him the best third baseman ever. But is there someone playing right now that could challenge him as the best ever at the position?
Nolan Arenado. Ever since he became a Big League ballplayer in 2013, he’s been one of the best third baseman in baseball. He’s won a Gold Glove every year. His total now sits at eight, which is already tied for third all-time. From 2015-2019, Arenado hit at least 35 home runs and finished in the top 10 in MVP voting in each of those seasons, led the National League in dingers three times & RBI twice. And he’s only 29.
Okay, so Arenado is putting up all these fun numbers and winning a heavy number of accolades…but what makes you think he could be better than Michael Jack Schmidt you might ask? Well, let’s look at the numbers. More specifically, let’s take a look at Arenado’s numbers cumulatively through his first eight seasons in comparison to Schmidt’s first eight seasons of his own career.
Both Schmidt and Arenado came into the Majors at the age of 22. The difference between their age 22 seasons was that Arenado had played a full season (514 plate appearances in 133 games) compared to Schmidt (40 plate appearances in 13 games). So, Schmidt’s rookie season was technically the next year at age 23. But also consider that Arenado is coming off of his eighth season where the season was shortened due to the coronavirus, and in just 48 games had 201 plate appearances. Let’s weigh the offensive numbers first.
Overall, in just a little over 4506 plate appearances, Schmidt had 235 Home Runs and drove in 666 runs, while having a slashline of .255/.374/.511. Through his first eight seasons, Arenado has had 4558 plate appearances and has equaled Schmidt in dingers with 235 of his own and driving in 760 runs. And the Colorado third sacker has slashed .293/.349/.541.
Collectively, Arenado looks to be neck and neck with Schmidt. But, what about their individual accomplishments within those eight seasons, respectively?
|162 Game Avg.||162||684||618||97||181||39||4||35||114||2||2||54||103||.293||.349||.541||.890||120||334||18||3||1||8||9|
|162 Game Avg.||162||678||563||101||151||27||4||37||107||12||6||102||127||.267||.380||.527||.908||148||297||11||5||1||7||14|
Schmidt led the National League in home runs three times, had over 100 RBI four times, over 100 walks five times, accrued four Gold Gloves and finished top 10 in MVP voting three times. Arenado also topped the NL in homers three times, finished with over 100 RBI four times, led the NL in Total Bases in back to back years in 2015 & 2016, has eight Gold Gloves and finished in top 10 MVP voting five times. I should note that Arenado has also won four Rawlings Platinum Glove awards, which are given each year to the best overall defensive player in each league, but it wouldn’t be fair to Schmidt since the award did not start until 2011, long after he retired.
But, even after looking at all of these statistics, there are some things we need to consider when comparing these two players:
- The Coors Effect
If you’re a fan of baseball, you’ve probably heard of the term “The Coors Effect”. For those that haven’t, it simply refers to the Rockies home stadium, Coors Field, being friendly to hitters because of its abnormally large field dimensions and effect of Denver’s high altitude, which in turn means batted balls travel farther because of less air density. Naturally, it’s been thought that Rockies hitters have heightened offensive numbers because they play 81 of their 162 games in Colorado.
Arenado has played his entire career in a Rockie uniform. His career home/road splits might suggest that this theory is true. Looking at the triple crown categories, Arenado has hit .322, 136 HR & 461 RBI at home, while hitting just .263, 99 HR & 299 RBI on the road. These stats may justify the theory…right?
But, what people don’t account for is “The Coors Hangover”. At home, Rockies hitters are seeing more fastballs than usual due to the fact that opposing pitchers can’t trust their offspeed stuff as much as they would in other ballparks. Kevin Larson, Rockies writer for Fansided, explained it in an article in which he elaborated about the matter, “Ever wonder why it seems like they can’t just hit on road trips whatsoever? It’s not because they’re actually bad hitters and only merchants of Coors Field. It’s because of that constant adjustment in approach in addition to increased movement on pitches. It’s an extremely unique circumstance that no other team in the majors has to deal with.”
In my opinion, his home/road splits even out. The Coors stuff is overrated. I’m not going to get into it too much in this article, but if you want to more accurately analyze Arenado as a hitter, using stats that adjust to ballpark dimensions like OPS+ and wRC+ are more appropriate. OPS+ can be found on Baseball Reference and wRC+ on FanGraphs.
2. Power Numbers in different Eras
As I stated earlier, Arenado has the same amount of home runs (235) to this point in his career, as did Schmidt in his first eight seasons in baseball. But, it’s important to account for the eras in which they’ve played. Schmidt led the National League in home runs from 1974-1976, hitting 36 in ‘74 and 38 the following years. In 1974, there were just four players in the Majors who hit 30+ homers, seven in ‘75, and four again in ‘76. Arenado led the NL in ‘15 (42), ‘16 (41) and ‘18 (38). In 2015, there were 20 players who hit 30+ dingers, 38 in ‘16, and 27 in 2018. Not to take anything away from Arenado, but an absurd difference in eras. People have their theories on why the power numbers have surged in recent years. Whether it’s the balls being juiced or hitters using launch angles to focus more on power and away from just making contact, today’s game is clearly different than it was in the ‘70’s.
Taking these two things into consideration, Arenado still has a great chance of dethroning Schmidt or to at least belong in the conversation. Arenado’s best argument is his defense. His eight gold gloves are already good for third all-time among third baseman. He’s two behind Schmidt (10) and eight behind Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson (16). Even though the Platinum Glove was only introduced in recent years, winning four of them thus far and possibly winning more will help Arenado’s future case.
Looking ahead to the rest of Arenado’s career, he’s 29 and entering his ninth season while in the midst of his prime. Schmidt shined in the latter half of his career, slashing .277/.385/.540, with 313 home runs and 929 RBI, while having a WAR of 56.6. In the span from 1980-1989, Schmidt won three MVP awards, six more Silver Sluggers and Gold Gloves, and led the league in home runs five times. Not to mention he captured a World Series ring in 1980, helping the Phillies defeat the Royals in six games.
At the very least, you might think Arenado will have to at least come close to the offensive numbers Schmidt put up through his 30’s, but does he? Does Arenado have to put up continuous monster offensive seasons to be in this conversation?
It wouldn’t hurt. But hypothetically, let’s just say that Arenado’s power numbers dip just a bit as he ages, which is very possible. But he remains an elite player defensively. He finishes his career with 425 Home Runs, 2300 Hits, an 85 WAR and 15 Gold Gloves. Does that equate to being better than Schmidt? I’d say it at least gives him a case.
It will be interesting to see what happens with the rest of Arenado’s career, especially there being numerous trade rumors surrounding his name the past few seasons. Arenado has been among the best third baseman since he’s broken into the Majors, but is it possible he could be better than Schmidt by the time he hangs it up?
Featured Image: Associated Press