Who's Better, Nolan Arenado or Kris Bryant?

These two NL third basemen are doing things at third base that we haven't seen since the days of Mike Schmidt. But who's better?

As someone who grew up watching the Philadelphia Phillies, I was spoiled.

You see, I got to watch a lot of Mike Schmidt during the last few years of his career. And for those who don't know, Schmidt was without a doubt the greatest third baseman in baseball history.

Not only did Schmidt hit for incredible power, finishing with 548 career home runs, but he was also the best defensive third basemen in baseball, winning 10 Gold Gloves thanks to plays like this.

And, of course, he hit lots of dingers, like the time he hit four in a game against the Cubs at Wrigley.

Schmidt led the NL in homers eight times and in RBIs four times. Why am I talking about Mike Schmidt? Because if they keep this up, Colorado third baseman Nolan Arenado and Chicago third baseman Kris Bryant could give Schmidt a run for his money before all is said and done.

With apologies to future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre, who is steaming toward Cooperstown with 425 home runs and four Gold Gloves of his own, Arenado and Bryant are putting together a combination of power, run production and defense not seen at the Hot Corner since Schmidt in his prime.

The Case for Arenado

Arenao has won a Gold Glove in each of his first three seasons in the NL, and appears to be steaming toward his fourth this year, mainly because he does baseball things like this.

OK, sometimes the dude does get carried away.

Yo, that ain't cool, Nolan.

Arenado is second in the National League in Defensive Wins Above Replacement (dWAR) as calculated by Baseball Reference, with his defense alone worth 1.5 wins above a replacement level player. San Francisco's Brandon Crawford is first at 2.0.

What makes him truly unique is the power he brings to the plate. Last year, he led the National League in home runs (42) and RBIs (130), and his 22 long balls are tied for second in the National League with Cincinnati's Adam Duvall, one behind Kris Bryant's 23. He also leads the league in RBIs once again, with 66.

And he's not simply a product of Coors Field, either. This year, 12 of his 22 dingers have come at home, 10 have been slugged on the road. Last season he actually hit more home runs away from Coors Field, pounding 22 on the road and 20 at home.

The Case for Bryant

Bryant hit 26 home runs in his rookie season and currently leads the Senior Circuit in round trippers with those 23. His 61 RBIs are just five behind Arenado and, last week, he made history by slugging three home runs and two doubles in a single game, totaling 16 total bases.

Bryant has piled up a 3.2 Offensive Wins Above Replacement (oWAR), besting Arenado at 2.3. But Arenado has the edge in dWAR, 1.5-0.4.

Bryant also plays some outfield, 33 games in left field this year and nine games in right. He dabbles at first base as well, making him a versatile player. And he can also pick it some at third, too, with five defensive runs saved (DRS) in a year and a half there.


Arenado is 25, just one year older than Bryant, and the two are neck-and-neck atop the NL leaderboard in rWAR, with Bryant leading the way at 3.8 to Arenado's 3.6. You can pretty much pencil those two in for the next 7-10 All Star Games or so, which is not great news for all the other NL third basemen.

Arenado is the specialist and a better defender, the best player at his position, with a rare combination of power and defense that doesn't come around too often. But Bryant's power game is just as good, perhaps slightly better, and even though he isn't as spectacular defensively, he's above average, and his flexibility is perhaps makes him a bit more valuable.

While WAR doesn't tell the whole story, the numbers suggest that, for the moment, the very slight edge goes to Bryant.

But only by a whisker.