Quick – list the five greatest third basemen in history.  OK, now let’s see how David Wright stacks up with them.  Read on to see how the start to his career has Wright up there with the best ever at the position.

Everyone is upset with the latest news that Alex Rodriguez is a steroids user.  Why it comes as a shock to people that Slappy McBlue Lips would use everything at his disposal to be the best he could be, regardless of it being within the stated or unstated rules of the game, is something that I just don’t get.

But if you want your favorite players to be pure as the fresh fallen snow, may I suggest the other third baseman in New York City.

David Wright is really good.  Chances are you already knew that.  But I bet you had no idea how good he is from an historical basis.  The start that Wright has undergone in his career puts him on a par with the best third baseman in major league history.

There are four third basemen in the Hall of Fame that stand head and shoulders above the rest of their peers.  Alphabetically, they are Wade Boggs, George Brett, Eddie Mathews and Mike Schmidt.  And there’s an active guy – Chipper Jones – who has played the majority of his career at third base and will one day join these immortals in Cooperstown.  So, let’s see how Wright stacks up to those five players.

I like to use the statistic OPS+ because it combines the two most important offensive statistics – on-base percentage and slugging – and then adjusts for league context and home ballpark. It allows comparisons across eras. This is an important consideration because the offensive environment in 2008 was a lot different than it was in 1965 and Fenway Park in 1985 was completely different than Shea Stadium in 2008.

Here are the top five seasons of OPS+ for our five outstanding third basemen:

Wade Boggs 173 166 156 151 150
George Brett 203 178 158 153 149
Chipper Jones 174 168 166 160 154
Eddie Mathews 172 172 171 167 165
Mike Schmidt 199 171 161 158 156

Wright has played four full seasons in the Majors. In that time he has posted OPS+ figures of 139, 133, 150 and 141 in his seasons from age 22 to 25. While his numbers pale in comparison to the big five listed above, his age-24 season would fit at the back end of the prime of the best players to ever play the position. That is amazing.

Let’s try to put that in perspective. Here’s what our elite five third basemen and Wright did from ages 22-25:

Wade Boggs X X 127 150
George Brett 125 144 142 123
Chipper Jones X 108 136 119
Eddie Mathews 172 172 143 154
Mike Schmidt X 92 158 142
David Wright 139 133 150 141

What Wright has done up until this point is incredible. Through age 25, he has clearly been better than Boggs, Jones and Schmidt and has been similar, although better, to Brett. Only Mathews, perhaps the finest young ballplayer in history, has put up better numbers than Wright at similar points in their careers.

Of course there’s more to the game than just hitting. Schmidt is in the discussion for greatest player of all time because of his outstanding defense at third base. Boggs worked hard to improve his defense throughout his career and ended up a Gold Glove Award winner. Brett won a Gold Glove Award in 1985. Mathews’ career started before the advent of the Gold Glove Award, and then he had to contend with Ken Boyer and Ron Santo, but he was a fine defensive player.  Jones came up as a shortstop and is a good fielder in any system that uses play-by-play data to come up with its rankings.

Wright was a poor fielder his first two seasons in the league, but in 2007 he made great strides defensively. He won the Gold Glove Award the past two seasons, although he clearly did not deserve it either year.  Still, he has improved dramatically and is now an asset in the field.

One area where Wright has an advantage over the other great third basemen is with his speed. The most steals by any of our Hall of Famers is the 29 steals by Schmidt when he was successful on 70% of his attempts. In Jones’ best year he had 25 thefts, Brett had a high of 23 steals while neither Boggs nor Mathews was much of a threat on the basepaths. Wright stole 34 bases at an 87% success ratio in 2007.

I think it is clear that these are excellent historical comps for Wright.  Let’s take a peek at what these five did in OPS+ when they were 26 to see what might be in store for the Mets’ third baseman in 2009.

Boggs – 125

Brett – 144

Jones – 148

Mathews – 120

Schmidt – 150

Wright has ranked second, third, second and fourth among our group in OPS+ in seasons broken down by age.  In his age-26 season, Wright has a chance to post the best year ever among this elite group.

Not bad for a guy who does it all with hard work and natural talent.