This article was used with permission by the author, as it was originally published on February 10th.
Annually, one of the toughest positions to put in tiers is the first base slot. This is largely due to it being the home to many of the game’s greatest all-time bats. Jimmie Foxx, Willie Stargell, Willie McCovey, Eddie Murray and the great Lou Gehrig have all added to the legend of the position, providing quite a standard to keep for the premier first sackers in the game today.
This a group with multiple MVP winners and a pair of surefire Hall of Famers. It is a group where there is an already inducted member of the 500 home run club, who is joined by the game’s preeminent home run hitter of today. There is a Triple Crown winner, a newly crowned World Series champion and one of the game’s most emergent stars as well.
The first base position truly has something for everyone and endures as the most toughly debated position in the game yet again.
Before beginning this list, allow me to mention an organizational note for these rankings moving forward. I rank players at the position that they played the majority of their games at the previous season. So Edwin Encarnacion and Prince Fielder, both of whom were All-Stars last season and appeared in 2015’s top 10 list of 1B here, have been moved over to designated hitter.
To review last year’s Top 10 First Basemen, click here.
10. Albert Pujols, Angels (#10 in 2015)
2015: .244/.307/.480, 40 HR, 95 RBI, 22 doubles, 85 runs scored
Last 3 Years Average: .258/.319/.464, 28 HR, 88 RBI, 26 doubles, 74 runs scored
2015 was a renaissance of sorts for Pujols. He met the 40 home run plateau for the first time since his St. Louis days and for the seventh season in his career. He also made his first All-Star appearance as an American Leaguer in the process. He finished fifth in the AL in homers and 10th in RBI as well, before a recurrence of a previous foot injury that slowed his year tremendously and will see him likely miss all of spring training this season.
Regardless of this, Pujols has remained an elite run producer, having driven in 200 runs since the beginning of 2014. And while he will never meet the previous standard that will see him reach the Hall of Fame one day, when even mostly healthy, he remains potentially one of the most dangerous hitters in the game.
9. Eric Hosmer, Royals (Not ranked in ’15)
2015: .297/.363/.459, 18 HR, 93 RBI, 33 doubles, 98 runs scored
Last 3 Years Average: .291/.347/.437, 15 HR, 77 RBI, 34 doubles, 79 runs scored, .784 OPS
Hosmer is the anomaly in the rankings here, as he brings more finesse than brute impact at the position. He has been a three-time Gold Glove winner in the past three seasons, while regularly staying north of 30 doubles, twice topping 175 hits and a driving in north of 85 runs, including a career-best 93 a year ago. He’s a run-producing, on-base threat that plays a hug role in the nonstop machine that is the Royals’ offensive effort.
What works against him is that he has struggled for both consistency (he has been an every other year contributor thus far … with history saying 2016 could be rough) and lacks true power production at a position that is heavily populated by heavy hitters (he is yet to reach 20 home runs in any of his six seasons). Yet, he plays a vital role in the Royals’ “one for all” approach to offensive production, where he is the perfect mixture of a high on-base percentage, gap-hitting threat in the heart of their order.
8. Freddie Freeman, Braves (#8 in ’15)
2015: .276/.370/.471, 18 HR, 66 RBI, 27 doubles, 62 runs scored
Last 3 Years Average: .296/.385/.478, 20 HR, 84 RBI, 32 doubles, 81 runs scored, .863 OPS
The usually durable Freeman battled wrist injuries last season and played in a career-low 118 games, just a year removed from suiting up for all 162 in 2014. He still turned in some solid totals despite being limited to 481 plate appearances and played at a pace that would have placed him close to his 2014 totals of 43 doubles and 175 hits.
If anything, Freeman showed a clear improvement in his raw power numbers in the jump from his age 24 and 25 seasons. Freeman matched his 2014 home run total in 44 less games (he homered once every 23 ABs, up from every 33 in ’14) while still keeping his overall extra-base-hit ratio steady (9.4 percent of his total hits). Despite playing in an even more diminished Braves lineup, Freeman appears to be prone to be an independently successful batter, regardless of the lack of true protection around him.
7. Chris Davis, Orioles (Not ranked in ’15)
2015: .262/.361/.562, 47 HR, 117 RBI, 31 doubles, 100 runs scored
Last 3 Years Average: .252/.347/.544, 42 HR, 109 RBI, 30 doubles, 89 runs scored, .891 OPS
No one has hit more home runs over the past four years than Davis has, and due to this rarefied (and electrified) air around him, the O’s decided to make him the highest paid player in franchise history this offseason. This is based on the expectation that “Crush” continues to mash the ball at the explosive rate he has since reaching Baltimore, when he led the MLB in home runs for the second time in three seasons. In addition, he has accounted for a phenomenal 14 Wins Above Replacement in just 2013 and 2015 alone.
Davis is also an underrated fielder and athlete who can help at multiple positions, having spent an increasing amount of time as a corner outfielder as well. He is a classic slugger, whose batting average is marginal (.255 for his career) and who carries a prolific strikeout rate (MLB-worst 208 a year ago). His status is also compounded by the struggles he faced in 2014, as he was suspended for unapproved (but non-PED) prescription drugs and stumbled into a .196 average. However, there are few players as capable of having the instant impact that Davis creates.
6. Jose Abreu, White Sox (#4 in ’15)
2015: .290/.347/.502, 30 HR, 101 RBI, 34 doubles, 88 runs scored
Last 2 Years Average: .303/.364/.540, 33 HR, 104 RBI, 34 doubles, 84 runs scored, .904 OPS
What a start it has been for Abreu in his MLB career. Back-to-back seasons of 30 home runs, 30 doubles, 80 runs scored and 100 RBI. At $7 million per year, he is firmly in line as baseball’s greatest value going currently.
He is also in line to hit at the core of the best lineup that has surrounded him in his young career this upcoming season. Although his average dipped down 27 points from his phenomenal rookie season, he still turned in a very strong .290 mark and should see better pitches than he did a year ago as he will be flanked by the powerful Todd Frazier now. It reasons to believe that an even bigger year could be on the way from the powerful Cuban.
5. Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers (#3 in ’15)
2015: .275/.350/.480, 28 HR, 90 RBI, 33 doubles, 76 runs
Last 3 Years Average: .281/.342/.474, 26 HR, 102 RBI, 35 doubles, 76 runs, .817 OPS
Mr. Consistency. Gonzalez has been one of the steadiest yet most underrated run producers in the game over his career. While Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Joc Pederson and Hanley Ramirez have taken the lion’s share of credit for fueling the Dodger offense over the past few seasons, it has been Gonzo who has been the proverbial “straw that stirs the drink.”
His penchant for driving runs in has been so consistent that the 90 RBI he finished with in 2015 was his lowest output since 2007. His consistency also carries over in the fact that he has played at 156 games in each season since 2006, has only once posted an on-base percentage south of .340 in the last 10 years and has stayed in the top 20 in MVP voting in seven of the past eight years, regardless of league played in.
4. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs (#6 in ’15)
2015: .278/.387/.512, 31 HR, 101 RBI, 38 doubles, 94 runs scored
Last 3 Years Average: .265/.365/.484, 29 HR, 86 RBI, 35 doubles, 85 runs scored, .848 OPS
Rizzo is one of the fastest-rising stars in the game today, and as he sits at the heart of the emergent Chicago lineup, 2016 could prove to be his true breakout year as a superstar in the game. Over the past two years, no National League first baseman has hit more home runs than Rizzo’s 63, and as a result, he has twice finished in the top 10 in NL MVP voting the past two seasons.
In the mold of a classical power conduit at first base, Rizzo is already the best at what he does in the game. But beyond that, he is one of the more well-rounded players in the game between the lines as well. He offsets a high strikeout rate by reaching base at a .386 rate and working the count very well. An athletic and durable player (he led the NL in both games played and plate appearances last year), Rizzo also added 17 stolen bases last season as well, the second most for a first baseman in baseball.
Rizzo is rounding into one of the best all-around players in the game. Considering this is a guy who was traded twice before turning 23, that’s not too bad of a feat.
3. Joey Votto, Reds (#7 in ’15)
2015: .314/.459/.541, 29 HR, 80 RBI, 33 doubles, 95 runs scored
Last 3 Years Average: .300/.438/.498, 20 HR, 59 RBI, 26 doubles, 76 runs scored, .935 OPS
The on-base animal played the best baseball of his career in the second half of 2015, and that is quite a feat to pull off, considering he has a National League MVP in his trophy case as is. But his phenomenal post-June body of work, which saw him hit .405, .315 and .337 in consecutive months while reaching base at a ridiculous .535 clip over that same time span, is just absurd. To put that in context, if he maintained that clip for a full year, it would be the fifth best season of all time, behind only some of the finest campaigns from Barry Bond, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and John McGraw.
Votto put to bed any questions about whether injuries had begun put his day of top-level production behind him. His .459 overall on-base percentage was the second highest of his career (he has led the NL in the category in four other seasons), and he hit 29 home runs as well, which should service as a silence notice to those who say he “could” or “should” hit for more power.
At the end of the day, he finished third in NL MVP voting, despite the Reds being a far afterthought in the NL Central race by the All-Star break. And he confirmed he will continue to apply his craft on the Cincinnati Riverfront for the foreseeable future, refusing to wave his no-trade clause even amid the deconstruction of the Reds’ roster around him.
2. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers (#1 in ’15)
2015: .338/.440/.534, 18 HR, 76 RBI, 28 doubles, 64 runs scored
Last 3 Years Average: .332/.415/.566, 29 HR, 107 RBI, 35 doubles, 89 runs scored
To put the excellence of Miguel Cabrera with a bat in his hands into proper context is a rather difficult task. He is the premier hitter in the game and is gaining a seat in the conversation for top 10 ever. After all, this is a man who has won a pair of MVPs, achieved the long-elusive Triple Crown, drove in 100 runs a year for 11 straight seasons, and did this all before turning 33.
So snap-shotting his impact is difficult but not impossible. His 2015 season, for example, provides a specifically strong chance to appreciate his impact. It was a season in which he went to the disabled list for the first time in his 12-year career, missing the majority of the month of July, and still fought to return in just over a month. What did he do on the other end of that? Only win his fourth batting title in the last five years.
It was a mark that he did not stumble into, either, as he hit .393 upon returning in August from the DL, hitting like a man who had to prove himself. Instead, he is a man who has hit .334 since that first batting title in 2011 and hit his 400th home run and 1,400th RBI a year ago. He carries the highest active batting average in the game and turns 33 in April, so those counting stats stand a pretty good chance of getting some substantial upgrades as well.
1. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks (#2 in ’15)
2015: .321/.435/.570, 33 HR, 110 RBI, 38 doubles, 103 runs scored
Last 3 Years Average: .309/.412/.556, 29 HR, 101 RBI, 38 doubles, 94 runs, .968 OPS
There is no better overall infielder in the game today than Goldschmidt. Over the past three seasons, he has transformed himself into a perennial MVP contender, having more finishes in the top two in MVP voting than any other National Leaguer, albeit without winning one yet.
He had his best campaign to date, and the one he had the best opportunity of taking home the hardware, ended early by a stray fastball to the back of his hand in 2014.
But Goldy bounced back without a step lost last season, remaining as one of the elite overall players in the game. He finished in the top three of all NL Triple Crown categories, with a .321 average (third), 33 home runs (fifth) and 110 RBI (second). In addition to this, he tied career bests in hits (182) and runs scored (103) and posted career bests in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, which all combined into a 1.005 OPS, second to only Bryce Harper in the National League. Add in that he swiped a personal high of 21 bases as well and won his second Gold Glove in three years, and it fortifies the fact that he is one of the top five overall talents in the game today.
Left on Deck: Brandon Belt, Giants; Mark Teixeira, Yankees; Lucas Duda, Mets
I’m a firm believer that the closest I’ve gotten to Heaven is Game 6 of the 2011 World Series. In the meantime til we cross paths again, I’ll pass along the gospel of the Field of Dreams here, Cheap.Seats.Please, I70 Baseball, and ‘Live From The Cheap Seats’.