Baseball is all about rankings. Sometimes, it’s how players fare in awards races, how many fans voted for them for the All-Star Game, or where each team ended up on the latest MLB Power Rankings.
The fact of the matter is, everyone wants to be considered great. Those who go the extra mile can become elite, but usually, if you round into the top 10, you’ve done something right.
We’ve already established my top 10 on both halves of the battery, so now it’s time to move our way around the diamond.
Next up on the docket is ranking the top 10 first basemen in the MLB ahead of the 2020 season.
10. Trey Mancini – Baltimore Orioles
First base is a largely offensive-minded position. Yes, it’d be a nice added bonus if you could play the position at an incredibly high level defensively, but that’s not really what people think of when ranking first basemen.
Trey Mancini played less than 40 percent of his defensive innings at first base, but this is the position I believe he’s best suited for.
He ranked sixth in wOBA (.373), tied for eighth in wRC+ (132), and was seventh in fWAR (3.2).
Had he played more at first a season ago, perhaps he’d rank higher on this list. But he didn’t play there enough for me to give him the nod over some of these other guys on the list.
9. Yuli Gurriel – Houston Astros
Gurriel is a guy who is solid in just about every facet of the game. He plays fairly league-average defense, finished eighth among first basemen with an fWAR of 3.2, and doesn’t walk much –– but also had the best strikeout rate at 10.6 percent. Odds are, Gurriel is putting the bat on the ball in some capacity. And, odds are, he’s doing damage with it.
His 132 wRC+ ranked tied for eighth, and his .364 wOBA finished ninth among qualifying first basemen a season ago.
8. Luke Voit – New York Yankees
This has quickly become one of Brian Cashman’s better moves in recent history. By trading Giovanny Gallegos and Chasen Shreve to the Cardinals, the Yankees acquired Luke Voit in the summer of 2018.
Since then, all he’s done is mash the baseball.
Injuries kept him from hitting his full potential a season ago, as he battled an abdominal injury as well as a hernia in 2019, but he still managed to put up a very good campaign.
Among qualifying first basemen, Voit ranked 10th in wRC+ (126), 10th in wOBA (.360), and 10th in OPS (.842). He also placed fourth in on-base percentage (.378) and was fifth in walk rate.
Voit strikes me as a guy primed to move up on this list. But, for now, he is slated at No. 8.
7. Paul Goldschmidt – St. Louis Cardinals
Paul Goldschmidt had a year that I’m sure he wasn’t too proud of in St. Louis.
Coming over from the bandbox that is Chase Field in the brutal Arizona heat, many pegged Goldschmidt as their National League MVP for the 2019 season. However, he struggled at times, and his numbers fell from elite to just great.
Goldschmidt finished the season with a slash line of .260/.346/.476 (.821 OPS), a .346 wOBA and 116 wRC+. He also finished the season with an fWAR of just 2.9, marking his first season of fewer than four wins since 2011.
Goldschmidt likely just had a down year and will return to form with a bang in 2020 for the Cardinals. That being said, it was enough to bounce him down a decent amount on this list.
6. Carlos Santana – Cleveland Indians
Carlos Santana is coming off a career year in 2019 for the Cleveland Indians, setting career-highs in slugging percentage (.515), wOBA (.380), wRC+ (135), fWAR (4.4), and tied a career-high in home runs (34).
All of those numbers ranked in the top 10 among qualifying first basemen a year ago, marking a great reward for one of the game’s typically most undervalued players.
That being said, he’ll be 34 just after Opening Day, and I don’t see him getting any better than the season he had in 2019.
It’s tough to see him improving with younger players.
5. Max Muncy – Los Angeles Dodgers
Muncy is an interesting player because he’s going to appear on another one of my top 10 rankings (sorry for the spoiler). What has him lower on the list than what his numbers might indicate is the fact that I view him as more of a primary second baseman.
That being said, he was tied for sixth in wRC+ (134), seventh in wOBA (.372), fifth in on-base percentage (.374), and was tied for the lead among first basemen in fWAR (4.8).
Muncy is one of baseball’s most exciting players despite not having tremendous box office appeal compared to guys on his own team like Cody Bellinger, Walker Buehler, and even Clayton Kershaw.
Muncy is still a freak with tremendous power and would likely rank a little bit higher on this list if he was more of a true first baseman.
4. Matt Olson – Oakland Athletics
Matt Olson ranks in my top five despite having most of his metrics fall outside of that. However, he’s one of the best defensive first basemen in the league and has tremendous offensive prowess as well.
Olson ranked first among his counterparts with 18 defensive runs saved last season on top of ranking eighth in wOBA (.368) and standing tied for sixth in wRC+ (134). Also, if you prorated his 3.9 fWAR over 150 games, he’d have finished third in that regard with a 4.6.
Olson is one of the best first basemen in the league and playing on the opposite corner as Matt Chapman makes for one of the league’s most exciting defensive duos.
3. Freddie Freeman – Atlanta Braves
Freddie Freeman has always gotten by putting up dominant numbers and getting no recognition. Much like Muncy, Freeman gets punished for his lack of box office appeal, especially in comparison to young phenoms like Ronald Acuña, Jr. and Ozzie Albies.
However, he remains one of the most reliable players in the league. He’s in the lineup practically every night, he’s a very steady defender at first base, and he hits like crazy.
Freeman ranked tied for fourth among first basemen in fWAR a season ago (4.0), was third in wRC+ (138), second in wOBA (.387), and had the fifth-lowest in strikeout rate (18.4 percent).
2. Pete Alonso – New York Mets
If you could describe Pete Alonso’s 2019 season in one word, “historic” would likely come to mind.
As someone who entered Spring Training as more of a project only to churn out one of the most dominant rookie performances in league history is certainly jarring. His 53 home runs were the most ever by a rookie and were also first among his counterparts.
Alonso ranked first in wRC+ (143) and slugging percentage (.583) and was also third in wOBA (.384).
He sticks at No. 2 simply because of longevity. Being a rookie, I’m going to do the unfair thing and punish him. He very well could end up being a flash in the pan, so that’s why he doesn’t come in at No. 1 for me.
1. Anthony Rizzo – Chicago Cubs
Anthony Rizzo edges out Pete Alonso for No. 1 on my list mainly due to longevity. While Pete Alonso certainly had the most productive 2019, Rizzo was not very far behind him … and even bested him in some categories.
Rizzo’s UZR/150 of 2.9 ranked second among first basemen in 2019 (behind Matt Olson), and he also led all first basemen in wOBA (.390), on-base percentage (.405), and finished second with a 141 wRC+.
Simply put, Rizzo has consistently been a top-tier first baseman for a few years now, and it’s going to take more than one elite season for Pete Alonso to usurp the Cubs All-Star.