Welcome to Part II of ranking the top 10 MLB players at each position.
Just like Part I (catchers), this list is strictly predicting how these players will perform in 2023. Does that mean last year doesn’t matter? Absolutely not. Last season matters the most. However, this list also factors in how the players have performed since 2020, how much they progressed or regressed, and if 2022 was just an outlier.
Without further ado, here are the Top 10 First Basemen for 2023.
Honorable Mentions: Rhys Hoskins and Josh Bell
10. Anthony Rizzo
When Rizzo was traded to the Yankees, it initially seemed like he couldn’t handle the New York lights, but he proved everyone wrong big time. Even though he had a relatively low .224 batting average, he still amassed a .338 OBP, .817 OPS, and 132 wRC+. With this being said, the four-time Gold Glove award winner’s defense has taken a clear step back in which he has had a negative DRS the past two years. Rizzo is probably going to benefit a ton from the shift ban in 2023, so it will be interesting to see how his numbers improve.
9. Ty France
France made his first All-Star Game last year, and he sure deserved it. He batted .274, had a .338 OBP, and hit 20 home runs, which led to him recording a 126 WRC+. In addition to his bat, he also finished top 10 in DRS. With all this in consideration, he is in the top 10 in WAR for the past two years. The Mariners made the playoffs last year so there is a very good chance that we’ll see some improvement on both offense and defense, and he’ll be a fun player to look out for.
8. Jose Abreu
Abreu was an elite bat for the White Sox for years, and it will be very interesting to see him with more protection in Houston. He was extremely solid at the plate last year, batting .304 with a .378 OBP, .824 OPS, and 138 WRC+. He was also pretty solid on defense with a DRS of 5.0 and OAA of 4.0. Even though he was really solid last year and ranking him at No. 8 might seem a little low, it is pretty hard to rank the 35-year-old higher in such a stacked position.
7. Nathaniel Lowe
Lowe has been one of the best first basemen in the league for the past couple of years, and he has only gotten better. Last year, he batted .302, with a .358 OBP, .850 OPS, and a 143 wRC+. Though his offensive numbers may warrant him being higher, his defense is what sets him back. Statistically, he is dead last in both DRS and OAA. He doesn’t turn 28 until July, so there is a lot of reason to believe that his offense will only get better and he improves to about average on defense, which could get him into the top five next year.
6. Matt Olson
Though Olson has not been as great with the Braves as he was on Athletics, he still had a very good season and will probably improve this year. Last year, he batted .240 and tallied a .325 OBP, .802 OPS, and 120 WRC+. He is also one of the best defensive first basemen in the league; he finished third in DRS at the position. Between his solid hitting and elite defense, he finished sixth in WAR. Olson took a step back last year, but I’d bet he’ll be closer to the 2021 version of himself in 2023.
5. Christian Walker
Statistically speaking, Walker is hands down the league’s best fielding first baseman. Last year, he was first in both DRS and OAA by a wide margin. He had a DRS of 20, which is four runs more than the second-most, and 18 OAA, which was twice as much as the second-place finisher. Walker was pretty solid at the plate as well. He hit 36 home runs, recorded an OPS of .804, and added 122 WRC+. Between his elite defense and really solid offensive numbers, it’s hard to believe he is only at No. 5, but as mentioned earlier, first base is a stacked position.
4. Pete Alonso
Alonso is arguably the best power hitter in the league not named Aaron Judge. Last year, he hit 40 homers, drove in 131 runs, batted .271, had a .352 OBP, posted a .870 OPS, and added 143 WRC+. With this being said, even though he has killer offensive numbers, he took a huge step back on defense last year after being pretty solid in 2021. In 2021, Alonso finished with a DRS of 5.0 and an OAA of 1.0. In 2022, he finished with a -2.0 DRS and -7.0 OAA. With this being said, because he has one of the best bats in the league and has shown he can play competent defense, it’s hard to keep him any lower on this list.
3. Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Vladdy took a step back last year, but I wouldn’t expect that to happen again in 2022. He was debatably the best offensive player in the league in 2021 when he amassed a .401 OBP, 1.002 OPS, and 166 WRC+. His offensive output worsened in 2022 while he remained around the league average on defense with a DRS of 3.0 and an OAA of -4.0. He is about to turn 24, so there is a lot of reason to be optimistic that he’ll be closer to the 2021 version of himself.
2. Paul Goldschmidt
The 2022 National League MVP checks in at No. 2. Though most people would put him at No. 1, the fact that he is 35 leads to some skepticism on if he’ll regress a little bit. Last year, he hit 35 homers with a .404 OBP, .982 OPS, and 177 WRC+. He was about average on defense with a DRS of 2.0 and an OAA of -6.0. With this being said, when you put up MVP numbers, you can tolerate bad defense, which Goldschmidt is not even close to that level. Still, the No. 1 guy has proven a little more in big spots.
1. Freddie Freeman
The best first baseman in the league has been one of the most consistent players of the last four or five years. He has finished top 10 in MVP voting in the last four years, winning it in 2020, and was a main contributor to the Braves’ championship team in 2021. Though he was not too comfortable in Los Angeles when he first signed with the Dodgers, he got better as the year went along.
Freeman ultimately batted .325 wih a .407 OBP, an OPS of .918, and a WRC+ of 157. Even though these numbers are lower than Goldschmidt’s, I give Freeman the benefit of the doubt because of how elite he is in the playoffs. In the past two years, he has not had a single playoff series in which he had under a .996 OPS. When you combine elite hitting, elite playoff performance, average defense, and all of the intangibles you can ask for, that is the best first baseman in the league.
Ranking the top 10 first baseman in 2023 was not easy. It is probably the most stacked position outside of the outfield positions. Seeing where these guys rank at the end of the year will be fascinating, without a doubt.
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