Picking the top first baseman in the game is always a tough equation, simply due to the fact that there are so many of them that a team’s lineup is built around. Ideally, it is the prime source of power on a club, but in many cases it is also the home of a team’s top overall bat.
That is the case here again, as the group that falls in as my selections for the top 10 1B’s in the game is so deep that in couldn’t include winners of a Gold Glove or batting title at the position just a year ago. With the exception of starting pitcher, there is no position where the standard is higher to be considered an elite, top 10 level performer. The average return among the upper half of this list alone is a season of turning in a .300 average, with 31 home runs, 107 RBI and a .921 OPS, which is a stunning level of production to be regularly tied to in more than one category.
Yet that is what it takes to walk among the best at the position, which puts less of a premium on anything other than raw production than any other place that requires a glove in the game. So with no further delay, CSP’s selections for the top 10 first baseman in the game headed in the spring of 2015.
1. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers (#1 in 2014): Miggy’s average is far above what most anybody else alive—or dead—is capable of reaching in their best years. And it turns out that even his down years are also a cut above what most others are capable of. He battled a bone spurs and a fracture in his foot all year, but still made it to the field 159 times. And in the course of it all he led the American League in doubles with 52, while finishing in the top ten in 11 different categories and second in extra base hits with 78. The game’s best bat has proven itself slump proof.
2-year average: .329 average/.983 OPS/34 HR/123 RBI/192 hits/73 extra-base hits
2. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks (#2 in ’14): A freak hand injury ended his 2014, but in just over 100 games he was on pace to shatter what he had achieved the year before when he finished second in the National League Most Valuable Player vote. There is no better overall first baseman in the game than Goldschmidt, who is capable of swiping a bag and is a Gold Glove fielder as well. If he can string together a few more full years at the level he is at now, he’ll be the quick answer to best first baseman in the game.
2-year average: .302 average/.946 OPS/28 HR/97 RBI/152 hits/68 extra-base hits
3. Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers (#9 in ’14): Gonzalez quietly is one of the most regularly productive run producers in the game. He has topped 100 RBI in five consecutive years and led the NL for the first time in the category a year ago. Add in the deft fielding that brought him a fourth Gold Glove as well last year, and he is one of the game’s most complete properties.
2-year average: .284 average/.810 OPS/24 HR/108 RBI/167 hits/64 extra-base hits
4. Jose Abreu, White Sox (Not Ranked): He blew up on the scene as a rookie, becoming an All-Star, Rookie of the Year, Silver Slugger winner and the AL leader in slugging percentage in his first go around. Abreu checked in among the top five in all of the Triple Crown categories and set quite a high expectation for his curtain call this year.
5. Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays (#8 in ’14): No one has averaged more home runs over the past two years than Encarnacion has. The 32-year-old Dominican has kept his on-base + slugging figure north of .900 each of the past three years and has also stayed in the top three of home runs-per-at bat since 2012.
2-year average: .270 average/.903 OPS/35 HR/101 RBI/136 hits/65 extra-base hits
6. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs (Not Ranked): No player made a stronger statement of arriving on the scene than Rizzo did a year ago. He pulled his average up by 50 points and hit a career-best 32 home runs, figures which were impressive enough to net him a top 10 finish among NL MVP voting. He also covers a stunning amount of ground in the field, making him one of the rare first basemen that can impact the game with his legs, glove and arm as well. All of this and he does not turn 26 until August.
2-year average: .258 average/.822 OPS/28 HR/79 RBI/146 hits/64 extra-base hits
7. Joey Votto, Reds (#2 in ’14): He is coming in off of a down year where he only made it to the field 62 times due to a quadriceps injury, and it is the second time in three years his season has been clipped. But when he is healthy he is one of the most productive batters in the game, having been the most frequent baserunner in the National League from 2010-13, sporting a .434 OBP during the stretch.
2-year average: .291 average/.891 OPS/15 HR/48 RBI/116 hits/40 extra base hits
8. Freddie Freeman, Braves (#7 in ’14): He took a step back from the huge step forward he took in 2013, but Freeman still is one of the most productive young hitters in the game and the now clear cornerstone of the Braves franchise. He finished second in the NL in doubles (43) and has reached 175 hits each of the past two years.
2-year average: .303 average/.871 OPS/20 HR/94 RBI/176 hits/58 extra base hits
9. Prince Fielder, Rangers (#6 in ’14): It is a turning point season for Fielder, who never got off the ground in his first year in Arlington. He was one of the many Rangers who lived on the disabled list, and on the heels of a severe downturn towards the end of his Detroit tenure, it is reasonable to wonder if he is more name than performance value now. But considering he has never had a full season where he did not hit at least 25 home runs, he has earned a bit more benefit of doubt.
2-year average (’12-’13): .295 average/.878 OPS/28 HR/107 RBI/178 hits/62 extra base hits
10. Albert Pujols, Angels (Not Ranked): It’s not fair to call it a comeback, but Pujols settled into a groove that showed he far from out of gas in 2014. He hit 28 home runs, 37 doubles and drove in 100 RBI for the 12th time in his 14 year career, while also hitting his 500th home run at age 34. He is not the St. Louis model of himself that assured himself a plaque in Cooperstown, but he is still an impact bat for the Halos.
2-year average: .267 average/.781 OPS/22 HR/84 RBI/136 hits/50 extra base hits
Runners Up: Justin Morneau, Eric Hosmer, Adam LaRoche, Joe Mauer